Newbie Writing Mistakes Monday–From Slush to an Agented Rush

(T-shirt on cafepress: http://www.cafepress.com/+i_am_an_editor_womens_pink_tshirt,29403353)
So sorry for the bloggy break last week, I was out on a “working” spring break, cleaning and painting the house we’re moving into soon.
I wanted to comment today on a post I read over at the Books and Such blog: http://www.booksandsuch.biz/blog/choosing-the-perfect-client-unpublished-authors/. Wendy Lawton says that agentsare seeing too many manuscripts too early. One editor uses the term “workmanlike” to describe this. It’s all elbows. Every technique seems to jut out. The writing is self-conscious and overworked. The book that excites us is the product of a confident writer who has mastered the craft.”
Now, this is a problem for the newbie author. We don’t know what agents are looking for, so how can we be confident that we’ve mastered the craft?
If you continue to read Wendy’s post, you’ll see other things that get you picked up quickly from the slush pile, including a great platform and good personality. But that doesn’t give us a clue as to how to get our manuscripts practically perfect.
Sally Apokedak also blogged about Wendy’s quote, saying that it’s the internal conflict that keeps her moving through a manuscript: http://www.novelrocket.com/2012/04/making-readers-turn-page.html. That diagonal movement makes you want to stick with the main character.
But for that first-time author, sitting there with an awesome manuscript on your hard drive just SCREAMING to be let out on queries, it’s hard to know where to start.
I know I’ve given this advice before, but a great starting place is critique groups within your genre. I can’t stress this enough. But sometimes we don’t have time to get involved that way. So our options become narrower.
Finding a beta reader can also give you direction. But beta readers who have the time to read through your whole novel, commenting as they go, are very hard to come by (unless they’re related and feel an obligation…Stephenie Meyer’s sister read through Twilight for her). 
But really, in the current publishing climate, I’ll give you the same advice a writer friend gave me (Evinda Lepins, this is for you!). You cannot put your unedited work out there. Even on your blog. It doesn’t reflect your best work. 
Of course, when I got this advice, I thought: 
1) I don’t have money to hire an editor, and
2) I’ve already posted thirteen unedited chapters of Otherworld on my blog.
But guess what? She was SO, so right. An editor knows the current writing trends. An editor can poke holes in your inconsistent timelines or tell you when your characters aren’t acting…well, in character. 
So I did. I hired an editor for the first 55 pages of my current MS. Was it a financial sacrifice? Yes! But was it worth it? Also, yes. I’d had a crit group give some excellent advice, but I needed more technical info on dialogue and formatting techniques.
Then, I got my big break when the agent who liked my book also happened to be an accomplished editor. (Yes, I count my blessings every day, Andy!). And he’s an editor I enjoy working with–always challenging, but never too harsh.
So I’d definitely recommend saving up your pennies for an edit on your book, even an edit on that first chapter. I found my first editor through a Christian editing service online that pairs you with the editor of your choice: http://christianeditor.com/.
I figure that an edit is less expensive, or perhaps the same cost, as a writer’s conference. And you’re going to have to have your best work ready to take there, anyway!
I hope this helps get you from the slush to the rush of agent/publisher acceptance!
****How about you? What sorts of techniques have you used to get your manuscript in tip-top querying shape?****

12 thoughts on “Newbie Writing Mistakes Monday–From Slush to an Agented Rush

  1. It's never a bad idea to get more input, especially professional input. But if you find the right betas and critique partners, I think for the most part you will still be okay. Sometimes it's tough to find the right editor also. 😀 Great article.

  2. Glad you're saving up, TC! And yes, Lisa, I agree. Just like w/crit partners and beta readers, you have to choose your editors carefully. Usually a paid editor will be willing to look over some sample of your writing, give their input, and you can see if he/she is a good fit for the kind of advice you want.

  3. I'm lucky enough to have a beta who is excellent at knowing where to put commas. There's been so little for me to change when my agent got hold of it that I'm almost wondering if I really did do something wrong.

  4. Kimberlee, that's an awesome "problem" to have! But I know some agents are heavier on technical revisions than others. Once they shop the book around and a publisher picks it up, I know the pub. houses have their own editors that will chime in. I think a WILLINGNESS to revise is a great thing to have, and sounds like you have it! And here's hoping you have very few revisions to tackle!

  5. Oh, yeah, your comments are moderated. 😦 I have a prejudice against that and usually won't come back to blogs where my comments have to be approved–just an FYI. I had the nerve to ask a published author to beta-read my book, and this author gave me great advice that set me in the right direction. As far as unedited work–all posts on my blog are unedited, except for cursory editing. That's what blogging is about. It's a different type of writing, I think. It allows me to breathe easier and do something different, something not belabored by my normal thought processes. Please, please, allow my comment. 😉

  6. Hey there Jill, hopefully it didn't require the number/letter code first? I did think I got rid of that! But I like moderating comments first, as it keeps spammers and cranks from posting. I LOVE having you comment, though, so PLEASE come back! Always enjoy your thoughts on Mike Duran's blog!And yes, I totally get it with the unedited blogposts. I do that, too. I do comb over them and preview them first, which I didn't do when I started out (and read a few mistakes once published!). That's so awesome that you could get a pubbed author to give advice. I think the ideal is when you meet your match in crit partner/beta reader or editor–that person who takes your writing to levels you didn't dream of!

  7. Hi, Heather! Spot-on with this post. A professional image is a consideration even when (and especially when) we're newbies. It doesn't mean we won't make faux pas. It DOES mean we will try to use good judgment in a professional environment. Great thoughts!

  8. I've had some friends who are English lit degree holders read through my MS, a few actual professional writers and one professional writer/editor/darling told me to skip the $$$ editor and query. So I did. Nuthin' yet. Sigh.

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