October 19, 2007

"Tine Funing" Your Manuscript

Within the next week or so, I’m going to begin the anxious process of submitting my latest manuscript to agents, publishers, anyone who knows an agent or publisher, or anyone who ever sat next to one on a bus. This means my work has to be impeccable, with no mistakes, and without typographical errors and writer’s gaffes that tell the reader that I’m just not trying hard enough. I have a writer friend who also is ready to submit his work to agents and he jokingly tells me he’s in the process of “tine funing” his story. Oh boy.

He does that a lot, mispronouncing words, or mixing up sentences in a weak attempt to humorously demonstrate common writing errors. He’s a good friend, and as much as I want to laugh at loud whenever he says his giving his pages some “tinishing fouches,” or something like that, I cringe instead. I’ve read a lot of what he writes, and thankfully, he doesn’t inject those kinds of jokes into his submissions to agents. Not that I’m funny. My jokes are pretty dry and work a lot better in person and when my audience has a couple of drinks in them. But his sense of humor is just plain embarrassing.

Anyway, I’m ready to plunge, once again, into the milieu of query letters, plot summaries, and the “first five pages." Interesting note about sending the first five pages, I used to wonder how someone can make a judgment about an entire 75,000 word document by skimming the opening paragraphs. Then, it dawned on me: I do it too. Whenever I’m searching for something to read in the library or the bookstore, I’ll pick up a book, read the inside flap and then the back cover; and if it still interests me, I look at the first page. If I’m really dedicated, I’ll stick with it through the second page. Talk about agents being choosy, I’m just as guilty.

Honestly, an agent or a publisher asks for the first five to ten pages because they are professionals who are able to assess your skill as a writer by reading a few paragraphs. The idea is that if you make mistakes in the opening pages of your story, they are going to be present throughout the entire text. If you commit common spelling and grammatical errors right off the bat, then there’s an excellent chance they will be present throughout. Finally, if your story does not grab them immediately, then they won’t bother with it as they have so many more submissions to go through.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you know that I don’t purport to be an expert on my craft. In fact, I am a student who will forever be catching up on the basics and striving to advance my ability. Is this blog perfect? No way. But I give it time and effort as I do have folks who generously stop by and read my posts and offer kind and constructive comments. If there is anyone out there who wants to unfairly criticize the writing in this blog, remember one thing before you do so: This blog is a freebie. Anything I wish to sell gets my complete, professional attention. It takes me months to write the first draft of a novel, and years to re-write, edit and polish it. These blog posts I bang out in a few minutes. Go ahead and tear me apart and I'll accept what is fair; but, make sure you leave the link to your own blog for good measure. I get an awful lot of "anonymous" advice.

Still, I do want to make a good impression here. My “voice” on this blog is casual, and I write many of my posts with my tongue in my cheek. With that said, in much the same way I want to make sure that I don’t insult my blog visitors by not caring about sentence structure or grammar, I want to impress literary agents by showing them that I don't make amateurish mistakes, at least not in the first five to ten pages anyway.