Thursday, July 17, 2014

Before You Hit Send...

You've been working on your manuscript for weeks... months... maybe years. You've gone through bags of Godiva chocolate and endless Frappuccinos. You've dreamed about these characters, argued with these characters, and maybe even talked with these characters (while no one else was around, that is).

Photo by  Ambro, from
And so, it's only natural to say you're desperately ready to send these characters off into the world. Whether that world be your agent, or a potential agent, or your editor, or a potential editor-- you're dying to know what other people think of these world you've been hanging out in. And, let's be honest, you're also ready to sell this story!

So, you hit "Send" while you still have the courage, right?


Bad idea. Trust me. Bad idea.

Sit back down, do some laundry or watch a rom com movie, and give your brain a little break from thinking about this book. I promise you, within a few hours, new ideas for revisions will flood in. And if you're already sent your book off into the world... well, that's the best it'll ever be.

This week, I sent my new manuscript to my agent after taking a loooooonnng stinkin' time to work on it. With every book, I've always spent time editing at least several drafts. But this one is my heart book. This one really matters to me. So I wanted it to be as strong as possible, even before sending it to Karen. I want to know that every fiber of what I'm capable of is coming out in this manuscript.

You'll hear people say that you want to get a submission in to an agent or editor as soon as possible if they request it. And yes, in part, that's true, because you don't want them to forget you. But quality always trumps quickness.

Consider this. You've (usually) only got one chance to capture your reader with this story, whether your reader is an agent, editor, or actual regular reader. One chance! And once that chance is gone... well... it's gone for good, unfortunately.

So with that in mind, here are a few things to ask yourself before hitting "Send."

1) Have other people read this story and given me feedback? Don't send your story to fifteen people and ask for their thoughts. Trust me. Too many irons in the kettle. But do find one, two, maybe three people whom you really trust, and ask for their feedback. A good critique partner can spot plot weaknesses you never would've noticed.

2) Have I let my book just sit for at least a few days? See what thoughts come to you after the initial adrenaline of I-just-finished-my-book-and-ate-a-pint-of-gelato-to-celebrate wears off. You'll be surprised by how much you come up with!

3) Have I done my research about this agent/editor? Have you met this person at a conference, or do you frequent his/her blog? How can you best prepare yourself to pitch this story? Do you know what particular genres this agent/editor is looking for?

4) Have I read other books in this genre? All too often, we get caught up so much in our own story that we forget the value of reading others'. Reading not only broadens your creativity and sharpens your mind, but it also works as market research. You need to be conversant about other books in your genre. It's okay if you don't have time to read twenty books a year, but you should at least know about a few books that are similar in style so that if you're asked by an agent/editor, or just another writer, what you write, you have something to compare your story to.

5) Do any of the scenes in this book give me pause? You know, this happens to all of us. At least, I like to pretend it happens to all of us, because it certainly happens to me. I'll be going along my merry-editing way, when I stumble across a scene that is just... well, not good. It's like a tofu scene. Nothing is really happening. Or maybe something is happening, and it's just not working with the surrounding scenes. These scenes are PAINFUL to delete/edit, because doing so sometimes means huge revisions. But just imagine how much more painful they will be if your book DOES get published, and you have to look at that scene every time you open your book. Don't leave anything in there that you aren't proud of.

6) Have I done a spell check, as well as searched for key pet phrases? I can't tell you how many times my characters cross their arms, run their hands through their hair, and smile. While editing, I always try to be aware of phrases I use repetitively, and then do a phrase search (which is so easy to do in Word!) for those particular words. It's oh-so-easy to replace them with more vivid descriptors, and it makes a huge difference for your writing.

7) Have I let the writing "gel" enough to see similarities through the book? After spending enough time with your characters, they would have personal habits, traits, and quirks. Maybe your character loves popcorn or hates country music. Be consistent in these behaviors/preferences, and develop them so that characters seem life-like to readers.

Your turn! What questions would you add to this list? What do you always check for before hitting "Send"?


Ashley Clark writes romance with southern grace. She's dreamed of being a writer ever since the thumbprint-cookie-days of library story hour. Ashley has an M.A. in English and enjoys teaching literature courses at her local university. She's an active member of ACFW and runs their newcomer's loop. When she's not writing, Ashley's usually busy rescuing stray animals and finding charming new towns. You can find Ashley on her personal blogFacebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. She is represented by Karen Solem.


Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Wow...that is a thorough list, Ashley! Great post, with lots of good ideas. I typically just want to send it, because know it will never be as good as I want it. ;)

Laurie Tomlinson said...

Excellent post, Ashley! I once made the mistake of talking to my characters in public. Bad, bad, bad. ;)

Also, I think it's great you've emphasized the importance of reading other works in your genre. It's great to study the cadence of a book that's been published to see if your own writing flows similarly.

The next most important thing (at least for me) has been letting it sit. While it's impossible to read your story completely detached, this helps you catch inconsistencies and errors and ways to tighten a manuscript like no other!

Angie Dicken said...

Great advice! I am so excited for you. Your book has marinated long enough! IT's ready to hit the! Love ya!

Angie Dicken said...

Great advice! I am so excited for you. Your book has marinated long enough! IT's ready to hit the! Love ya!

Angie Dicken said...

Great advice! I am so excited for you. Your book has marinated long enough! IT's ready to hit the! Love ya!

Ashley Clark said...

Sherrinda, I know you're half kidding, but you bring up a REALLY good point here! The flip side of this is when DO you push send. Sometimes we get SO focused on making things perfect (which they never will be with writing) that we loose out courage to just go for it, which is equally important!

Ashley Clark said...

Laurie, very well said! I love what you said about letting it sit a while to catch inconsistencies!

Ashley Clark said...

Thanks, Ang! <3 Your help on this one means so much!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great tips, Ashley.

Sometimes the urge to push send is like the itch of a mosquito bite.

But resisting until the right is best. Thanks so much for the checklist!