Sunday, August 11, 2013

When's a Manuscript Ready to Publish?


In early June, I posted that Judy Healey—a friend and published author of historical fiction—was reading “The Reluctant Spy,” a novel I’ve written that takes place in first-century Palestine. Judy suggested that I explain unfamiliar words, such as jasper ring and tamarisk, and clarify the difference between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Responding to these suggestions will take little time or effort.
         Her bigger concern—one demanding a restructuring of the first third of the novel—was the dynamic between two of its characters: Ephraim and Daniel. She wanted to know the background of their dissension much earlier than I provided in the novel. I had presented their past in several scenes sprinkled throughout the first third of the manuscript. I hoped this would intensify tension and suspense. That didn’t work for Judy.
         While in Minnesota recently, I enjoyed a working lunch with her. Having read only the first third of the novel, Judy believes its main thrust is the story between Daniel and Ephraim.
         For me, as the author, that thrust is between Ephraim and Yeshua. That’s why I began the novel with a scene between the two of them. However, Yeshua does not appear again with Ephraim until nearly a third of the way through the book, when Part II begins in the Galilee. Then the story line becomes theirs. In the latter part of the manuscript, Daniel re-emerges several times. He’s the catalyst of the ongoing need for Ephraim to attach himself to Yeshua, a man for whom he has only contempt.


Orchards in the Upper Galilee.

         Back in January an editor read the manuscript and made suggestions that led to the deletion of 9,000 words. She thought the novel was ready for publication. So after returning from Minnesota, I was left with a conundrum: to publish the novel as is per the editor’s counsel or to change the first third per Judy’s recommendation.
         Unable to untie this Gordian knot, I asked a friend, who’s a prolific reader although not of historical novels, if she would read the manuscript. I gave her a series of questions to consider in her reading. She’s now gotten back to me. Here’s her e-mail response:

I just finished "The Reluctant Spy" and found it fascinating! I don't usually (almost never) read historical novels because I generally find them to be slow.  I tend to skim through the descriptive parts and to read only the narratives thoroughly.  I determined to read every word of your book and I'm glad I did. Yours required a lot of description in the beginning, but the pace picked up at about page 20 and stayed strong throughout.  
         There are quite a few instances of incorrect punctuation and random typos and spaces that need to be corrected.  
         I loved Ephraim’s conversations with God/Hashem.  
         I felt I got a true understanding on why the characters, especially Ephraim and Yeshua, acted as they did.  
         The only suggestion I can make is to make sure you get it published!


Model of Herod’s Temple at the Israel Museum.

While my friend’s response delights me, I’m still perplexed.  Judy is a published author so her opinion sways me. And yet I know that any reading of a third of a novel over a three-month period needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We seldom hold the intricacies of a book in our heads for three months when we do sporadic reading.
         On the other hand, a friend often cannot be objective even when trying hard to be. Still, this friend has been honest with me before when something I wrote didn’t work for her. Perhaps only those first twenty pages of the novel need recasting.
         Given these three responses, I’m befuddled, wondering if I need to hire another professional editor—Judy gave me the names of two who have helped her—or if I need simply to go for publication.
         As you read this posting—in the United States or Great Britain or Australia or wherever you are—please send me your best thoughts about this manuscript. The truth is I’m confused, wondering if I need to continue to fish or if I should cut bait!



16 comments:

  1. Oh my, you are faced with a difficult decision. My thought is always go with your gut, on the other hand, listen to professional advice. Once it is out there, it is too late for changes, so I would think about getting another opinion to make sure that everything is correct and interesting to the most readers.

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    1. Dear Arleen, thanks for your input. Like you, I know that professional advice could help. But I also know that I've fooled around with this manuscript through 19 drafts and for over 15 years. My "gut" tells me it's time to show some belief in myself and do a good copyediting and then seek a publisher. We'll see. I'll post about whatever I do. Thank you again, Arleen. Peace.

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    1. Dear Fishducky, you know the truth is that I'm not even sure of what it means to keep fishing! Peace.

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  3. I recently read a book by an author I didn't know, and it was extremely difficult to get past the different characters she introduced one after another without any connection. I didn't have anything else to read at the time, however, so I persevered and was glad I did. The story finally began to work about 100 pages in (about a third).

    My sense about your book is that you should go ahead and publish it, since 20 pages isn't all that long, and if someone is interested enough to begin it, they should have incentive to persevere. I wish you luck, Dee!

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    1. Dear DJan, thanks for sharing your recent experience in reading. I seldom give a book more than twenty pages because I simply have a list of so many books I want to read. I do think I could do some prudent editing and polishing on those first 20 pages. And I know that I need to do a thorough copyediting.

      Like you I'm thinking that I need to go ahead and get it published. I've written to agents and no one has been interested, so I'll need either to self-publish or find a small press that might consider a historical novel. Peace.

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  4. Oh my, I will send an email.

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    1. Dear Inger, thanks for the email you sent about the novel. As I explained to you, I lack a belief in myself as a novelist and maybe that's why I can't just accept the latest reading. I think I need to let go of mulling this and simply seek publication.

      What I do know is that I've learned a lot from working for 15 years on this manuscript. And I'm hoping that will help me as I write the Bronze-Age Greece novel. Peace.

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  5. Such a quandary. What does your heart tell you to do? I suspect that I would check out another professional editor, but that is me. And you are never ever going to please everyone.

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    1. Dear Sue, my heart tells me to let go of worrying about all this, especially about whether I'm a good novelist. I think I'm holding on to the belief that I can't write well and that's keeping me from taking the step into seeking publication. Peace.

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  6. One book can be many things to just a few people, and over-correcting can cause problems and make you lose your vision, what compelled you to write the story in the first place. I'd say send it out to a few small publishers (like WiDo, who really likes historical fiction) and see what kind of feedback you get.

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    1. Dear Karen, thanks for your sound advice. I really do want to let go of my hesitation and send the ms out to a few small publishers like WiDo and Wayman. As you say, I'll get feedback, and that could prove really helpful. Peace.

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  7. What a conundrum! I read this post earlier and I've been thinking about it. I agree with Elephant's Child. You are the creator of this wonderful piece, and it is what your heart tells you that will guide you to the appropriate path. My own idea would be to go ahead and publish, but go with what is in your heart.

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    1. Dear Shelly, as I said to EC, my heart is encouraging me to let go of my self-doubt and seek publication. First I need to go over those first 20 pages. Then I need to do a thorough copyediting (punctuation, spelling, capitalization, consistency). And I need to set a deadline for those two things so that I don't dilly-dally any more. Then I need to take a step into belief and query some small presses, just as Karen suggests in her comment before yours. Peace.

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  8. I doubt you'd get the same response from any two editors. They are all opinionated, too. Sounds like making the first 20 pages move along faster--or even cutting them out--and a good copyediting is probably a the way to go. Then just go for it. It sounds like that is what your gut is telling you. :)

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    1. Dear Rita, yes, that is what I've decided to do. I started copyediting today and found several places to correct. I find myself so weary of the ms--it's been so many years of working on it--that I have to do the work in half-hour segments so as to keep my eyes alert for problems. But there's no rush on this, no deadline or schedule and so I'll just take the time I need and get the job done. Thanks for your suggestion. Peace.

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