Quick and Simple Ways to Polish Your Manuscript

When you’re getting ready to contact an agent, a publisher, or an editor, there are some quick and simple ways to ensure your manuscript looks its best and, thus, makes a good first impression.

  1. Use Microsoft Word. This industry works in .doc, and while you can convert a Pages file, the intricacies (like formatting) can sometimes get lost in translation.
  2. Type a single space after the end of a sentence. Some of us grew up with two, but the standard today is one.
  3. Stick to simple, easy-to-read 12-point font. No handwriting-type fonts or teeny text. Both are too hard on the eyes.
  4. Exchange all caps for italics. If one of your characters is yelling, format the dialogue in italics for emphasis (“Like this!”).
  5. Run spellcheck. It’s not going to catch everything, but you will be in better shape than when you started.
  6. Give it one last read through. By the time you’ve completed your manuscript, you’re likely sick to death of working on it. But because you know what the text is supposed to say, your eyes skip over what’s actually there—meaning words are probably missing, character names might be switched around, and bits of old story are likely mixed in with the new. So take a few days (even employing a friend or two) and go slowly over every line. Trust me: what you think you’ll find is likely very different from what’s actually there.
  7. Finally, don’t make big decisions at 3 a.m. Why is it that things always appear worse in the middle of the night? If you have an idea, a worry, or a decision about your manuscript that comes to mind when the house is dark and the moon is up, write it down, sleep on it, and look at it again in the light of day.

Have any questions, comments, or other suggestions? Leave them below!

Control

As we get older, we begin to realize that control is an illusion—one that, as I recently learned from Dr. Shelley Prevost—can cause big-time anxiety. Think about it: if you believe you have the ability to control a situation, then you also believe you’re responsible when it falls apart. You could have done more, tried harder, worked longer …

This, of course, is bull. We do not have control over what happens—not ultimately, at least.

And this is just as true for authors as it is for the rest of the world.

Say you spent the last 2 years of your life writing a book. You worked with an editor through a developmental process, you revised, reached out to test readers and took their ideas into consideration, and you had the final draft proofread. In short, the book is in terrific shape. It’s the best you can possibly make it.

So why then, when you set it up on Amazon, does all that momentum you were building stall out? Why does a reader leave a 1-star review? Why do the sales move so slow? Why, why, why …

If you have the expectation and/or belief of control, then you’ll likely castigate yourself. Maybe you should have done one more revision. Gone through one more edit. Pushed a little further with your test readers.

And all that might be true. But.

At some point, you have to concede that you’ve done your best. The person you are at this moment and all the knowledge and hard work you can muster were put into the book. It’s honestly the best you can make it today. And it’s now time to move on.

Because guess what? Your next effort is going to be better. It’ll take a little time to find your guts again, but once you get started, you’ll take everything you’ve learned in the past 2+ years and pour it into this next effort.

All any of us can do is try our best—and then realize there are trillions of things (big and small) we will never be able to account for, let alone control.

Maybe that 1-star reviewer was having a bad day and decided to take it out on your book. Maybe there aren’t enough people interested in the niche you’re writing about. Maybe, maybe, maybe …

Sometimes, you won’t be able to figure out why things didn’t go the way you hoped. All you can do is stand up, dust yourself off, and keep going.

And when you’re ready, I’m here to help!

Timelines in Fiction

For the past two months, I’ve been working with the author of a noir-style 1940s suspense novel. The timeline of events in the 300+-page book is complicated—even down to exact minutes.

How do authors keep such intricate details straight? Plot them out in the beginning and keep track of them as you go along.

There are so many ways to do this:

Plotting out the events of your novel not only makes its timeline clear but can also help refine its story arc. How? As you coordinate what happens, you’ll inevitably find places where the action drags or a scene doesn’t fit (a lengthy but unnecessary stop at a grocery store, for instance). Seeing everything laid out will tell you exactly what needs to be rearranged, shortened/lengthened, or removed entirely.

The time to make sure the details of your timeline are straight is before you start writing, but if you’re in the middle of things and find yourself more and more confused, it’s never too late to get organized.

Write down the details, type them out, or even draw them—anything that helps you clarify where your characters have been and where they’re going.

Article: “Leach and Leech”

Leech and leach are two words I don’t run across very often as verbs, but when I do … well, let’s just say that sometimes, even an editor needs a little help.

Thankfully, ThoughtCo has an article on how to use these two words:

“The verb leach means to empty, drain, or remove.

“The noun leech refers to a bloodsucking worm or to a person who preys on or clings to another. As a verb, leech means to bleed with leeches or to act as a parasite.”

Daring Greatly

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve likely at least heard the name Brené Brown. She’s “spent the past two decades studying courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy.” What do any of those have to do with writing? Plenty.

Every one of you writers out there knows how much courage it takes to put a single word on the page, how vulnerable it makes you feel to pursue publishing those words, how much shame you feel when you get a “no” (how in the world do we not take that personally?!), and how much empathy you feel when you meet another writer struggling out there in the world.

So if you’re feeling a little low about it all, I highly recommend two things:

  1. Try reading one of Brown’s books, like Daring Greatly or The Power of Vulnerability.
  2. Watch one of Brown’s TED Talks or her new Netflix special, The Call to Courage.

You will find that you are not alone, you are not powerless, and you are not done!