Tag Archives: manuscript

25 Feb

Hot Potato: Let that Manuscript Cool Off

You type, “The End.”
Then, you write a fast letter to an editor and send off a couple sample chapters.

You forgot one thing. That manuscript needs to cool off before you send it out.
It is the single, hardest thing for me to do. I do not want to wait and besides that, I KNOW the revisions I just did are fantastic and the editor will be dying to read it. Yes? No.

Sadly, I send out material before it is ready. When I wait and read something even a week later, I find so many more things to revise.

Repeated words. Subconsciously, I fall in love with this word or that and it repeated endlessly. I don’t notice this unless the mss has rested a while and then, the words stick out like pimples. My goal is to cut that repetition to a single instance. After all, a single pimple isn’t bad, it’s the allover pimple face that’s bad. Two words I constantly overuse are bit and whirl: She whirled around a bit before settling down. Not bad, until she whirls 13.5 times per chapter.

Spelling and Grammar. OK, all you grammar witches. I know you are out there, because you email me all the time. My blog posts tend to be more off the cuff and I pay for it in humiliation every time a Grammar Witch reports in. (NOTE: I LOVE you, Grammar Witch. I am yours to command. I just WISH I had your eye for detail.) My remedial Grammar Witch glasses only work well when a mss has cooled off a while. Then, things pop out at me.

Darcy, sporting slightly askew Grammar Witch Glasses.

Pacing. I am much better at spotting pacing problems after something has cooled off. It is the places where I–the author–lose interest and start skimming. Oh, that’s bad when I can’t even keep myself entertained. On the other hand, I often find places to slow down, to zoom in and let the reader feel more emotions. Either way, I need the story to sit a while before I can spot these.

Vague, Unsettled Dissatisfaction. It’s hard to say exactly what this is, because it varies with each manuscript. Just–something is wrong. Off. I can usually pinpoint what that is and fix it. But when I can’t do that immediately, I start analysis, such as the Shrunken Manuscript or using other tools from Novel Metamorphosis. Because I must find and fix whatever it is. Usually–there’s something and it’s not a minor something. I just can’t see it right away.

What about you? Do you let a manuscript cool off?

07 Dec

Finding the Sweet: Dealing with Rejection

Finding the Sweet

Write what you want to write,
say the editors.
Write what you love,
say the editors.

I write.
I love this!
Well, say the editors, it lacks a plot.

I write what I love and
make sure it has a plot.
A good ‘un.
(Hey, I’ve studied Hunger Games,
and the Edgar winning mysteries;
I know a good plot
when I read it.)
I love this!
Well, say the editors, the voice doesn’t grab me.

OK. I write what I love and
make sure it has a plot and
make sure the voice is unique, compelling.
A good ‘un.
(Hey, I’ve studied the Newberys,
the Caldecotts, the Alexes,
the Sieberts,
the Edgars, and so on.
I know voice when I hear it;
and I know how to create it.)
I love this!
Well, say the editors, the plot
is great;
the voice
is great;
but I don’t really connect with the characters enough.

OK. I write what I love and
make sure it has a plot and
make sure the voice is unique and
make sure that the characters are connectable.
A really good ‘un.
(Hey, by now, I’ve read all the New York Time’s
Bestsellers, the National Book Award winners,
plus any other @#$#$@ novel
that anyone ever recommends.
I know a good book when I read it–
or write it.)
Hey, I really love this!
Well, says the editor, you got everything right:
plot, characters, voice–
but it’s too quiet.

Where, oh where is that sweet spot?
And how can I write something else
that I love,
knowing that
no one else will love it?
Where is that sweet editor?

A Sweet Spot.

08 Oct

The REAL Goal of a Manuscript Critique

When you do a manuscript critique at a conference, you must be ready to push for an answer to a crucial question; and you must have a back-up plan.

I’ve been backstage at conferences, in the break room where the editors are gathering and chatting. I’ve heard them come back from a critique session and talk.

Editor: I told the writer that the story was great and the voice was great, but they just didn’t match up. This is a picture book, but the writing is like a YA novel. They just wanted to argue and tell me a long story about why they wrote the picture book. Why would they waste their time and my time that way?

Indeed. At a manuscript critique, you can expect to hear at least one good thing about your story. But then–you asked for an honest critique!–you will hear some things that are not-so-good, need-work, needs-rethinking, WILL-mean-a-total-revision. Duh. Editors are in the BUSINESS of telling writers how to revise. Do you think a critique will be any different? No.

So, when you go into a critique, expect a laundry list of things that need to be done. Do not take your ego into the critique with you. This cannot be an emotional breakdown. Take a notepad and take notes about what needs work? Ask critical questions that show you understand their opinion and would like to understand even deeper.

Close the Deal with a Crucial Question

After listening, politely ask, “If I make these revisions, would you like to see the manuscript again?” This is the REAL goal of your session, an invitation to submit this manuscript again.

If the editor responds yes, you’re done. Chat for a minute or so longer, if there’s time, but get out early if you can. You got what you wanted and needed.

What if the editor says, “No, this isn’t something I can publish.”

Back Up Plan–Pitch

Then–you pitch! A pitch to an agent is a brief distillation of your novel into a 30-second teaser. You’ll want to have pitches for 3-5 manuscripts ready to go. After listening to the editor’s presentations at the conference and talking with him/her about your mss, choose one or two of the manuscripts. And follow-up the previous question with a pitch about these stories.

And again, ask, “May I send you this manuscript (synopsis and sample chapters)?

The 10-15 minutes of private time with an editor or agent is a great opportunity to get feedback on your current story; but it’s also a great time to drum up interest in a different story. Don’t waste this precious time trying to justify some minor point in the critique. Listen, learn, sell.

01 Oct

10 Ways to Beat the “Hurry Up and Wait” Blues

I have recently turned in two project and in this slow business, it is time to “Hurry Up and Wait.” I don’t do this well. We’ve already taken vacations for the year. So, I’ve made a to-do list.

  1. Volunteer. There are some projects that I’ve wanted to do pro-bono, so this is the time to dive in and get them done.
  2. Gone Fishing for Stories. I am reading two books about the mythical island of Atlantis, trolling for ideas. It may come to nothing, but I am trolling and hoping to catch a big one.
  3. Read Dracula. Really. I recently read a comment from someone that she liked reading Twilight and thought it a good read; then, she read Dracula and found out what really good writing was like. Shrug. I may or may not agree, but I’ve got it downloaded on my Kindle to read. Click here for an interesting look at a variety of Dracula book covers.
  4. Promote. You know me as a writing teacher; but I can only teach because I also write. And I am in the depths of promotion for my new book, DESERT BATHS. Wow, there’s lots of things to do. I have promo copies to give away and people to talk with.
  5. Write speeches on Social Media and Novel Revision. I have a couple upcoming big presentations: a three-hour presentation on Social Media and a two-hour presentation on novel revision. The problem with the novel revision is condensing and focusing a weekend retreat into only two hours. The problem with the social media presentation is figuring out what I think about the mass of information I have, and then figure out how to present it. (If you run across any good articles on social media, any breaking news–please send me a link!)
  6. Blog Projects. Of the several long-term projects for this blog, I will be working on some videos.
  7. Write 750words.com. If all else fails, I will turn to 750words.com and write for 15-20 minutes without stopping.
  8. Try something new. I could learn about Instagram, do a Pinterest tutorial, or write a sonnet. I like the sonnet idea.
  9. Take a long walk. Walk and walk and walk and walk.
  10. Hurry up and wait. Start a new novel. Yes!
07 Apr

Old Manuscripts? 2 Questions Before Deciding to Revise

I’m at a place where I’m looking for a new novel idea. (Yes, I’m still looking around for a new idea. I’m slow this time, but I think I’ve found an event that is fascinating. Reading background material now.)

One strategy I’m using to find ideas is to re-read old novels from my file drawers. As I read, I’m asking myself two questions about the old novels, trying to decide if I want to spend time revising it. Read More

25 Aug

Donna St. Cyr: 2k9 Debut Novelist

Introduced first in 2007, authors debuting children’s books have formed a cooperative effort to market their novels. Last year, I featured many of the stories of how the 2k8 Novels Were Revised. This is part of the ongoing stories from the Class of 2k9 authors and how they went about revising their novels.

From Creative Writing Class to Publication

Guest Post by
Donna St. Cyr

The Secrets of the Cheese Syndicate

Inspiration. I began writing this story as an assignment for my writing class. My children had given me the idea by their daily antics (that’s how many of my stories are born). The final assignment for this class was to submit something that was around ten chapters in length. The instructor loved what I sent and encouraged me to finish and pursue publication with it.


Outline provides initial vision. Before I started the actual writing, I brainstormed how I might want the story to look, creating a pathfinder to give me some plot possibilities. It’s an action/adventure fantasy, so it really is a pretty plot-driven story. After I sketched the story out, I began writing. It didn’t take long for me to pitch the original outline and begin writing from the hip, so to speak. I was glad, however, that I’d started with the outline because it gave me a vision for the story, even though that vision changed as I wrote.

One and a half-years to a full draft.
I have a nasty habit of revising as I go, so every time I wrote a chapter or two, I’d edit it right away. After that, I’d send it out to my critique group. These actions took care of many of my line edits and helped me with plot inconsistencies and pointing out spots where my narrative was too much “tell” and not enough “show”. To write the entire manuscript and revise it through my critique group took about a year to a year and a half.

Six months revising. When I felt like I’d finished the story, I sent it back through my critique group, looking specifically for “big picture” items. Some of the things we concentrated on during the second round of edits included character action and language that was consistent through the story, consistency through the plotline, holes in the story that needed to be filled in, places where the action sagged, and depth of characters. This took another six months or so and I felt pretty good about the manuscript by that point, so I started subbing it out to publishers.

Acceptance! I’d sent the story out five times – with five rejections – before I saw a call for manuscripts of Verla Kay’s Children’s Writers and Illustrators Message Board. I thought my story fit Blooming Tree’s expectations, so I sent it in. About four months later I received a call – acceptance – YAY! I thought I was done ——— NOT!

Revise for Editor. My editor told me the story was not yet finished. It needed more action, more depth of character and more EVERYTHING! This was probably the most difficult point in the revision process for me. I really wanted to be finished, but I took a good hard look at the manuscript and realized she was right. The story wasn’t finished. I found some new characters (some of my favorites) and some more adventures my main characters needed to experience. After this revision was finished, my editor asked for one more small revision. This was mostly more of the same types of things my critique buddies had helped me with. After that came the copy edits. What amazed me was how many typos are still in a manuscript after it’s been edited six times. I think we still had 30 or so things to fix. After the copy edits were completed, I really was DONE ——— with the writing, that is. The marketing and promotion has just begun.

22 Apr

Revision Attitude

Yesterday, I started brainstorming on revisions for a picture book. I got some editorial feedback in February when I saw the editor in NYC. But it’s been hard to approach this revision because when we talked, I disagreed with much of what the editor said.

Cooling Off Period Helps Me See Editor’s Wisdom

So, I put it aside for a while and when I went back with a more objective look, I could at least understand the editor’s position. That’s a good starting place. So, I opened the file, made a minor change and then saved it with a new title, “MssForThisEditor.” This way, I keep the original story intact and label this version as revised just to address one editor’s concerns.

Then, I attempted to throw away all my preconceived notions of what this story was and where it could and should go. I started jotting ideas, objections, words, imagery, rants against the suggested changes, rants against the rants, and generally preparing myself mentally to revise. I allowed a couple hours for this, then moved to a different task.

This morning, My Subconscious told me that it had been working on the problem overnight and had some ideas. Well. That was a surprise.

Good. My Conscious still likes the original better, but I’ll let ol’ Sub work a while today and see what happens.

16 Feb

Manuscript Length

How Firm are Book Publisher’s Guidelines on Book Length?

I had a question come up last week: how hard and fast are the rules about the length of a picture book manuscript? Can you get by with 1900 words? 2000 words? 2500 words?

The length requirements for every genre, from picture books to easy readers to short chapter to middle grade and teen novels — the recommended lengths are only guidelines.

Write your story the best way you can. Most editors will say to write the story you need to write. They will worry about how to fit it all into 32 pages, or if it should go to 48 pages or if it should be cut.

Some genres, some publishers are very strict on guidelines. On the other hand, some publishers and some genres have very strict guidelines. Easy readers are only allowed a certain number of characters per line and rarely exceed posted story length. If in doubt, ask the editor; or, simply follow the guidelines.

Consider your audience. You should also consider your readers and the characteristics and interests of the readers. For pre-school kids, do you really expect them to sit still and stay interested in something that is 2000 words long? Time yourself reading those 2000 words and consider the attention span of young children. Given a choice, wouldn’t they rather hear a story — complete with a beginning, middle, end and an emotional tug — in just 200 words?

Make sure you are matching up a story with an audience. If you are breaking the guidelines, ask yourself the tough question: is this story targeted to the right age audience?

Don’t fall in love with your words. Also, be sure — how to put this delicately — make sure you aren’t being lazy or sloppy in your writing. I’ve seen 2000 words stories that can easily be cut to 800 words and be all the better for it. I’ve had stories like that myself. Change as many verbs as possible to active verbs, eliminate all adverbs, and most adjectives; convert prepositional phrases to adjectives or omit; cut any redundancies; cut dialogue to bare minimum; etc. Cut.

Follow the guidelines — usually. In other words, the guidelines are guidelines for good reasons and if you ignore them, it is at your own peril. Yes, of course, you’ll find picture books at 1900 words; but they will be written for the upper elementary students, not the toddlers. But there will also be rare exceptions when the subject matter, the writing, or the genre will allow you to bend the guidelines — a little.

19 Aug

How to Mock-up a Picture Book

When you’re happy with the revisions of your picture book manuscript, it’s time to make a mock-up, or what is usually called a dummy.

Why Make a Dummy?

Picture books combine text and words in a short 32 page book. The structure is so unusual, that you need a dummy to refine and polish your text. It can tell you which section of text is too long, let you look at pacing of the story across the pages, help you spot needless repetitions and much more.

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How to Make a Dummy

  1. Take 16 sheets of typing paper and staple along one side. You may use either a portrait or a landscape orientation, your choice. Some like cutting the paper in half and using 8.5? x 6.5?, in a landscape orientation. The late Sue Alexander recommended using brightly colored typing paper to simulate art and text better.
  2. Number the pages in the bottom corners, if you wish. It will begin with a single right-hand page as page 1, and end with a single left-hand page as page 32.
  3. Now, get out the scissors! Cut and tape your text into the dummy. Put the title on page 1, but leave pages 2-3 blank, as these are usually front matter, such as copyright page, half title page, or dedication. Now, you have a choice: you can start your text on page 4, for a double page spread, or just on the right-hand page 5. After that, the text should lay out across the full spread.
  4. If you have an author’s note or other back matter (glossary, sources, etc, such as for a non-fiction story), you’ll need to reserve a couple pages for that at the end.


Here are some things you might notice:

  1. The story doesn’t fill up 32 pages; or, there’s too much text to fit. (Revise for length.)
  2. Read the dummy aloud and listen to it. The story sounds awkward when read aloud. (Smooth out the language.)
  3. Each page has enough text, but some spreads have a weak illustration possibility. (Strengthen your verbs.)
  4. The story doesn’t make me want to turn the page. (Add tension; or use one of the page turn ideas.)
  5. The story doesn’t change a bit if you skip reading a page. (Omit page; or add essential plot elements.)
  6. The story is unclear; no one can figure out what is happening. (Tighten the story; check transitions; write clearer.)


  1. The story feels too wordy. (Cut in half!)
  2. The pacing feels jerky. (Consider where you want the reader to speed up and where you want them to slow down. Revise accordingly.)
  3. The story all takes place in one setting. (Consider moving the story around for better illustration possibilities.)
  4. The story has too many settings. (Reuse some settings, but with a different perspective, different actions, etc.)
  5. The story feels flat. (Work on the emotional impact of the story on the characters; work on language and voice.)
  6. The story’s narrative arc is weak. (Create more tension; put more at stake.)

Mocking up a picture book, making the dummy, can’t be under-estimated for its help in pointing toward weak spots that need revision in a picture book text. Get out the paper, stapler, scissors and mock up your book!


  1. The picture book dummy is just for you. This mock-up is just for you to use as you revise to make sure you fit the format. You would never send it in to the editor.
  2. The published book may have different page divisions. The editor, art director and illustrator may decide that the story should be divided differently. That’s fine. Your job is to give them enough illustration possibilities that they can visualize this as a complete book. If you’ve done that, then your job is done and their job of actually making a book begins.
  3. Keep the Dummy Updated. As you go through the next few lessons and make changes to the text, cut and paste the current text into the dummy and go back through the questions again. Make sure all changes keep the story within the parameters of picture book structure.


Make a dummy of your picture book manuscript and evaluate each section. Rewrite as needed.

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06 Aug

Picture Books: Those Confusing 32 Pages

I got this comment and thought it needed to be a separate post:

Tamar Asks: 32 pages? Not clear

Thank you for your posts. They have been very helpful.
It isn’t clear to me from your posting of a 32 page book being standard, how many pages of text that translates into for the author.
Or does it just mean that an author should aim for a book that she tells the publisher is going to be 32 pages, and they break it up. Or does she break it up herself.
Thank you and looking forward to your response.

Darcy Answers: 32 pages of finished book, 5 (or less) pages of manuscript text

Thanks for the question!

Book. There will be short segments of text on each page (or double-page spread).

Manuscript. If you translate that to standard manuscript pages, that’s 5 pages or less of text. When you send in the mss to a publisher, you send it in standard manuscript format (5 pages or so). When the text is laid out for the picture book, the editor, art director and illustrator will divide it into the segments that go on each page.
You will see me suggest that you divide your text into 14-28 segments, anticipating how it will be laid out in a picture book. That is strictly to help the author revise and polish the text. When you send in the mss, it should be in standard mss format.

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The 30 Days to a Stronger Picture Book series has been collected into a Fiction Notes Ebook.

How to Write a Children's Picture Book by Darcy Pattison

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