Tag Archives: revision

Checklist to See if Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission


1.  Can you confidently say what your story is about, in 3 sentences or less?

2.  Have you let your manuscript sit undisturbed for at least a few weeks, and then read it again?

3.  Are you finished sending it out to critique partners, beta readers, or helpful friends, with an “input welcome” sticky note attached?

4.  Is it the best work you are currently capable of?

If you have 4 check marks, you are ready. Now, write a kick-ass query letter, research the best literary agents for your work, and send your baby out into the world!

But wait! How do you know if you’ve written a kick-ass query letter? How do you know if the agents you’re sending it to are the best agents for your work? Well, you can read this to check in about your query and look at this about researching agents. Good luck!


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GUEST POST: 5 ways to improve a rough draft

Client W.E. Larson shares 5 ways to improve your rough draft…Erik Larson

There are a lot of things I’ve done to improve my craft since I started writing. Some of them have come from books, more have come from crumbling up drafts and critiquing other’s works. Between writing and rewriting, I’ve probably typed a million words trying to get my first novel right–it still isn’t ready to even show Linda. Writing a million words teaches a lot of lessons, and some of them aren’t all that difficult to deal with. I’ve come up with five little things I’ve learned that can spruce up that rough draft.

1. Saw-ing and heard-ing

This is a bad habit I’m still trying to rid myself of. If your point-of-view character notices something, just describe it. There’s no need to say he saw the block of cheese or that she heard the siren. It distances the reader from the point of view you’ve established. You can just say there’s a block of cheese on the counter or that a siren split the calm day. Sure, it’s a little thing, but getting rid of these unnecessary verbs will draw the reader in and help him or her identify with the POV character. I’ve gone to the lengths of popping up a find dialog and searching for every ‘saw’, ‘heard’, ‘thought’, so forth and so on to figure out if they are really needed or are just distancing. It might take some time, but it’s a pretty easy thing to do to make your writing more intimate and sophisticated.

2. Watch out for crutch words

Sometimes you have to choose between what is right and what is easy. There are a few words that I think are crutches for writers because they are so easy to use. ‘Was’ and its ‘to be’ cousins are very seductive. It’s really easy to describe something by saying it was that, it was this, it was one, it was two, it was red, it was blue. But all you do with that is create a list. Yes, it might be a lovely list of shiny adjectives, but it’s still a list and there’s a reason a grocery list doesn’t qualify as literature. If you see a string of sentences all using the verb ‘was’, then you probably need to think about turning some of those sentences from being to doing. After all, what’s more compelling, a description of what something is or a description of what something does to the person observing it? Not that ‘was’ is always bad, but give it a stern look when it starts cropping up a lot.

Adverbs are a whole class of words that can lure you in with their easiness. Need a stronger statement than your verb or adjective is giving? Just slap on an adverb. It’s so easy that it’s tempting to skip having to find that stronger verb or adjective. In dialogue, it’s easy to throw on an adverb like ‘he said exasperatedly’, but it’s so much more vivid to show the exasperation or let the dialogue convey it. Again, adverbs are not always bad, but weeding out the ones that are simply band-aids can elevate the prose.

There are other words like ‘seemed’ and my personal nemesis ‘just’. These are words I’ll pop up a find dialog to hunt down. Sometimes ‘seemed’ is the right word, but a most of the time it only waters things down. It’s like you can’t commit to the words that follow it. ‘Just’ I just plain overuse. Figure out some of the words that haunt you personally and find every single instance of them, then ditch the excess ones. Time consuming, but not hard. Don’t get me started on the overuse of ‘suddenly’.

3. Don’t drown your dialogue

Sue shook her head as she fidgeted. “No, I don’t want to buy that cheese.”

“But it’s good, and we need it,” Bob argued, pointing toward the white block of cheesy goodness.

Sue glanced toward the cheese and let out a breath. “It’s so white.”

Bob rolled his eyes and spread his hands. “It’s mozzarella, it’s supposed to be white.”

“White food just creeps me out.” Sue took a step back from the cheese, shuddering.

When you picture a couple of characters talking to each other, it’s tempting to throw in lots of physical beats or attributions into dialogue. I want the reader to see the body language exactly the way it is in my head, and I want to make sure he or she always knows who is doing the talking. However adding too much clutter will drown the dialogue, and the reader doesn’t need to see the scene the same way I do. Pruning the excess brings the dialogue and the characters to the forefront. You don’t want to get rid of all of them, but sometimes less is better. It’s not a big thing, but it can make that dialogue more effective.

Sue shook her head. “No, I don’t want to buy that cheese”

“But’s it’s good and we need it,” Bob argued.

“It’s so white.”

Bob rolled his eyes. “It’s mozzarella, it’s supposed to be white.”

“White food just creeps me out.”

Hmmm… I’m not sure even the eye rolling should stay in there.

4. Don’t -ing it up too much

Taking off her boots, she walked into the room.

Another temptation is to start off sentences with an -ing word since it’s a really easy way to tie together a couple of actions. This can easily lead to sentences like the above where the author means that she took off her boots and then walked across the room. However, what the sentence really says is that she somehow took off her boots at the same time as she walked across the room, which is awkward at best. Even if you avoid that trap, too many of these easy sentences can make your writing sound crude and lazy. When reading through your work, keep an eye on how many of these -ing’ing sentences you have. Also, make sure your characters aren’t doing physically improbable actions when you do have one.

5. Start off with something unique

There’s lots of advice about the opening of your story, but this is a pretty simple one. You want to make sure that the first page of your book can’t be the first page of just any book–it needs to be unique in some way. Maybe it’s something about the main character, maybe it’s something about the voice, or maybe the setting, or maybe the plot, but it needs to stick a flag in the reader’s mind that says this is not generic. This is the genesis of the advice to avoid starting with the weather or the main character waking up–these are the kind of openings that any old book could have. If you write an epic fantasy book that starts with the main character bundled up against some unfortunate weather regretfully overlooking a burned-out village where his family perished, then your first page could belong to any of a hundred books. If the main character smiles and dances in the chilling rain when she sees that burned-out village where her family perished, then it’s not going to belong to just any book even if you do start off talking about the weather and a destroyed village. If that first page seems generic, crumple it up and think of the things that are specific to your story. I’ve certainly crumbled up a lot of my openings.

Not everything that can help improve your craft needs to be complex and difficult.

W.E. Larson is a life-time midwesterner living in the Kansas City area with his wife, daughter, son, and two dogs.  He earned a degree in physics from Trinity University with minors in computer science and mathematics.  He went on to pursue a career in software engineering.  Larson always enjoyed telling stories and decided to finally put some to paper—especially stories that his kids might like.


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Five Simple Reasons Why Your Query Might Have Been Rejected

You spelled my name wrong. Actually, you called me Molly Jaffa. I’m flattered, because Molly is young, pretty, successful, and much nicer than me. But really? If you don’t have enough presence of mind to check your e-mail to make sure it’s going to whom you think it’s going, then I definitely don’t have enough presence of mind to bother reading your query. I rejected your query as soon as I saw the words, “Dear Ms. Jaffa.” Or, you didn’t send me the first 20 pages or sent them as an attachment. Ditto my presence of mind statement re: following submission guidelines. They’re really not that difficult or unreasonable.

I couldn’t understand a word of what you wrote. No, really. Your “synopsis” was 3000 words long and you mentioned so many characters, plot twists, and seemingly irrelevant details that I just gave up trying to figure out what was going on . Because if that’s what’s happening in your query letter I’m pretty sure your manuscript will be just as convoluted and impenetrable. Regardless, I’m really really busy and can’t slow my momentum to try to decipher what the heck you’re getting at here.

I really and truly don’t read or represent Thrillers/Mysteries/Romance/fill in the blank… I know you think your manuscript is different, special, unique, fabulous. But I’m the wrong agent for this. I have no way to assess whether a manuscript of this type is good, bad or sellable, because I DON’T READ THEM. I don’t think these genres are in any way “less than,” (to the lady in one of my classes once who embarrassedly whispered “I write romance novels”), they just don’t catch my interest. I have to be interested enough to invest my time in reading a manuscript. You have to be interested enough in finding the right agent to do the research about what I’m looking for.

Your idea is good but your writing still needs work. You may have worked on your manuscript for 5 years. You may have taken writing classes, gone to conferences, had it critiqued. But I see a lot of manuscripts. I’ve probably read over 2000 submissions in the past year so I’m pretty sure I can tell if the writing still needs work. I’m not just being mean, insensitive, a bitch, or whatever it is that you think of me when I say “I like your concept but the writing still needs work.” If you’ve done everything you know to improve your writing, either do something different to work on the writing, or perhaps put this manuscript aside and start something new.

I’ve seen this before (i.e. it’s not how you’re saying it, it’s actually what you’re saying). I know that you think your idea is fantastic. You wouldn’t have spent all that time laboring over crafting your story if you didn’t believe in it. But this is the 10th (or 20th or 30th) time I’ve read a query for a story that is about pretty much the same thing as a gazillion other queries I’ve read, and you’ve handled it in pretty much the same old way. If you’re going to use a tried and true storyline, you’ve got to bring something new to the table. You just have to.

What do you think are good reasons for rejecting a query? What do you think should have me ask to see more?


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