Tag Archives: revision

An Agent’s Take

Part 1  Revision for Publication

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Recently I attended the monthly Sisters in Crime Northern California membership meeting where literary agent, Elizabeth K. Kracht delivered an excellent talk on how to prepare your manuscript for submission to an agent.The presentation covered the principles and conventions of good craft and appropriate mechanics, including formatting that applies, or should apply, to any written work being prepared for publication. As a developmental editor, I found her bullet points to be a checklist of what we need to look for when we set about to polish and format our work.

From the agent’s perspective, Kracht reminds us,  an agent see only up to 50 pages of our manuscripts. She says the manuscript must be “the best you can provide” and “hold the agent’s divided and distracted attention” from servicing existing clients and dealing with the huge volume of queries  she receives. Her tip? Send in work that needs only minor adjustments:

  1. Make sure your formatting is uniform
  2. Maintain structural uniformity
  3. Ensure the quality of writing is high
  4. Make sure your place and time are clear and distinct
  5. Create sympathetic characters
  6. Use appropriate pacing
  7. Use back story appropriately
  8. Make sure character voice and author voice are distinct and distinct from each other
  9. Make sure the inciting incident is clear

Kracht suggests : The Objective look

  1. Is your project structurally uniform?
  2. Do your chapters have a beginning, middle and end?
  3. Are you addressing themes in every chapter?
  4. The Three Things Rule: What three things are happening in each chapter driving the story and characters forward?
  5. Look objectively at your dialog.
  6. Get editorial feedback from an editor and/or qualified critique group.

The first hour of the presentation Kracht devoted to formatting and structure. No one wants to read, let alone publish, a sloppy manuscript! I suggest you follow these guidelines before submitting work to your critique group, writing teacher and editor, as well as contest, agents and publishers.

Formatting:  Make it Uniform

Kratch says she  doesn’t adhere to any specific style. She mentioned the Chicago Style Manual and I advise everyone should buy a copy.

You should follow the guidelines for each individual agent when submitting, but if you’re sending work to Liz, this is what she wants:

Title page

Page numbers

Double spacing

Contact info in header

12 pt font

Proper indentation (5 spaces)

Standard margins

New chapters starting on new pages

If using epistolary information, offset from the margin

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Structure:  Create a Pattern

Use uniform chapter lengths or a good, logical reason chapters are mixed long and short. TIP: Chapters in genre novels run 12-15 pages and slightly longer in literary fiction.

Present alternating narratives (POV) in a pattern

Show POV shifts uniformly (new chapter, line drops, astericks)

Show breaks within chapters uniformly

Chapter headings and sub headings used uniformly

Uniform use of epigraphs, quotes, taglines or other similar information

Sections or Parts: rethink using this technique.

Vignettes: if using vignettes, make them meaty and gripping

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Titles:  Connection to Content

1 to 3 word titles stand out. (Liz likes them best.)

Double entendres might work for you

The title ties to theme and content—Is your setting a major influence?

TECHIE TIP: Check Wordle.net for most common words. You may find words for theme and you may discover repetition. Or it’s just fun to play with.

TIP: Run an Amazon search for your title. Title’s can’t be copyrighted so you may find yours in use.

TASK: Make a list of all the themes in your book and find strong commonality to pull key words from. Your title (especially on Amazon) can be developed from most used /common keywords.

Word Count: Too Long OR Too Short= No Go

Is your word count appropriate for the genre? Google genre word counts. If you need to cut, look at:

  1.    back story
  2.   dialog tags and “sharpening” the pleasantries and dumb, mundane utterances we hear from characters
  3.    excessive description/over-writing
  4.     information dumps: less is more
  5.     build up
  6.     narration showing passage of time— you don’t need to show it.

Please come back  soon to read Part 2 of Elizabeth K. Kracht’s presentation on Revision for Publication delivered on May 14 to Sisters in Crime Norcal

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Elizabeth K Kracht

Elizabeth is currently an agent with Kimberley Cameron and Associates, works with She Writes Press, and works with private editing clients.

Elizabeth’s career in publishing took root in Puerto Rico where she completed her BA in English and worked as a copyeditor for an English-language newspaper. When she returned to the mainland she found her “vein of gold” in book publishing. She thrives on working closely with authors to build their careers.

Elizabeth’s eclectic life experience drives her interests. She appreciates writing that has depth, an introspective voice, and is thematically layered. Having lived in cities such as New York, San Francisco and San Juan, Puerto Rico, she is compelled by multicultural themes and characters and is drawn toward strong settings.

She represents both literary and commercial fiction as well as nonfiction, and brings to the agency experience as a former acquisitions editor, freelance publicist and writer.

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Re-Visioning Our Approach

I’ve heard a lot of buzz about critique groups over the last few years. At every conference, meeting, and author talk, we are reminded that publishers don’t retain editors anymore, and agents and publishers expect near perfect manuscript. Author Karen Batchelor once said, “These days, the writer is mostly on his or her own.” And it’s true. We have to “re-vision” our approach to professional, publishable writing.

The Norton guide to creative writing, The Making of a Story, encourages us to take our time with our manuscripts. Don’t assume a piece is more complete than it is, author Alice LaPlant says. I agree. Take the time necessary to explore your work, making sure that the characters are believable, the plot is working, the narrative is rich with detail and sensory language, and the right scenes are in place.

Here’s the rub, I’m way too close to my own work to objectively evaluate these issues, and I’m willing to bet you are too. What’s the solution? 1) Workshop style classes that focus on constructive literary criticism like our class at UVC; I have attended one of Susan Bono‘s groups for years—a real help to my writing. 2) A writing partner who will read and comment on your work. 3) Critique groups. I’ve started several peer groups: the First Drafter’s Society for encouragement on those brilliant, messy first drafts (Anne Lamont would call them something else,) Wordweavers for camaraderie, encouragement, ideas, insight, copy editing, and great revision, and JAM for in-depth criticism, structural help, and deeper characterization—my nemesis.

“Isn’t there some sort of protocol for critique groups?” a friend asked recently.

“Of course, why do you ask?”

“Well, first, people come with work that hasn’t been proofread. Then they spend hours arguing over tiny points of grammar, spelling and punctuation. A couple of the people get an idea about something and they never stop going on about it—but they’re easier to take than the man who says everything is “nice.” What does “nice” mean? And then there’s a woman who defends every criticism anyone gives her and is still making the same errors now as in the beginning. And I’m tired of hearing everybody say how bad their work is. Why do I want to read someone’s bad work? It’s a waste of my time—but it shouldn’t be, should it?”

No, your critique group shouldn’t be a waste of your time! The group should be one of your most valuable tools. My experience is that I improve my writing most by hearing what critique givers say about other work rather than what is said about mine. I don’t have the same attachment so am relaxed and open to seeing the possibilities. I’m lucky. My groups have met for years and the participants are kind, purposeful, and very good critique givers.

When I mentioned the problem to my class, a student pointed out Judith Barrington’s suggestions in her Writing the Memoir, from Truth to Art. We use these principles as guidelines for our workshops.

Readers do
-come prepared with copies for all participants that have been read over and corrected
-ask for specific feedback they would like
-ask for clarification if they don’t understand
-make notes while people talk
-respond to specific questions asked during the critique

Readers don’t
-denigrate their own manuscripts
-explain the intention of the piece or why it was written
-respond until all have given their critique

Critique givers do
-start with what they like, what moves them
-pinpoint why something works or does not work
-point out where they feel confused, lost or do not believe
-write notes on their copy of the manuscript and sign it as a reader
-suggest possibilities for language or plotting to example their critique
-make copy editing and proofreading corrections on their copy

Critique givers don’t
-criticize in a way to belittle the writer or the writing
-make generalizations without pinpointing specifics: Try, “This is good because I was moved by the last paragraph where you said…”
-tell stories from their own experience
-waste time pointing out small grammar problems and other proofing errors
-impose personal viewpoint or flog a point that has already been made, and never are mean!

Writers—always remember: it’s your work and what you think is most important, that is, until your publisher says differently!

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