The importance of a thorough manuscript review: An editor lays it on the line

Diane Smith, St. Paul, Minn., founder and principal editor at Grey Sparrow Press and the new River Otter Press, is a friend of the Novel-In-Progress Bookcamp, sponsored by the Wisconsin Writers Association. Her Grey Sparrow Journal was named the Best New Literary Journal of the Year 2011 by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals at the Los Angeles conference of the Modern Language Association.

Diane graciously agreed to share her thoughts on the importance of making time to fully review, critique, and have your book manuscript looked at by experienced writers when possible before submitting to a publisher or agent:

To prospective Bookcamp applicants,

I feel strongly an independent review process for any writing helps prior to submission to a publisher or agent. There is so much to attend to: characterizations, plot, sub-plots, pace, arc, transitions, how to handle flashbacks, point of view, dialog…character arc vs. physical arc…

No matter how talented a writer you may be, an independent review by another writer can zero in on serious and/or minor issues that need correction before your novel is ready.

I understand how difficult sharing creative work can be. You may feel vulnerable and unsure of yourself in spite of careful review and presentation. It takes courage to write a novel and courage to send it in.

Trust your instincts. You’ll know when a reviewer is spot on regarding your writing. Efforts to maintain a non-competitive atmosphere are important so people feel free to share their thoughts and ideas. If you’re not sure about a critique, set it aside.

Prepare your manuscript to the best of your ability, hook your reader fast, within the first sentence if possible, write a cogent and engaging synopsis, indicate word count, write a query letter when required, have at least three chapters ready for an agent or publisher to consider. Some places require a marketing plan, prepare that too, then send it in on request. Follow a publisher’s submission instructions to the letter.

Remember, be novel when writing your novel. That is critical. We generally don’t publish work loaded with cliches. A unique voice, a unique song will always linger with editors.

Grey Sparrow Press is a modest sized publisher of journals. River Otter Press, opening in January, will work with novel manuscripts on an open basis. “Small indy” would be a fitting reference for both ventures.

We’re a friendly group to work with, but keep in mind, editors are BUSY. We had over 1,200 submissions last year to our journal alone. That’s a whole lot of reading and reviewing. Work not properly prepared is dismissed quickly! Obviously, a couple of minor issues would not result in a rejection at our press—it surely will with some larger presses or top tier agents.

Best wishes to all of you taking on the daunting project of a novel!

Diane Smith,
Founder & Principal Editor
Gray Sparrow Press
River Otter Press


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