One From the Archives…

August 4th, 2010 • Kate

archives_shaping_manAs August creeps upon us, and I get ready for my beach vacation, I thought we could periodically take a trip through the archives, and revisit some Ask Daphne! posts from the past. Here’s one from way back in January of 2008:

I have a finished paranormal romance and want to begin shopping it around. However, I’m frustrated with the “when is it cooked” syndrome. Meaning, when do I stop mucking around with the story? I’ve heard other authors say – when it’s done. That’s my problem. When is it done? Just as I think it is, I’ll let it sit then go back and think I need to rework the whole beginning. Not that the other beginning was bad, but, hmm, by moving this scene, adding that paragraph and so on, I can make it better.

Aarrghh! When does it stop? So, my question, is as an agent, with your clients, how do you tell them their story is finished? Do you have to pull a manuscript from protesting hands? How do you advise your clients as to when a manuscript is “cooked?”

Dear Word Chef – It’s never done, silly. Most authors could pick up one of their books on the 50th printing and STILL feel like tweaking it.

But that’s not particularly helpful, is it? Let’s concentrate on the import word in your question, then: “story.” When is the STORY done? Now that’s a different question than when is the manuscript ready to be sent.

Does your protagonist have a full story arc? Does he triumph against all odds and does his plot come to a conclusion? Is there trouble on her journey that she can overcome? Are your loose ends tied in neat little bows?

That’s not tweaking, that’s writing. If that’s what you’re still doing, then no, your manuscript’s not done, and not ready to send out. But if you’re futzing with word placement, with having a scene that moves the plot along happen at chapter 5 instead of chapter 6 – that’s tweaking.

And you know who’s super good at tweaking? Editors. Yup. They are STARS at it.

So polish your stories, and get your manuscript in shape for company, then send it out. It’s like housecleaning, I suppose. (If I did that, and didn’t just hope that dust would magically disappear.) If you’re hosting a dinner party, you want to make sure your dining room and living room are fit for guests, that your powder room is spic and span, and that you have enough space in the kitchen to whip up a fantastic dinner. But you might let your bedroom be a little untidy, or the kids’ playroom stay in a state of disarray. What I’m saying is make an effort, of course, but recognize that you’re not going to refinish the dining room floor or repaint all the kitchen cabinets just because you’re having people over for dinner. Do what you can with what you have.

Happy cooking!

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5 Responses to “One From the Archives…”

  1. Rissa Watkins Says:

    This post makes me very happy. I couldn't stop tweaking my book either, and it was making me crazy. I thought it was perfect and started querying- then thought, oh, I should change this to this and maybe switch these two chapters. I was horrified and thought I had jumped the gun on sending queries.

    But the story itself is done.

    Enjoy your beach vacation!

  2. Lisa Aldin Says:

    Thanks for re-posting this! This is a big help. I struggled with deciding when a story is ready to go out. Big help!

  3. Erika Marks Says:

    A great summary. I will soon be submitting a final draft (before line edits) to my editor and wondering if a story's done when it's bound only, by virtue of the fact that it can't be tweaked again? Or, eeks, if I'll STILL see little details I'd like to change even then!

  4. Michelle Says:

    It's good to know I'm not the only one.

  5. Krista V. Says:

    Super helpful post. And wouldn't we all love for an editor to see our manuscripts? 🙂