Wednesday, September 9, 2009


Question of the day -- How do I get my manuscript really polished and ready for submission?

First of all, be prepared to rewrite until you cannot find a single way to improve your manuscript. In order to get the most out of rewriting, you're going to have to develop some objectivity about your work. One of the best ways is to take a break from your story. Put your manuscript aside and don't look at it for a week or two. Taking a break gives you a new perspective and a little distance will help you be more objective when it comes to revising your manuscript.

This is a good time to get some outside critiques. Find some objective readers who will look at your manuscript and give you feed back. I'm not talking about your children, your second grade class, parents, spouses or siblings unless they have a writer's background. The people who love us often want to be more kind than honest and we want OBJECTIVITY! Remember that critiques are a tool to help assess the work and make it better. They aren't personal. Then revise. Back to the readers, etc. Check SCBWI, your community college, local adult education center, and so on for writing workshops. These are all good sources for getting your work looked at and sometimes instructors have private groups that you might be invited to join.

One of the most helpful steps for me is to READ EVERYTHING OUT LOUD -- picture book, chapter book, it doesn't make a difference. If I find myself stumbling through a passage or subconsciously rephrasing a portion of the text, I know that's an area that needs more work.

Another good strategy to help you assess your writing is to find some successful, recently published books for your intended audience that have something in common with your story: subject, theme, style. Read the books and ask yourself what works? what doesn't? why? It's easier to take someone elses work apart than your own. Then apply what you've learned to your manuscript.

Find books that have been reviewed -- School Library Journal, Kirkus, Booklist, to name a few. Read the reviews. Ask yourself what a reviewer would say about your work. It's a good way to begin to understand what industry professionals are looking for in quality children's books.

One of the best ways to improve your writing is to read, read, read. It will develop your ear for language, improve your sense of pacing and rhythm, and enrich your general story sense.

Putting your manuscript aside doesn't mean stop writing. Work on another story. Research potential publishers or agents. Revision doesn't stop until you cannot think of any way to make your manuscript better. Even after you've begun submitting your manuscript, there will still be opportunities for revision. If your manuscript is declined, look at it as an opportunity for improvement. My work is as polished as I can make it before submission, but if the story comes back, I always see a way to make it better. As soon as I submit one story, I don't wait around for a response. I get to work on another book. Each new manuscript teaches me something and that ongoing process develops new insights I can apply to my story rewrites.

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