Sunday, December 7, 2008

Dazzling Manuscripts, Dazzled Editors and Readers :)

As an adult—I am assuming, you the reader, is over the age of eighteen :)—I am sure once or twice in your lifetime you felt that you have “it”, the guarantees of getting something that you coveted (I’ll use a job for the sake of conversation.) Like the dream job you thought would bring big bucks in your checking account, the one that would buy you round trip tickets to the Bahamas or Hawaii or Europe. Or the one that would help send your child to ballet school.
You knew deep in your gut, the employer would be amazed by what he’d see in your resume.

But reality came crashing down—hard enough to knock you down on your ass—when you realized you weren’t the only one qualified for the job, with a degree, with impeccable recommendations.
Suddenly your confidence started depleting like a leaky balloon. You looked at the other applicants. All of you wanted the same thing. Most likely, as they waited for their turn, they were dreaming about the Bahamas, too.

Like them, you were just another number.

While you sat and waited for your turn to sell yourself, to tell the interviewer how great you were, a question popped in your head.
What should you say to dazzle the interviewer? What was so unique about you that set you apart from the herd? Why should you get the job? Should you tell him you could catch a fly using chopsticks, catch a bullet with your teeth, and undergo a root canal procedure without a shot of local anesthesia?

Now, let me apply that question to your manuscript. Assuming that your story was error free, you followed the submission guidelines and you submitted the story to the right publication, if you’re a published author, what do you think saved your manuscript from meeting the horrible fate of being eaten by a Slushpile Monster? How did you manage that prodigious feat?

If you’re an editor, (I am hoping one or two editors will share their views) please tell us what dazzles you when you read stories of same genre every day.
And if you’re a reader, what do you look for in a book? Length, price, author’s name, title, or blurb?

I look forward to reading your comments, which I believe will help published and unpublished authors avoid the Slushpile Monster and experience the euphoric sense of accomplishment instead.

Yours truly,

Tierney O’Malley

12 deadly screams:

Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Great topic! There are so many great, hardworking authors out there who are languishing in the slushpile simply because their story didn't catch the attention of the right editor at the right time. It's so subjective, but speaking as an author, I'd say a good hook is a deciding factor. If the first line, paragraph, page of your story grabs the reader by the throat and pulls them, kicking and screaming into your world, you've got it. Don't start your story with a character waking up and thinking about their life. Don't start with a long, complicated back story or history lesson to indoctrinate your reader, just jump feet first into the story and force the reader to turn pages to find out what's going to happen next.

Speaking an editor, I can't emphasize enough how important good grammar and clean copy is. A good story, even one with a great hook, will be overlooked if the editor has to sift through confusing prose and quirky style. Authors place a lot of emphasis on the words they use, but ultimately, the writing has become nearly invisible and not intrude on the story. If an editor has to spend too much time figuring out why a sentence doesn't work, your story won't warrant a second read.

Tierney O'Malley said...


Wow! Thank you so much for your great comment. :D

"Don't start with a long, complicated back story or history lesson to indoctrinate your reader"

*shaking my head* Guilty! I made that mistake a couple times. Yes, twice. And you can guess the consequences I faced after that. Ouch!

Thank you for stopping by. I bet I am not the only one who appreciates reading your comment.


Bernadette Gardner and Jennifer Colgan said...

Any time! Thanks for letting my brain leak all over your blog. LOL!

Debby said...

I am a reader and first I look at the blurb. It has to interest me. I also look for authors I like and recommendations from others.

Pheebles said...

As an author, I try to drop the reader into the thick of the action from the first paragraph. Back story can come later but, Bernadette said it best. Hook them in by the throat straight away.

The first sentence of my first published novel: "I was married in a pub, with a stockman and a whore as witnesses." Has received praise from editors and readers alike, because it grabs the attention and keeps hold of it.

As a reader, if the first page or two of a book doesn't grab me, I don't grab the book. You seriously only have that much time to capture a reader.

Pheebles said...

also, a good resource for new writers is a book called "The First Five Pages - A writer's guide to staying out of the rejection pile" I have recommended this book to every aspiring writer that asks me how to stay out of the slushpile.

Grammar Geek said...

I cannot agree enough with what Bernadette said about good grammar and clean copy. If my editor brain kicks in and starts picking apart the grammar and word structure so much that the story loses me, that's gonna affect my decision.

For me, I like a story that grabs me, pulls me in and keeps me there. I tend to multitask and always have a million things on the go, and if I start a story that keeps me so interested that I'm not thinking about the 6482 things on my plate, that's a really good sign.

So, what makes this story? Characters I like to spend time with, who speak with a voice that pulls me in. Don't give me a vignette... I want a solid GMC for both characters. I want to follow their journey, rooting for them to get together, and I want to sigh at the end that it all worked out.

I buy the books that give me the sigh. ;)

Tierney O'Malley said...


I love this:
"The first sentence of my first published novel: "I was married in a pub, with a stockman and a whore as witnesses." Has received praise from editors and readers alike, because it grabs the attention and keeps hold of it."

You made me go back to the first chapter of the current story I am working on right now. LOL

This is so rich!
Yes, what Bernadette wrote is right. The "hook" is the deciding factor. I have to keep that im mind. Hurray for Bernadette!

Thank you for sharing Pheebles!


Tierney O'Malley said...

Hi Debby,

Thanks for stopping by.
Yup, me too. I buy/borrow books from the local library with a cathy blurb.
I'm addicted to historical romance (I don't write it though). When I see one,--regardless of the author--the first thing I do is turn the book to read the blurb.
Book cover is not that important to me. I've read books with cheezy covers--sad for the author--but left me wanting to read more. So, points for blurbs!

Take care,


Tierney O'Malley said...


Glad you recommended "The First Five Pages - A writer's guide to staying out of the rejection pile"

I place it on hold at the local library. :D
Maybe I can add it on my Christmas wish list.

Tierney O'Malley

Tierney O'Malley said...

Hi Grammar Geek,

Thank you so much for posting!

"I want a solid GMC for both characters."

GMC--I knew you weren't talking about cars for the characters :D, but I couldn't figure out the acronym. So, I went to visit your blog. Glad I did. I learned about what GMC is about (Goal, Motivation, and Conflict, The Building Blocks of Good Fiction). The post is great.
By the way, your Ask the Grammar Geek page is really cool. Very helpful.

Again, thanks for the comment. :D


Georgia Woods said...

Hi, Tierney!

As an editor, I want a story that has characters that grab hold of my heart and pull me in, and a story that never stops. It needs to take off fast and never slow down enough for me to lose my connection. I want to be jerked into someone else's world, and be so immersed in the emotion and the action that I forget where I'm at and what's going on around me.

It also has to be clean enough that I don't feel like we'll be working for weeks just to clean up the grammar and spelling enough for the story to shine through. And yes, like Grammar - hey there buddy! - I do have a hard time staying in a story when I see typos and grammar errors and word choice errors on every line.

Wishing you the very best!