As I’ve mentioned previously, I am not yet done with assessing the full 53 full manuscripts but I have completed 30 of them. This gives me some insight into some general issues with full MSs as opposed to the partials. Also, I think it is worth noting what actually takes places when a full MS is assessed and what is not taking place.
Passing through the full MS assessment and being recommended to the editors is a great achievement I think. However, it is really only the start of the process. I know you think the months you have waited are long enough, but it can take ages. Once the MS is sent to Lee and Marc, they have to find the time to read it and then they do their own assessment. So far I have recommended 9 manuscripts and all of them are different and remarkable in their own way. All of them excite me as a reader. However, in any imprint there is limited space. This means it is still competitive. You’ve made it to the top of the pile but there are many factors involved in whether your MS gets published or not.
A reader like me makes a decision on the merits of the MS itself and is not in the position to be in the commissioning editor’s shoes or even the publisher’s shoes. What I mean is, I have an idea of what Angry Robot publishes and I know what they have asked me to look out for. However, I do not know who they are currently negotiating with and what that MS may be. I do not know the strategic direction of the imprint and what holes they are looking to plug in their existing list. The editors are also much more abreast of the market, what they think is popular, what is going out of vogue and what might be hot in future. I may have views on this myself, but it is they who are steering the ship. (okay a bag of metaphors there)
What this boils down to is, you may have a fantastic, publishable manuscript and it doesn’t get picked up. That’s the sad fact of life, really. It could be that it is like something Angry Robot just bought or they might want to publish it but the list is full…there are many factors that come into play.
In my opinion there is a lot of good stuff in this submission pile and I think the Global Financial Crisis had something to do with that. Good MSs that should have been picked up or may have been picked up in previous years weren’t and they are there with the new crop of good mss that are coming through. Also, there are structural changes going on within the industry too. Loss of retailers impacts on booksellers and authors. There are less outlets for your product. Less opportunities to market. Then there is the upsurge in ebooks and online retailing. This has changed the mix dramatically and in my view made the publishing cycle much harder. I don’t have hard facts here, these are my observations and my opinion.
Is an assessment/reading of an MS an edit?
No, definitely not. An edit starts with a read through of an MS to assess it for potential issues and to develop approaches for the editor to work with the author. It has usually been commissioned before this takes place. I think a read through/assessment for this MS reading is similar, except we are not working up an editing approach with a view to edit. We are assessing several aspects of the ms. Namely:
- general readability;
- execution of idea and prose;
- structure; and
- overall wow factor or impact.
While reading we make note of issues. I think all mss, no matter how good they are, have issues. I think for a full ms to be recommended to the editors rests on the degree or severity of the issues. As I mentioned in blog post 3, some issues are endemic and aren’t easily addressed in an edit. For example, the style of writing needs work. The author may improve over time or not. However, at this stage you can’t take the risk. If the idea is cool, then you hope the author works it out and it will get published further down the line.
Another issue you may have is structure. The events don’t unfold as they should or it is confusing. Here there is an assessment made on the run. I have not recommended any mss that I felt needed restructuring. However, during an edit, which is much more focussed on the work may identify that a restructure is needed. As a reader I’m not in the position to make that call.
One thing I have struck in a few MSs is overwriting. I find this is particularly so in the first quarter. As I writer I would say this is due to continual reworking and adding until it is overdone. This may extend to the full ms but often there is this line, where the writing changes. I never really understood what overwriting was until I saw it a few times. Then I had this aha moment. By overwriting I don’t mean purple prose. Overwriting is where it the description of the action is over detailed, or done more than one way. For example,: she slammed the door shaking with anger. She had never felt such rage before and wanted to hit someone. This is overwritten. You could achieve the same effect with –She slammed the door. Or She slammed the door, shaking with anger. But you don’t need the rest. You’ve said it. You have to trust yourself. Another example is where the detail is so step by step precise the action takes much longer than it would in real life, or there’s so much of it, it diffuses the tension. For example: She opened the car door, sat in the driver’s seat, put the key in the ignition, saw leaves floating on the wind through the windscreen and then switched on the radio. Then she is grabbed from behind.
So while the detail is nice and adds flavour to the scene, there is so much of it the tension disappears. An alternative might be: She returned the car and inserted the key in the ignition. A blur in the rear view mirror gave her a start, just as the cord encircled her neck.
Anyway these observations are quite subtle but do stand out.
Of course, full MS contain other issues common with partials, except they occur later in the work. For example, I might get to chapter 7 or 8 and find a big chunk of indigestible info dump, or pages of back story, or a deux ex machina prong, where it shouldn’t be. Also, the dialogue gets sloppy further in or there’s a sag in the story or the action.
As I mentioned in comments on blog post three, world building issues become more apparent in full MSs, because the world building has to be sustained and more opportunities arise forinconsistencies and for dropping the ball entirely. Again here it is a matter of degree, if there is a minor inconsistency that can be addressed in an edit it is not a problem. However, if the world building needs more thought and lots more work then it is going to be a problem.
I am sure there was a time in the past where authors had their mss taken up with work still needing to be done on them. Perhaps the editors liked the idea, trusted the talent and skill of the author and were really committed to it. A submission pile situation is a bit different. Your ms is competing against others. So you might be close, but need some work, but the next MS or the previous one had no issues or very minimal issues. This is the risk of a submission pile. If you have an editor who you know who is willing to read your work, then you still have similar issues but I think (I don’t know) that your chances are better. Having said that the same caveats apply. The editor may love your ms but can’t sell it to acquisitions. There may be no room in the list. It may not be right for the imprint.
Bad ,or less politely crap, endings. You could have the most elaborate of plot with amazing twists and turns but your ending is not quite cutting it. Actually a bad ending can be a let down. If I was editing the MS I might have some ideas how to fix it (and I’d be paid for this) but as a reader it’s not my place.
I mentioned the wow factor and that’s the really hard one. Have I recommended ms, which didn’t have a wow factor? Probably, because that is darn hard to pin point and subjective besides. I tend to go the more safe and conservative route—it has a good beginning, middle and end, is well executed and has something different. There have been a few wows in there. They excite my mind. They make me admire the writer for their ideas and their execution. For the record, one of the most exciting MSs for me was a full I rejected. It wasn’t quite ready yet, but its potential screamed out of the page. I am hoping my feedback will prove useful to the author.
Of the 21 MSs that didn’t get referred to Angry Robot, I gave the author’s feedback. I couched it in terms of my subjective view. All the authors I heard back from appreciated the comments. I don’t know about the others. However, I know how it feels to have your full ms requested and then get nothing back. I was like: What made you request it? What made you reject it? So I tried where possible to articulate that. It could save years of naval gazing. Actually it depends on the author’s reaction to the comments. If the comments lead to an ‘aha moment’ then I feel very happy about that. If they mean nothing and are just totally annoying then I don’t feel good about that. If I’ve requested the full, I think you have something. If I’ve given you comments then I’m trying to help (from my point of view) you get there next time. I’ve waited years for some meaningful feedback on my novel. When I got it I was so happy, finally the mist cleared and I could see my way out of it. I had been really down in the doldrums about a particular MS. Note here that editors are subjective too. One editor might have different ideas and approaches. That means there is no one way to develop a story.
I’ve probably covered off two blog posts in one here. If I post again, it may be about some thoughts on the process, exercise. I’m not sure.
If you are wondering do I want my life back. Yes I do. My family think I am surgically attached to my ipad. If I did this again, I’d like to get paid. LOL!