Feedback YOU can use to edit your manuscript

February 10, 2010

Before I get to the meat of this post, some good news: I’m almost done* with my last round of revisions. That’s right, my LAST* round!

I don’t want to say my manuscript will be complete by the end of the month, because we all know I never meet my self-imposed deadlines. I’m giving myself no deadline — I repeat, NO DEADLINE — for this last revision. But it’s moving even faster than I expected, probably because I love revising. Love it, love it, LOVE IT! Everything’s there, and all I have to do is make it better.

Anyhow. What’d you come here for? Oh yes, feedback YOU can use. The five awesome people who read my book had great suggestions for improvement, and as I’ve implemented their advice, I’ve realized that these ideas might help YOU, too. This constructive criticism is general enough and important enough that it could probably apply to your manuscript. So as you’re editing, keep these suggestions in mind.

Here’s what my readers suggested:

Add more ME. More reflection, more introspection. More analysis rather than simple reporting, as we’d say in the news biz. This was my favorite feedback, because I think I’d held back on this without even realizing it. Yes, I put lots of my own ideas and reflection in the manuscript — that’s what a memoir is about — but I needed someone to tell me that it worked. I worried the reader wouldn’t care or would get bored if I related too many things to my own life. But my guinea pig readers said — unanimously — that these were their favorite parts of the book. So I’m adding more! More of those embarrassing moments we all love to read about but hate to reveal. More me.

Make sure the tone of the beginning of the book matches the rest. This sounds obvious, but it’s something I struggled with for a while, letting my voice shine in the first two chapters. Why? Because I was trying too hard. Because I know how important the beginning of the book is to hook the reader, the agent, the publisher. As a result, the tone of my first two chapters didn’t match the rest of the book. It wasn’t as funny or as conversational. It needed more of what I wrote about above: more me.

Strengthen your themes. The first section of my book jumps around a lot in terms of location, since I’m backpacking through a lot of countries. One way to make it feel more linear is to strengthen my themes, to tie it all together with my “follow your dream”‘ mantra. So I’m beefing that up.

Set up your triumphs. There are a few scenes in the manuscript where I overcome something big. (Hey, if I give you all the details, you won’t buy the book!) My readers loved these parts. But if the scenes were set up better, they said, they’d be even more powerful. How do I do that? Again, it comes back to the more me suggestion. The better the reader feels like they know me, they more they’ll understand and relate to those triumphs.

Make sure your dialogue is conversational. Some of my dialogue, particularly at the beginning of the book, sounded like I was trying too hard to convey information. Fixing this gave me a chance to nix some unnecessary dialogue tags, too, which is so therapeutic.

Cut the boring parts. I’ve said this before, so it’s not new to me. Cutting and trimming makes every manuscript better! And yet, there were a few parts I had left in because I wasn’t sure whether to take them out. Turns out if you think you think a certain part might be choppable (yes, I’m inventing the word “choppable” here), it probably is.

Hopefully these suggestions will help you as much as they’ve helped me!

*Last round until I seek out a literary agent. Done as in the best I can make it. We all know an agent and publisher will probably want me to revise more.

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