Archive for May 20th, 2011

May 20 2011

Will Your Manuscript Survive to Page 20?

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Assuming your manuscript has survived to page 2, here are some thoughts about how to keep a publisher’s assistant reading to page 20. At a major novel publisher, the PA rejects ~995 out of each 1000 unsolicited manuscripts and sends on the rest to her boss.  PAs are under huge time constraints and have other job responsibilities (really!), so the only way for them to get through the slush pile is to stop reading manuscripts as soon as it’s clear they’re not among the very best. With that in mind, here are some of the shortcuts I would use to determine within 20 pages which manuscripts deserve more time and which don’t.


1.  As always, a manuscript with serious proofreading issues is dead on arrival. First, this is a generally reliable indicator that the story is not among the very best*.  Second, the more proofreading a manuscript needs, the more it will distract the editorial staff from their other duties (such as, umm, all of the other titles they’re working on).  If I were reviewing manuscripts for a publisher, I couldn’t envision any many circumstances where I would keep reading a submission with more than a few proofreading errors in the first 1000 words (~3 pages).  (Main exception: If the author is a celebrity or has a really interesting bio, such as experience as a Navy SEAL or SWAT officer, the publisher might be willing to put extra time into proofreading and/or ghostwriting).


*If you are an author that has gotten an unsolicited manuscript with more than ~10 typos professionally published, please let me know.  That must have been some story!


2.  I’d really like to see a main character quickly separate himself/herself from other protagonists in the genre. For example, he/she can do something that most other heroes in the genre wouldn’t do in the same circumstances.  If the main impression I get of the main character is “standard genre hero,” the character probably isn’t well-developed enough to hold my interest.  Relatedly, if the main character can be summed up in one word, I would regard that as a really bad sign.  If I’ve gotten through ~20 pages and the main character can be boiled down to “nerd” or “soldier” or “superhero” or “astro-ninja” or whatever, the characterization probably isn’t deep enough.  If I could use my own work as a positive example (even though I’m not a published author), I feel Agent Orange established himself as a lively, unusual sort of superhero.  Here’s what I did with 5 comic book pages in The Taxman Must Die (~200 words).  Given 20 novel pages (5000-6000 words), you can surely can do more.


3.  I’d really like to see the main character(s) doing interesting things as soon as possible. For example, if the story starts with a character waking up, I feel that’s a huge red flag unless the character’s morning routine is highly unusual and/or dramatic.  For example, if the character is woken up by artillery fire, that’s probably a good sign.  If the character has an ordinary morning leading into what seems to be an ordinary day of school, why not just skip to the interesting part?


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May 20 2011

The CDC has a post on preparing for a zombie epidemic…

Unfortunately, it’s really just a generic “here’s what you should do to be ready for any disaster” plan with zombies thrown in for fun.  Food and medicine are great, but let’s be honest: You’re not actually ready for a zombie apocalypse until you have a machine gun and two bullets for everybody in the county.   (In case you miss, silly).

My zombie defense plan is counterintuitive, but it’s the most popular one in the world.

1. Get eaten.

2.  Whatever else happens, it’s not my problem.


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