I recently found Tim Fargo on Twitter and appreciate that almost all the quotes he shares resonate with me. This one by Abe spoke to an issue that is rumbling around in the picture book creating community right now: how to move your manuscript from "it's good" to "I'm taking this to acquisition."
Even though (or maybe because) we are living in what some industry experts call a golden age of picture books, competition for space on publishers' lists is fierce. We've seen a rise in sales, a corresponding rise in publisher interest, and deeper conversations about picture books as an important form of literature. All of these factors have contributed to more submissions in the pipeline.
So how do we make our manuscripts stand out?
Moving a manuscript from good to sold takes a lot of axe sharpening.
First, we have to start with an effective manuscript (carefully considered, fresh in concept, revised with a critique group as far as you think is possible).
Then, the real work begins.
Sharpen: if you don't have an agent or even if you do, consider paying for a critique from an industry expert who sells or publishes what you write. Find one through your SCBWI chapter, Kidlit College, Writer's Digest, Twitter kidlit contests, Kidlit411, Rate Your Story, Children's Book Insider/Write For Kids, etc. They are out there.
Sharpen further: try the suggested revision even if you don't think it will work and/or improve the manuscript. Copy the manuscript into a new file called, "It will never work" and just try it. Do NOT dig in your heels at this stage thinking you've already done enough work on this manuscript. The revision that moves the work to acquisition might be next! Transparency alert: this stage is my cryptonite. I certainly recognize the value and I do it, but I start out looking like Grumpy Cat's identical twin.
Sharpen even futher: read the manuscript to a new crop of target audience members. I'm not talking about your writer friends, your family, or your trusted beta readers. (What?! You aren't reading the manuscript to your target audience? Gong!) Notice where their sweet little eyes wander (ooops, need a revision there!) and where their happy little faces engage (huzzah!)
Sharpen even furtherest: compare your latest version to the published book(s) closest in feel, theme, style, etc. to what you want your published book to be. (What?!? You haven't looked for comp titles? Gong!) Really dissect that comp title. Type it out in pages, study it, tape yourself reading it aloud and listen to it. Where do you engage? Lose interest? Revise accordingly.
Is your axe as sharp as it can possibly be?
If so, your manuscript might be ready to submit. I wish you the best of success. Let me know when you get to acquisition.
Feel free to share other sharpening techniques, too.
Editors do not want same old, same old. Believe me; I've heard that message loudly and clearly at every conference and retreat. To catch an editor (or agent) eye, we must stretch into new territory which means trying different approaches, twists, mash-ups, and/or upends. It's the only way to produce work that has that "fresh" quality.
Look at your current WIP with only this thought in mind and create at least three new approaches for your ms. BTW, just changing POV doesn't count for this exercise!
Even if the approach doesn't sing, you'll never regret trying because you will learn something in the process. I pinky promise.
S T R E T C H!
It is my observation that we get stuck in revision when we limit our thinking to good or bad. Those adjectives are judgmental, flat, and as oppositional as a tired two year old.
Why not try shades of BETTER?
Start where you are and strive to make the work BETTER using whatever criteria needs applying (e.g., better for my audience readability, better for the current market need, better for rhythm/cadence/lyricism, etc.). Of course, this means we must first identify the end goal, but that's very doable.
I challenge you to ditch the limitations of "good" or "bad" as they apply to your work.
Good? Bad? Blech. Better is...BETTER.
A writer friend, Shutta Crum, shared a great post today that I will pass along for two reasons:
1. to see if you fall into the trap of "ya, butting" when provided with a critique of your work (note: you should not!), and
2. to see a perfect example of "voice." I don't know the author Keith Cronin but I sure feel I do after reading his post.
Without further ado, here is your 2FER for today (dare you to say that 10 times fast!): http://writerunboxed.com/2013/07/09/two-words-writers-should-avoid/?utm_sour
Enjoy and let me know what you think.
I can't say I'm one of those writers who loves revising. (Those writers do exist; I've actually seen them in real life.) But if I force myself to remember that revising is just RE-VISIONing, it helps. Then I relax into the process and can almost, a l m o s t look forward to what may happen as a result.
If you are like me, or even if you are a revision-lover, take a peek at www.deareditor.com now because it is Revision Week and there is some really great stuff offered by authors at the top of their game. Speaking of offers, as part of Revision Week, The Editor is offering a giveway for FREE partials and one full manuscript edit. I can't say enough good things about The Editor, Deborah Halverson. She worked on my novel manuscript and her insight brought the manuscript to a completely new level. So hop to it, little spring bunnies! And let me know what you think of Revision Week. I'll be the one trying on new sunglasses -- and a new plot line.
I'm revising my middle grade historical fiction manuscript, CHASING HOME, and am at the point of fussing over word choice. This is a perfect time to enlist the support of the word frequency and phrase frequency checker (http://www.writewords.org.uk/word_count.asp) at the website www.writewords.com. It's so easy to use. Paste in a document or parts of a document, click "Submit," and almost instantly it counts how many times words are used. All my pet words and phrases, weak verbs, and the dreaded "the" pop up and stand at attention like obedient soldiers. Little do they know most of them are getting the ax.
Another great use for this checker is to see how often characters' names appear. If the main character's name appears less than the villian, something ain't right.
This blog shares insights on the craft of writing children's books and the publishing industry, and supports creators and educators on their journeys.