Thoughts: The day after you finish your manuscript
October 13, 2011
You dot the last sentence and hit the carriage return. Congratulations! You just finished your killer new manuscript. The world has never experienced anything like it and will never be the same again.
So, now what?? That stack of paper in the tray, or that file on your jump drive is just sitting there, mocking you. What to do with your grand new opus, that Monster you’ve been slaving over?? There are many possible answers to that question, and, depending on who you are as a person, the answer will vary. The trials and tribulations of what happens to you and your manuscript the day after you finish could fill a giant-sized book and be made into a number of movies, so this will, no doubt, be the first of several blog posts covering the topic.
First of all, are You a Perpetual??
The first question you’ll need to face as you consider your finished manuscript is: Are you really done??
There are many Perpetuals out there and either you are one yourself or you know someone who is. You know, a Perpetual is someone who is engaged in a never-ending pursuit: that person who’s been in college for fifteen years and is nowhere close to graduating, that person who has been grouting the bathroom forever, or that person who has written a manuscript and is never quite finished. Let’s face it, a manuscript is your baby and it can be tough to let go, couple that with an artist’s tendency to never be satisfied, it’s very easy to fall into a surreal mire of revision, re-thinking, re-editing and re-focusing, until such time that the original vision and purpose of the MS is lost. Some are perpetually “tweaking” and “fine-tuning” their MS and it will never be quite ready for Prime Time. Years pass, no progress is made, it’s just not quite finished.
The Perpetual and their Manuscript shall waltz together until the proverbial music stops, and it’s not going to stop anytime soon, so, for that person, the day after you finish your manuscript is the first day of the rest of your life.
Publishing: The Banana Republic
The next logical course is to attempt to publish your work–it’s only natural, you’ve written something, now you want to share it. The road to publishing is long and difficult and there’s no 1-2-3, step by step method of accomplishing it. Ask any author and they’ll have all sorts of horror stories of how they got put through the wringer prior to being discovered. It’s an inevitable process, and, whether you choose to seek an agent or submit directly to a publisher; it’s basically the same.
First: you need to know who to submit to. Different agents and publishers represent and publish different things, so, if you’ve written a hardcore science fiction tome, you’re not going to want to submit to a Christian, non-fiction publisher of inspirational short stories. Various publications and websites go over who does what, so it’s worth your time to do a little research and target a specific list that is best suited to you.
Next comes the part that has been the bane of many writers everywhere. All agents and publishers have a lengthy list of requirements that you have to follow pretty much to the letter; any deviation, anything added or omitted will lead to your submission being summarily rejected. These people can get pretty detailed in their demands, from the line spacing, to the exact type of font to use, to the word count of the submission. It is a real Banana Republic where they make the rules and you follow them, or else. You know what they say about absolute power corrupting absolutely–well, there’s the proof. They have the power and you don’t. If you don’t like it, complain to the President.
However, as we’ll see, these days there are other ways to get to Heaven that don’t involve going through Christ (But, that’s a different Blog Post).
The Hell of Manuscripts
So, let’s say you jump through all the required hoops and abased yourself as demanded, the final destination of your MS is a withering hell known as the “Slushpile”. Lording over the Slushpile is a demon from college, paid minimum wage (if they’re being paid at all) with girlfriend/boyfriend issues and a monitor sunburn who can barely see straight known as the Slush Editor. It’s the Slush Editor who picks through all MS’s consigned there and determines which will be forwarded on to the real editors for further consideration. Little balls of teenage angst, these editors vent their fury on the MS’s in their charge, tossing them aside willy-nilly as the case might be (Yes–I was a Slush Editor, and Yes my attitude was poor. It actually felt really good having supreme power at a time in my life when I was otherwise powerless, so flushing a manuscript or two really made my day). Just remember, the next time you see some ridiculous person who’s locked themselves out of their car with the engine running, that could be the person who just rejected your MS.
Thus begins the cycle of Submission and Rejection that many authors will face going the traditional route. Almost all MS’s meet their demise in the Slushpile, and almost all will end up there more than just once. Writers on the lecture tour are fond of mentioning that Harry Potter was once on the Slushpile. The truth of the matter is that Harry Potter was probably on a lot of Slushpiles and drowned in the vortex of most of them. It is a real, lottery-winning moment when your MS happens to make it out of the Slush purgatory and into the hands of an editor who loves it as much as you do. But, that’s a rare moment that can take years and lots and lots of rejection letters to get to.
Next, we’ll go over the Promised Land of Self-Publishing, the stigma that comes with it and the Hungry Beast/Chain-Gang of Marketing