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In her column The Write Way, Katie O'Sullivan discusses common editing errors that can send your writing directly into the slush pile.
If you have a question about writing or editing we'd love to hear it!
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The Write Way: Patience and the Art of Baking Cookies
by Katie O'Sullivan
One of my favorite parts of the Holiday season is baking Christmas cookies and treats. The scent of cinnamon wafting through the house is one of those things that means Christmas to me.
Now, you can certainly buy Christmas cookies already made, but there's something about slowing things down and taking joy in each step of the process that makes it all special. The best things in life require a little work and a little more patience.
The kids and I pour through well-loved recipe books, choosing which old favorites we "need" and which new spice cookies we'll try. Inevitably, we argue over whether the sugar cookie recipe from the previous year was the "right" one. And whether we need to buy a new cookie press for the traditional butter cookies.
I enjoy all the steps – choosing ingredients, measuring and mixing, stirring in chips and candies, rolling out dough and cutting it into shapes, and even the waiting while the cookies bake in the oven, gradually turning into golden brown goodness.
And here's the point I want to make. Without the waiting, all you have is cookie dough. Now, I'll admit I enjoy licking the spoon as much as the next person. But if you don't let them bake all the way through, they will never be more than unfinished lumps of dough. You can taste the potential, but you know it's not quite there yet. It's not really a cookie. It's just dough.
The same is true with your manuscript. You can have all the right ingredients – a great story idea, likeable characters, a killer plot twist – but unless you give that manuscript some time, it will never be all the way "cooked." Like the unbaked holiday treats, you can taste the potential but it's not really a book. It's just a manuscript.
Self-publishing has become so much easier in the last few years that it becomes tantalizingly simple to say, "My book is ready now. Let's go!" It's a great thing to have that power at your disposal and not have to be beholden to the whims of faceless agents and publishers. Ready, set, publish!
But is your book ready? Is it fully cooked?
Have you had "beta readers" check that the story flows and stays interesting? Have you had an editor read through it for consistency? Have you had a copy editor go through line by line to check for spelling errors, punctuation mistakes, and all those other types of mechanical errors that are so easy to miss?
Now, maybe you tried sending your manuscript out to a few agents or publishers and received rejections. Rejections suck. But before you rip them all up saying, "They don't know what they're talking about," take a minute to think.
Is your story really as strong and polished as it could be? Or could it benefit from a little more baking?
Agents and publishers are in the publishing business to make money. It's business to them, not personal. And they are just as busy as the rest of us, so they don't always tell you why they are rejecting your story. The most likely scenario is that they don't feel your story is "ready." Maybe it's not fully cooked.
I've been submitting my latest contemporary romance for months now, getting a fair number of requests but then the seemingly inevitable rejection. And I didn't know why, until one editor wrote and explained that there was too much of the bitter ex-husband in the story. Readers choose romance to read about potential and chemistry, not past mistakes. So now I'm rewriting with an eye to this feedback – and yes, she was right.
My story had potential, but it wasn't fully cooked.
Patience is an important tool in the writer's toolbox. Once you type the words "The End" it may be tempting to think you are finished. You might want to rush to query agents and submit to publishing houses, or bypass the process and self-publish.
I've read some great books that were self-published. I've also read a bunch that had so many mistakes I was cringing before I got halfway through. That could've been great if only… if only the author had taken a little more time.
All I'm suggesting is that you give your manuscript the time it needs to finish baking. Have patience. Definitely find a beta reader or two to give you honest feedback and constructive criticism. Maybe work with an editor to help flesh out your ideas and characters to their fullest potential.
Don't send out your manuscript half-baked.
Instead of the Mail Bag question, I've got a fun cookie recipe to share!
Mrs. Witzman's Butter Cookies
(Cookie Press Christmas Cookies)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees
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Katie O'Sullivan loves editing, writing and playing with words. She lives in Harwich with her family, and the big dogs who "make" her walk on the beach every day.
For more information about working with Katie to make your words sparkle on the page, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org