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Thread: what does polished/unpolished look like?

  1. #1
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    what does polished/unpolished look like?

    Just curious from those who might know (or are published).

    It feels insurmountably difficult to self-edit up to published standard, pre-submission. Do you think it's possible to do this on your own?

    one of the things I struggle with is not being able to gauge how much publishers/editors improve a MS, and what a "polished" submission looks like when acquired (as opposed to a publication ready novel).

    Hope that makes sense as a question.
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  2. #2
    Rewriting My Destiny Cyia's Avatar
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    Just make it as clean as you can get it. Get rid of every possible typo, but don't sweat the possibility that you might have misused a comma or dropped a word or two. I know MS word marks misspelled words, but run spell / grammar check anyway. DO NOT let it auto-correct; most of its suggestions for grammar are wrong. Just take the time and examine its suggestions. Read it out loud.

    Once you've done as much as you can, then send it. Agents are looking for clean, competent, and coherent. Hit that threshold, and you're good. The final polish comes from the agent and then the editor.

  3. #3
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    It feels insurmountably difficult to self-edit up to published standard, pre-submission. Do you think it's possible to do this on your own?
    What kind of editing are you talking about?

    If you're talking about grammar and typos - yes, a publisher will generally have a copy editor who'll look for such things, but it's a really good idea to make sure you've handled as many of those as you can find. If there are too many, you risk the errors being such a distraction that an acquiring editor isn't going to have the patience. Fortunately, there are tools out there for this - even Word, for all its flaws, does a decent job of catching more egregious grammar and spelling errors.

    If you're talking about wordcraft, pacing, and narrative: yes, you need a publication-level manuscript. That doesn't mean an agent and/or editor won't have suggestions or changes, but you're much more likely to sell your work if you've shown you're capable of writing to a publishable standard.

    (IMHO, based on my personal experience, YMMV, etc. etc.)
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  4. #4
    No, you're the grease monkey. Fruitbat's Avatar
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    I think it is very difficult to do it all on your own because when we write, what really goes on is an interplay of what we're actually putting on the page and what's in our minds. (Not sure where you're at on your journey, Harlequin but I'll say this is especially true for newer writers).

    Competition is fierce and those who submit rough work are likely to just lose their chance.

    Then you have to develop a whole new set of skills, (again, the general "you" here) knowing what to use or discard in critiques/beta reads. My process is make the changes I definitely agree with as I read the crit/beta read. And cross out the definite "no thanks" suggestions, too. That only leaves the "maybes" to deal with, maybe on a different day. But in the end, I don't make any changes I'm not sure about, even if I only use a small percentage of the suggestions offered.

    Another thing that helps me hugely is to have someone read it out loud to me. My reader and I usually stop in the same places, both feeling like something didn't sound quite right. I fix it as I go, with that in-person help. The ears catch what the eyes miss.

    One more thing, I don't think it's a substitute for getting other eyes on it but I swear, every damn time I actually print something out and read the paper rather than the screen, I find an error or two.

    Good luck!
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  5. #5
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    Heck, *I'm* not sure where I am on this journey :p when every pitstop is new, how do you gauge the end point?_?

    I guess technically out on submission (?) sans agent, although I anticipate both being rejections because I have a sense I'm not there yet.

    @liz and cyia, yeah more like pacing and narrative. However, everything can always be better, so I don't know what done "enough" looks like if that makes sense.

    I self aware.enough to acknowledge the gap in quality between the people I like reading and my own stuff ;p but also wish I could see how they read at submission stage. I suppose it doesn't matter much in the end.
    Last edited by Harlequin; 07-27-2017 at 04:59 AM.
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


  6. #6
    Whittling Away My Writer's Block D.L. Shepherd's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Fruitbat View Post

    One more thing, I don't think it's a substitute for getting other eyes on it but I swear, every damn time I actually print something out and read the paper rather than the screen, I find an error or two.

    Good luck!
    I find the same thing. I think my eyes get tired reading stuff on a screen, and I tend to miss more errors than if I print something out.

  7. #7
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    @liz and cyia, yeah more like pacing and narrative. However, everything can always be better, so I don't know what done "enough" looks like if that makes sense.
    There's certainly a subjective element to this, because "enough" is high enough quality for someone to offer you money for it. And we've all read published novels that have made us think uh, what?? although our individual lists would probably not have a lot of overlap.

    It's one of those things that just takes time to develop, I think: becoming objective enough about your own work. You're never going to be really objective about it, but with enough practice, enough distance, enough reading of other books that you like and admire, you'll eventually get to the point where you can read your own words and catch most of what is and isn't serving the story you want to tell.

    Yes, outside opinions are also useful, but ultimately you've got to have a solid enough sense of what you're trying to accomplish to be able to pick and choose what you listen to from critics. If you're not clear enough about what you're trying to say, you may find yourself jerked back and forth between conflicting critiques with no real sense of where you want to go.
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  8. #8
    Becoming a laptop-human hybrid Fuchsia Groan's Avatar
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    I would always strive for clean copy (grammar, finding typos, etc.) and the very best ms. you can write by your own (and some trusted betas' or CPs') standards. But beyond that, try not to torture yourself about this.

    I edit for a living. I catch typos, use commas consistently, know my usage rules, all that stuff. I can produce mss. that are incredibly clean and presentable on a sentence or paragraph level but unreadable on an overall story level. Pacing is the demon I struggle with.

    Here's the thing: you would not believe how many stages of revision there are. A really good editor can push a book beyond anything you envisioned. If my goal were to write books so clean they didn't need any editing from anyone but me, I would invariably be horribly disappointed by the publishing process.

    When an editor offers on your book, they tend to write a letter full of lovely compliments. What a wonderful book! Your head gets swollen. Then, weeks or months later, you get the editor's notes, and suddenly there's SO much wrong with this wonderful book. Why did they even buy it? you wonder. It's an incredibly humbling moment.

    But you use the notes and keep revising. And the book gets better. And then a copyeditor comes and questions every single tiny thing that hasn't already been questioned. And then there's maybe another copyedit, and a page read, and more questions. And then someone writes a review tearing the book apart, and you're humbled yet again. And maybe years later you're reading your own printed book and still wishing you'd reworded this or that sentence.

    All this scrutiny and second-guessing does have a purpose. I've read books from small, understaffed presses that were painfully under-edited. Basic errors, inconsistencies, poor pacing — not good things.

    My advice would be to get input from trusted readers on issues like pacing, and to proofread carefully, but not to imagine that you can really know what's "polished" or "publication-ready." Prose can be polished, in a relative sense — easy and pleasant to read, etc. But readying a book for publication involves collaboration and the input of a team. All you can hope to do is make your book attractive enough for that team to want to get involved, then benefit from their wisdom.

    This is another way of saying that the entire process is humbling, at least in my limited experience, but also incredibly rewarding. If I self-published, I probably wouldn't hire an editor, because I know I can copyedit my own work. Using CPs for rigorous developmental input, I think I could produce a reasonably "polished," easy-reading book. But I would miss the input of that professional publication team — really, really miss it. It takes things to a level I can't reach alone.

    ETA: I think I wrote a ton and didn't really answer your questions. Let me try:

    — No, it's not possible to self-edit to "publishable standard," unless you're just talking about clean copy. "Publishable standard" is the product of an interaction between an individual book, author, agent (probably), and editor. Sub in a different editor, and it changes.

    — A book that gets acquired is a book that was polished and readable enough to make a team of people want to read it all the way to the end. As far as I can tell, that's the only constant. People enjoyed reading it. People believe others will enjoy reading it. A book can be enticing in that way and still have pacing problems in certain areas, or characterization that needs to be worked out, or a whole ending that has to be rewritten — according to that team, anyway. That doesn't mean you should give up on fixing such problems on your end, while you still can, just that you can't anticipate all the concerns that other people — even huge fans of the book! — will have.
    Last edited by Fuchsia Groan; 08-04-2017 at 03:28 AM.
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  9. #9
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    Rocker Bob Seger, one of the best wordsmiths among lyricists in the 1970s, has a great single line in his hit "Against the Wind":

    What to leave in, what to leave out

    Those are the things editors look for. Know those things, and you'll know the difference between polished and unpolished.

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  10. #10
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    Here's the thing: you would not believe how many stages of revision there are. A really good editor can push a book beyond anything you envisioned. If my goal were to write books so clean they didn't need any editing from anyone but me, I would invariably be horribly disappointed by the publishing process.
    Thanks Fuschia (and blacbird, and others; sorry to lump you all in!).

    Clarity of setting/world building/politics has always been and continues to be my biggest struggle in early chapters. I guess that's not too bad, since the biggest problem used to be character engagement (a killer for a MS), but it's nearly impossible to assess myself. I know all the answers, all the meta, so obviously it makes perfect sense to me.

    Betas help, but each beta is only good for one read in regards to clarity. Betas who've read all the way through no longer find the beginning a steep cliff, as I don't, cause they've lost the "fresh eyes" they had before. That means more and more and more betas are needed...

    One year, fifteen+ betas, and a dev editor later, I'm still chipping away at the clarity problems, while also simultaneously losing the will to live. On the plus side, the other two projects are much less of a headache and seem easier to gauge re being done.
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
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    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
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  11. #11
    figuring it all out bin_b0x's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cyia View Post
    Just make it as clean as you can get it. Get rid of every possible typo, but don't sweat the possibility that you might have misused a comma or dropped a word or two.
    That's a relief to read. I can't even guess the amount of panic attacks I've had with previous books upon discovering a single gap or misused word buried in a later chapter. These discoveries, of course, happened well after I'd sent them to agents.

  12. #12
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    One thing that helps me enormously is to play the text out loud to myself. I'm more likely to catch dropped words. Places where I used "of" instead of "on." Misspelled words that Word didn't catch. Awkward dialogue. Scenes that feel rushed and other places that drag and need to be cut. It feels like looking at the same thing through a different lens, but for me it's very helpful.

  13. #13
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    In terms of technical quality I don't worry so much. I tend to write very clean first drafts and go from there.

    I guess when I talk about polished and unpolished, I mean things like--is there enough interior world, does the ending fall apart, is there enough clarity, is there enough engagement, do I have the right dialogue/narrative balance, etc etc.

    For spelling, grammar, and general craft I have no problem making it read smooth. But no amount of typo fixing can make a dead plot breathe, or a dull character pop.

    To be a little crude, my concern is that I can't always tell if I'm polishing a gem or polishing a turd.

    Does that makes sense?
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


  14. #14
    All the nopes. lizmonster's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    Does that makes sense?
    Yes, I think it does. And that's a hard one. I think there are two things that can help with this:

    a) time/distance
    b) other eyes

    The first one is really subjective, and will depend on both you and the work. I need to be away from something for a couple of months before I can read it with anything resembling objectivity. I don't always have that kind of time to give it, and I don't always want to, if I'm in work mode.

    The second is far more useful, but the key is in finding eyes that are useful to you. The best betas, IME, are people who get engaged with the story, and can explain coherently the places that shove them out of the narrative or make their interest flag. You can't always know if someone is a good beta for your book until they've finished it (and often neither can they).

    The most useful critiques I've had make me see the obvious, like a character reacting in an unrealistic way, a setting that's just an amorphous blob of backdrop, or a chapter that may be full of juicy stuff but doesn't move the story forward at all. But even with that, the beta's personal taste is always going to be your first hurdle. It's common for some people to dislike a story that others love and find beautifully written.

    It starts with you, though, and it's kind of a circular thing, I think. Revisions and edits can take a long time. If you've got the energy and desire to go through all of that, you've probably got something workable. But sometimes you have to put a lot of time into a piece before you realize that you just don't love it enough.
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  15. #15
    I write weird stories. phantasy's Avatar
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    Good thread. Going through this myself, atm. Though for me it's mostly the pacing and writing. I'm often trying to describe strange events and people find them confusing. It's really tough to be sure that I'm doing it right without extra eyes, and those eyes are hard to find.

    It's really frustrating because there's so many subjectivity between what's good writing and pacing. I'm also worried that even a clean MS won't get bites, because there's some mystical amount of experience you have must have for your prose to be consider decent, so there you go. You can only do your best, I guess.
    Last edited by phantasy; 08-20-2017 at 10:29 PM.
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  16. #16
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    I've had a fair few betas (upwards of 15 by now). Most I had far too early, though.

    The problem is my own making: being new and impatient, but also not recognising the difference between a milestone and an endpoint. I keep hitting the "finish line" and finding it's just another lap complete, as opposed to the end of the race.

    Because I've screwed things up I have two fulls out for a MS... which in the eight weeks since submitting, I've realised still isn't done, although I thought it was at the time. I've rewritten the ending for a totally different feel and series of events.

    I don't know what that means in relation to the future of the MS. Perhaps the people who have the fulls will see "enough" in it that they'd be willing to consider revisions, but I'm guessing it's going to be a rejection and/or burnt bridge. I don't know for sure, though, because I don't know how "close" a MS has to be to garner further attention, or even a R&R.

    Also, while I can submit elsewhere after rejection, I'm not sure I should. I think it's polished *this* time, but I've thought that every month since April--and then rewritten some or all of it every month.

    There's no real solution here. I'm just mentioning it as a cautionary tale: don't be a dolt like me. *sigh*
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


  17. #17
    practical experience, FTW Shoeless's Avatar
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    If you've already had 15 betas, that's a lot of eyes on your book already, and that's exactly what you need. I guess the big question you need to ask yourself is how many of those betas gave you really good critiques that made your book better? And if you can narrow that gap down, and some of them haven't seen the latest draft of the novel and there have been big changes since then, would they be willing to look at it again?

    As long as you sincerely, truly feel that you let the novel go too early and you want to go back and fix things, that's fine, and you're doing the right thing. If this has turned into a trap, where you are endlessly tinkering the with novel, continually striving for perfection, then you have to let that go, as, at some point you will have to let your novel go out into submission and stand on its own. Some novels really do take years to finally be whipped into publishable shape, although hopefully if you get that book published, you'll have learned enough from the experience that the writing will go a bit faster the next time, especially if you were lucky enough to get a multi-book deal, and the deadline will be considerably shorter for the sequel.

  18. #18
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Ah, well, more than half of them never made it past chapter 3, either because it was so bad they had to stop or the critique just wasn't working for both sides ;-) however that input was still desperately useful, since I struggled the most with early chapters, so I include them on the list. Discounting critique partners, only 3 or 4 have made to the end, which is much more reasonable a number.

    Betas are generally only good for one read through as after that they have too much meta knowledge and can't help with clarity.

    It's only been a little over a year, start to finish--the fulls I sent out were at the 8 month stage, so I think I really did send far too early. I hope to at least get feedback from what I anticipate being all rejections.
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


  19. #19
    paying my dues RaggedEdge's Avatar
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    Good thread and I appreciate everyone's in-depth answers.

    I've heard it said and have found it true myself: when betas start having differing advice, and there are no more issues that are consistently pointed to as a problem, you may have it ready even though you still have some lingering doubts. But I agree, it's very hard to gauge, and what's an acceptable level of readiness to one agent or publisher won't be to some others.

    I still had several hangups about my manuscript, but after many revisions and 3 beta rounds, it got to the point that it was down to just a few things and everyone had different opinion. Still, I wasn't going to query it anymore because of silence and rejections.

    The agent who finally did make an offer read the most recent draft (thankfully!). She said it was very well polished and explained that she meant not only surface-level polishing but the deeper things you allude to like pacing and plotting. I got the impression its level of readiness was a little unusual, actually, although she has also said it of another writer's work when she signed them, so maybe she was comparing mine to the general slush. Maybe that polishing is a requirement for her. Still, she'll be having me edit it before submitting to editors, and I have my own questions to raise with her during that process - those lingering concerns (which I suspect are common at any stage in the game).

    I hope that helps. You asked a really good question and one that's tough to answer, partly because it's so subjective.
    Last edited by RaggedEdge; 09-03-2017 at 01:28 AM. Reason: clarity
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  20. #20
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    Thanks for the answer, that was very insightful!

    Also this:
    . But I agree, it's very hard to gauge, and what's an acceptable level of readiness to one agent or publisher won't be to some others.
    ...drives me nuts! I get the impression some agents prefer manuscripts they can have input on, whereas others are looking for professionally polished diamonds.
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


  21. #21
    practical experience, FTW
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    Quote Originally Posted by Harlequin View Post
    I get the impression some agents prefer manuscripts they can have input on, whereas others are looking for professionally polished diamonds.
    Why would you ever send an agent a manuscript you didn't think was a "professionally polished diamond"?

    caw
    Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.

    -- Terry Pratchett

  22. #22
    ....... Harlequin's Avatar
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    That's my point. I can't tell when something is or isn't at that stage (and neither can many, judging by the state some MS arrive in).

    It may not be possible for someone unpublished to recognise what that state looks like, particularly if they can't afford an editor or don't manage to find betas, or else the betas themselves don't know.

    I've sent one off that was, I thought, very polished. Since then I redid the ending a couple of times. It was polished for what it was, but also not complete in a real sense, though I didn't appreciate that at the time.
    Last edited by Harlequin; 09-03-2017 at 11:52 AM.
    Deferential, glad to be of use,
    Politic, cautious, and meticulous;
    Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;
    At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—
    Almost, at times, the Fool.


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