Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It's Writers Wednesday -- Want to be published? Then find your inner editor.

Yes, your agent or publisher will still make changes...fresh eyes always find improvements you've missed. But the days when editors or agents took on writers because they had some talent or a story with potential and then mentored them to success are long gone. Most editors are so busy with the business of books that they do their manuscript reading at home on their own time. They don't have the luxury of shepherding a book from rough draft to finished work. Your story needs to be polished like a jewel the first time it comes across an editor's desk.

It's all about revision. Editing is a learned skill. Yes, there are people who seem to have a natural ability to cut through all the verbiage, but anyone can improve their technique.

If you can successfully edit other people's work, but have trouble critiquing your own, it's probably because you're too close to your story. Put your work away and don't even look at it for a couple of weeks, a month or even two. Do something else...learn to query, research publishers, write something completely different. Make a quilt, plant a garden. Take up tap dancing. Give yourself some space so you can be objective.

Perhaps the problem is uncertainty about what makes a story marketable. The answer? many award winning books as you can find: Caldecott, Newbery, California Young Reader Medal, etc. Select books that target your intended audience, and are similar in style or genre to your own. You don't have to like them fact you probably won't, but what you need to figure out is why the book was successful. It can also be helpful to read a book then study its reviews. Consider both the approbation and criticism and determine how it applies to the book you read. Then ask yourself if any of those comments relate to your work. Dozens of books are reviewed on line everyday by kidlit bloggers. Many can be found through links on this site.

Try critiquing random books from the bookstore or library. It's always easier to evaluate other people's work that your own.

If this sounds like homework -- it is! I often spend more time rethinking, revising and rewriting than creating new material.

Best of all, get into a workshop, writing class or critique group. The feedback is priceless and the support from fellow writers keeps you going as you struggle with manuscript revision. Learning to edit is an essential part of the writing process. Mistakes are how we one gets it right the first time.

I was part of a writers workshop for many years. I always came away from a meeting promising myself that I wouldn't repeat the mistakes that I found in other people's work or that had been pointed out in mine. For the most part, I kept my promise, but the next critique would give me another lesson because there was always something new to learn and every story will teach you something.

Revision is the key. But don't just take my word for it.

"The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is your really want to say." - Mark Twain

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