I Wrote a Manuscript, Now What?

As an editor, I’ve recently joined a couple of online platforms that are focused on helping authors find the resources they need to bring their stories to the world. I was already a contractor on Elance, which is now part of Upwork. Now you can also find me on Reedsy and Pronoun. I’m grateful to be involved in communities that help writers get access to the guidance they’re looking for. I meet fascinating people as an editor, and I love the breadth of stories I get to work on.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of authors who have completed manuscripts and are looking for help with next steps.

Zack Morris Time Out: Let’s take a minute to recognize the considerable milestones these authors have achieved. Not only have they completed their manuscripts, they are ready to share them with a stranger, investing time and money to get feedback, with eyes toward improving their work. This is a big deal.

Time back in.

It’s not across the board, but I’ve noticed a theme often enough in the proposed work: authors are ready to take next steps, but they don’t know what those steps are. They are ready to pursue publication, but they’re not familiar with the industry’s landscape. They know they want to get published, but they don’t know how traditional or self-publication works. Basically, they ask me to do whatever it is that needs to happen for their book to be published.

On one hand, this makes sense, and kudos to them for going out and asking questions to figure out how the whole thing works. On the other, I’ve sometimes gotten the impression that authors—who have already achieved so much!—want to hand their work over and have someone else sort it all out. There are lots of sites out there that explain the various means of contemporary publication; there are societies, conferences, workshops. To my mind, this is work that needs to be done before approaching an editor.

I get that feeling of wanting someone else to just finish the thing already. There have been more times than I can count that I want to send a finished-but-not-yet-read-through revision to my agent to let her identify what still needs to be fixed . . . and then tell me how to fix it. Or to send it to editors and have them see that I could eventually get this thing into shape, if they’d take a chance on me. In my right mind, I know this isn’t really what I need. Rather, I need to persevere and accept that this thing is going to take a while, and the hard work is on me.

My main concern with some of the projects I’ve been approached with recently is that the authors don’t have specific and realistic expectations. They haven’t done their research and haven’t clearly defined, for themselves, what they want to achieve with their work. This isn’t a decision I can make for another author. It’s based on how much the author wants to put into it and how much they are willing to endure to accomplish their goals.

If these goals aren’t set, there is a greater possibility that these hard-working, passionate people are going to be disappointed and discouraged from further pursuing the work they love. And nobody wants that!

So what’s an author to do about it? Well, there are blogs to read (like this one!). There are websites to follow, authors to keep up with on Twitter and other social media outlets. Get involved in the community you want to be a part of. It’s a fascinating place, filled with all kinds of people, all kinds of stories.

And when you know what you want from your work, when you have an understanding of what it’s going to take to get from point A to point B and you’re ready to tackle it, find an editor who shares your passion for good stories, for hard work, for the satisfaction of giving something your all. It will be an investment of time and money, but it will not improve not only your manuscript, but also you as a writer.

You’ve gotten this far. Keep it up. Watch a classic underdog movie for motivation: Miracle, maybe, or Rocky or A League of Their Own. The good stuff is worth fighting for. And what you’ve been working on? It’s good stuff.


NaNo, Day One

So here’s the truth: NaNo, Day One was extraordinarily successful in this neck of the proverbial woods. I do not say this to boast; I say this because I am kind of in shock.


I happened to be up at midnight last night, and thought I might as well write a few lines. Getting hyped for the start in the last few days, I’ve had some things in mind that I committed to e-paper in the loosest terms possible, as not to break the rules. In the time I had before summoned by a sleepy, but awake child, I managed 455 words. A nice start, I thought.


I slept some and after taking the car in for service, made it to a library nearby for a regional Kick-Off party. One relatively young guy was doing NaNo for the twelfth time! Another had a typewriter. Another two were writing by hand.


We had a couple of word sprints—fifteen minutes in which everyone writes as much as possible. Any time I’m writing this month, it’s going to be writing as much as possible! After winning the first one (the only sprint I will ever win), I kept my headphones on and continued to pump out stuff that wasn’t total drivel . . . I don’t think.


Contrary to my plan, I ended up starting the novel over at the beginning, and I’m glad I did. I’ve written the start so many times, it was good to have a fresh take at it, without trying to manipulate something I’d written previously. There’s still a huge deal of editing to tackle later, but I’m into the story faster than I have been on previous drafts, and I can see where the next few days of writing, at least, might be going.


I ended up leaving the library because I was feeling more productive than social. I reconvened at a Panera for about an hour, before heading back home. I may try a “Write In” next weekend, which is a quiet work session. It was fun to be with people embarking on the same challenge. I heard both the success stories of years past and, for others, the couple of years it took to finally win.


NaNo is a beautiful thing in this sense. It gets people writing, it builds community, it encourages us to tell our stories, whatever they may be. As long as it doesn’t make me totally nuts over the next four weeks, I’m glad I’m doing it.


Oh, and my word count today? 5,159. Okay, two words were my name. One was “by.” And four were the title. But still, pretty good, I think. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings.


Happy writing!