You’ve written a book. Congrats! You’ve taken it through another draft or two. You’ve edited, revised, tightened the plot bunnies, killed the boring parts, and polished whatever is left. Maybe you’ve slashed whole characters. Perhaps you reconstructed the entire plot.
So, why isn’t your manuscript working?
There are as many reasons as to why your pride and joy isn’t working as there are unpublished pride and joys. I won’t hypothesize the why, but hopefully, you can discover the reason by taking the steps below to exorcise the evil and help it to be publishable.
Here are some practical ways to push your manuscript further when you don’t know what else to do.
1. Put some space between you and the beauty (or is it a beast?). File your MS away for a few months. Yeah, this seems like a lot of time, but so does submitting a manuscript for half-a-year only to receive an inbox full of form rejections. I’m sorry that it sounds cruel, but I’ve been there. Trust me. Put the book down, read and write other things, and come back to it. You’ll see the mistakes, plot holes, character glitches, and voice inconsistencies as plain as day. If you don’t see the bulk of the problems, you aren’t ready to come back to it. This step requires dubious amounts of patience.
2. Get it to a Beta Reader. Having someone else read your book and give a writer/reader oriented, unbiased opinion is crucial. Don’t give it to someone too close to you like your mom or bestie who’s only going to coat their opinion in sugar. Give it to someone who doesn’t care about your feelings as much as they care about you putting out a good story. I’ve gotten advice that is so hard to take that I’ve been in tears, but it made my MS better, and in turn, forced me to be a better writer the next time. Worth it. A good beta reader will give an overall opinion, point out structural problems, tell you what is boring and what wasn’t fleshed out enough, and will unpack your character problems. You need a beta reader.
3. Grab a Critique Partner. Like a Beta Reader, a “CP” will help you identify problems in your manuscript, but usually on a smaller, more detail oriented level. Think line-edits level. For that reason, I recommend working with a Beta first to work on overall, structural problems before you get down to the nitty-gritty. Or sandwich it; whatever works for you. Unlike a beta, a critique partner settles into the story with you, usually a few chapters at a time, becoming a dear friend. Okay, a brutally honest, hopefully tactful, very interested friend. If you’re lucky, and you work well together (yes, you must critique their work, too), then you’ve made a writing buddy for the long haul. You’ll get to know each other’s voice, each other’s flaws, each other’s favorite beverages. You’ll make each other better. I have two, and they’re the most astonishing of all the people ever. If you don’t know how to find one of these, leave me a comment and I’ll point you in the right direction.
4. Listen to your MS. You don’t have to read the thing out loud to do so. I use an app called “Natural Reader.” For free, you can listen to one of 2 voices ready any word document to you in a very natural way. For less than ten bucks a month, you can choose more voices without interruption. It’s amazing what listening to your story in someone else’s voice will do to your perception of it. I highly recommend.
5. Write something else. Some MSs will never work for you. Many great writers have drawers, cabinets, sealed vaults and buried tombs full of manuscripts that never say the light of a bookshop. Who cares? You care about your own; I get it. I care about each one of my unpublished babies! But, when you write that breakthrough novel when you break the barrier of publication, even you won’t care as much about the unpublishable. If you’re a writer, you’ll keep writing, and eventually you’ll find something that works!
Keep writing, my friends.
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