On Preparing a Manuscript for Publication

 In Blog

There are many paths to publication and everyone has their own unique story about how they got there.  This is a simple sharing of my own experiences in case it is helpful to others.  

First of all, I think that it’s really important to respect a reading audience.  For me, that means taking the time to write multiple drafts — usually 3 or 4 to begin with.  Then, when I think that it’s almost there, I do a savage copy edit with coloured pen to slash, cut and polish. Then I write another draft, which is probably number 4 or 5, at this point.  Next, I do what I call a “language edit,” a trick I learned from Donna Morrissey.  I use the “find” feature in Word and read the manuscript again, focussing on one character at a time in order to ensure that the voice is consistent.  While this is hugely time-consuming, particularly if there are a number of characters, it’s amazing how many errors and inconsistencies turn up when doing this. In most cases, another full or partial draft will follow.  

While polishing my drafts, I also do a fact-check.  Even though I have done my research and kept careful notes, I want to ensure that I haven’t messed up on key information.  Checking dates and facts is usually a draft all on its own.  When I think I’ve done what I can with the manuscript (anywhere from draft 6 – 10), I pay to have someone do a story-edit for me, something that costs approximately $1,000.  I prefer to use another published author to do this, someone who has the skills to make sure the “heart of the story” is central to the writing, the characters are fully fleshed out and developed, the story arc works, and that everything has a good sense of closure.  

I then do another two or three re-writes, incorporating any suggestions and polishing and finessing the language.  When that draft is complete (I’m now anywhere between draft 9 and draft 12), I pay a professional copy editor to work on the manuscript, which is approximately $3000.  I then incorporate their suggestions and do a final draft and polish.  This is likely draft 13 or 14. (However, it is also important to note that once a publisher has accepted a manuscript there may well be other edits and changes and perhaps even another complete draft required. 

Part of my process includes editing the day’s previous pages when I sit down to write and reading it aloud to check for assonance and punctuation.  I also have trusted beta-readers who will give me feedback along the way.  The research/writing/editing of Stella’s Carpet took me the better part of 4.5 years. 

Another 2.5 years was then spent in finding a publisher.  Most publishers take 6 months to get back to prospective authors; some take much longer.  Many publishers don’t even bother responding.  So, there’s a lot of waiting and a lot of frustration involved at this stage of the process.  Stella’s Carpet received multiple rejections along the way but also received 4 offers.  After I signed the contract, I still needed to wait 1.5 years for it to be released.   

The writing/editing/waiting part of the process is off-putting for folks impatient to see their work in print.  I believe that is why many of them utilize self-publishing or print-on-demand or hybrid publishers, and I can certainly understand why.  

As an aside, the best book I have ever read on writing is by Stephen King! While I may dislike the horror genre, his book, On Writing, is brilliant.  It’s full of concrete advice and exercises and personal lessons.  I have read a lot of books on writing and taken a number of courses and workshops, but his book is, by far, the best of the lot.  I also highly recommend The Humber School of Writing.  Humber connects writers with writing mentors and helps them workshop/edit 300 pages of writing.  It’s a wonderful life-enriching experience (approximately $3,500). I was so fortunate to meet Donna Morrissey this way, who has continued to inspire and mentor me.  The value of a writing mentor, someone committed to the writing life and experienced in the world of publishing, cannot be overstated.  

I think it’s also important for writers to have a support group and to belong to a writing community. I do recommend caution here however.  It’s important to find writers with similar interests, goals, abilities, work ethic and commitment to writing.  You need to establish deep levels of trust and respect with this group as you begin to share your work.  Critiquing work is a sensitive business and can completely destroy a person’s confidence or derail their writing project.  There is some danger in building networks with people who have not been carefully selected.  Be careful not to find yourself in a group with large egos, competing ideologies, or one that just emphasizes a pooling of ignorance. Your work will suffer. 

Finally – the last thing I can think to say is that I believe good writers are also good readers.  I believe that it’s important to read constantly and voraciously to stay informed and to hone one’s own skills.  I do not read fiction when I am writing a first draft lest my voice become diluted or compromised, but that is the only time I don’t read.  I typically read between six and eight books a month. I love writing and I love reading good writing, so that is also part of my practice.  

I hope this gives you some ideas and that it is helpful.