Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Hesitation Waltz by Morgan Mandel

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I hoof it to the commuter train station each workday. A few weeks ago, a driver pulled what I call the Hesitation Waltz. He slowed down a fraction, then waltzed straight through. He not only didn't stop at the sign, but he also denied me, a pedestrian, the right of way. I was prepared for this since it's happened before. When I see a car approach a stop sign, I don't assume it will stop for me. I don't step into the street.

Now, let's relate this to the writing world. Do you waltz right through when you prepare or submit a manuscript? Can you get away with it? Usually not. Most editors are one step ahead of you.

Let's see. If you submit a manuscript to a publishing house without checking which editor acquires your genre, by a strange stroke of luck it might reach the right destination. I wouldn't count on it. Chances are, instead of landing where you hoped, it will end up in the dreaded slush pile or, worse yet, get returned immediately.

Another scenario - You dash off a manuscript and submit it without the format specified by the publishing house, or without carefully edited grammar, punctuation, etc. After all, your story is so wonderful it will be accepted and brushed up by the editor at the publishing house. Isn't that what editors do? Wrong. Most editors are so busy they're looking for manuscripts as close to perfect as possible. Unless you're a celebrity or have come up with a terrific idea that's never been written about before, you'll likely get rejected.

Another sticky little thing you may not want to do - research. You're writing fiction, so it doesn't have to make complete sense, right? Wrong again. Unless you've carefully constructed a make believe world and laid out its conventions, you still need to pay attention to how things work and why people do what they do in your novel. For instance, if you mention Chicago as the capitol of Illinois instead of Springfield, you can bet you'll lose credibility. An editor will most likely stop right there and not read further.

One last scenario - You self-publish a book without asking for help. You don't hire an editor or at the very least ask knowledgeable friends to check it over for mistakes. Even if you're an editor yourself, it doesn't hurt for an objective eye to evaluate your manuscript. Sure, your book will be published without such help, since you published it yourself. It may even get read by a few people, but if it's not up to snuff, they won't recommend it to others. Word of mouth is very powerful. You certainly don't want word to get out that you're an amateur and your books are not worth reading.

On the subject of editors, you have a choice of many fine editors right here at this blogspot. You can check out their bios and credentials in the right hand column. I chose Helen Ginger to do the edits on my upcoming release, Killer Career. She did a fantastic job. As a result, I'm much more confident about presenting it to the public. You'll learn more about the process in future blogs here.

Right now, I don't want to stray too far from the subject at hand, which is the Hesitation Waltz. Do you know of any other harmful shortcuts writers use? If so, please share them with us.

Morgan Mandel


  1. Hi Morgan. Sometimes writers will catch a problem (or their editor or reader does), so they fix it. Let's say the protag was riding a train to work, then the writer realizes she needs to be in a car, so the writer puts her in a car instead. But she doesn't go back and correct sections where the protag gets on the train, or has to juggle her laptop because the seats with fold-down tables were taken. The writer hesitates when she sees a problem, but then waltzed on to the end without checking to see what problems one change made.

    Straight From Hel

  2. Or the author decides to change a character's name, does a fast Find/Replace, but doesn't go back to check the corrections. To pick a silly example, changing Sam to George would also change Samoa to Georgeoa.

  3. The comment about good research is so true! Speaking as a reader, I find errors not only pull me out of the story, but make me stop reading that author. For example, a recent book set in a yarn shop mentioned a character pulling out "battens" to spin. Um, I don't think so; batts, yes. This is such basic fiber terminology, I couldn't believe the author is actually writing a series. The editor should have caught it, too, but clearly isn't a spinner. Harsh as it sounds, I'm not reading any more of that series - there are just too many potentially better books in my future and not nearly enough years. So for a writer, taking the extra bit of time can earn you readers, instead of losing them with one bad word or theory.

    Queen of Analogies with another fine post! ;)


  4. Continuity errors are really distracting. They can be hard to spot, though. I think editors must use spreadsheets to help keep track of what people are wearing, what day of the week it is, etc. Easy mistakes for a writer to make, but not fun for a reader to see.

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  5. Editing is so crucial to creating a good manuscript.Last night on Alexis Grant's #memoirchat on Twitter, one of the writers questioned the use of editors. She didn't want someone changing her writing. How do we get writers to understand the vital need for good editing?

  6. Karen's comment is a reminder - There's no room for egos in writing. Confidence, yes, but not overconfidence.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Amen, Amen, to Morgan's last comment about egos. It took me a while to let go of mine when I first started getting published -- which meant I was edited for the first time. Yikes! She wanted to cut my wonderful words. :-)

  8. As an ardent walker, I identified with your "Hesitation Waltz" intro. I won't step off a curb unless I've connected with a driver's eyes. Ah, he sees me. He's slowing. He's stopped. He's angry or he's smiling, but I'm still alive.

    As for writing,sometimes I'm so flushed with finishing a "final draft," so thrilled I've come up with solutions to the initial structure, character, and claity problems, I can't wait. I run the stop and send it out. Later when I cool down, I consider what could've happened.

    If I'd stopped and looked hard at what I was doing, my chances for an acceptance might still be alive.

  9. Amen on that last one - most self-published authors skip the editor!

    And it shows...

    L. Diane Wolfe

  10. For me, I have to print out the final edit (might not be that, but when I think it's final) to check for errors. I miss them when I check on the computer.

    I do hire editors to go over my work most of the time--when I don't, I'm usually sorry even in the publishing house has a good editing staff.

    Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

  11. Hi Morgan,

    Great post- rushing seems like the right thing to do at the time, but it is always good to get another "eye" on things- as long as you don't then over hesitate and never send the sucker out...

    It's a fine line. Cheers!

  12. Someone once said the difference between fiction and life is that fiction has to make sense.

    That quote always makes me laugh and your post reminded me of it.


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