You can’t help it. It’s time. Really time. You’ve been writing and rewriting this book for eons. Or at least it feels like eons. You want to submit it, get going on your stellar writing career. Time’s a wastin’!
Maybe you haven’t been working on it for eons, but you went to a conference and you heard an editor say she was really looking for the next great romance author to groom and you have just the story.
Or finally, one of the BIG PUBLISHERS is actively seeking speculative fiction and your space navy story is ready for the picking.
Perhaps your story has been through a critique or edit of some kind. A reader (mom, dad, sister, best friend, hubby, wifey) LOVED it. They want more! Now.
So you rush your baby off to an editor or agent. Maybe some of you rush it off to someone like me or Susie here at My Book Therapy.
And you find after pins-n-needles days or months of waiting that the story isn’t quite ready. It’s painful and disappointing.
You feel rejected. You want to quit. You want to fire bomb the agent or editor’s office. Or worse, my house. Don’t do it? It’s not worth it. If you go to jail you might never get published.
Let me help. After doing book therapies for three years, I see a lot of the same thing over and over. Sometimes, I feel as if I’m writing the same thing to every client. I relate my input back to their stories, but other than that, most writers have the same problems.
I’ve been tempted to just say, “This needs work,” and send a white sheet of standard instructions. But that’s not helpful OR what My Book Therapy is all about. We do give you very personalized help and instruction.
But I’m offering the check list here. Once you’ve polished your manuscript, go over these things before submitting. If you don’t have them (within reason) then you’re not ready. Go back to work.
- Do you have a discernable story world. Depending on your type of story – romance being different than sci fi – does the reader have a sense of time and place? What city? What time of year? What time of day? What kind of room? What kind of car? All we need are a few sentences but we need to be anchored.
- Do you have the hero or heroine’s world established. What does her office look like? Or his? Where do they live? Do you give a few – only a few – lines about their natural, every day environment? Does she see the same old couple sitting at Starbucks every day. Let the reader see and feel what the characters see and feel. From the beginning.
- Is their a hint at what this story is going to be about? I read so many manuscripts where I can’t tell what the hero and heroine want? They’re just kind of reacting to things. The dialog doesn’t reveal anything. Hint at what the protagonist is about to face.
- Greatest fear, secret desire, the lie… all of these should be hinted at in some small way as the story unfolds. If not in the first chapter, by the end of the third.
- Do you have a discernable inciting incident. The reader needs to feel launched on the journey. What happens that takes the protagonist out of the ordinary into the extraordinary. Or out of the extraordinary into the every day? A mom suddenly finds herself a contestant on the X-Factor. A superstar athlete finds himself homeless and nameless in a matter of hours.
- Empathy/Emotion. Are the characters just plain likeable. Do we want to hang out with them for 300 plus pages. Do we understand their situation even if they are not like us? Do we feel what they feel? I’ve never been a mom, but I can certainly relate to a woman who finds out her child is missing. I’ll stick with her story so I can cheer her one and see how she recovers her child.
- Dialog. This is biggy. Dialog is not conversation. Dialog is the fuel to the story. It reveals the characters. Dialog delivers the punch of the story. Not prose. Is your dialog “hi, how are you?” or “Mack, did you get my call? They said you had to leave town.” Much more punch. But I’ve read proposal that stole the stories thunder. More like: “Hi, how are you?” Mack said, still reeling from finding out he had to leave town. That doesn’t work nearly as well.
- No hook. In some proposals I see, I can’t see the sellable hook. It might be an interesting concept but what’s the story really about? Make sure you have a one or two line hook. “This book is about…” If you meander in your own explanation, how can you “hook” the interest of an agent or editor.
- Back story and point of view. Make sure your back story drops are viable. Meaning: needed right then in the story. Use dialog to deliver back story whenever possible. Make sure you’ve nailed point of view. Don’t mix up which character is telling the story in a particular scene.
- Poorly written synopsis. A synopsis reveals to an editor or agent that you know what this story is about. Tell everything. Don’t hold back. Be detailed. You’re not setting hooks or creating mystery. A synopsis is not a back cover blurb. Don’t hold back the juicy stuff. In a synopsis you can tell and explain!
I hope this helps with your publishing journey. We appreciate all of you writers out there trying to make a difference with your stories. Hang in there and keep writing.
Rachel Hauck is an award winning, best selling author who’s made plenty of “author mistakes” and lived to tell about it.