Ahead of her six-week course, From First Draft to Polished Manuscript, we spoke to longtime publisher and editor Linda Funnell about perfecting a manuscript and getting your work out there.
What’s the most common mistake that writers make with their first manuscript?
Without a doubt the most common mistake writers make – even experienced writers – is to send off a manuscript to a publisher or agent before it is ready. Writing a book-length draft takes time, and once that first draft is completed the itch to place it in the hands of a publisher is almost irresistible. But you should resist it, and revise and polish it first: make your first shot your best shot.
How can a writer make their manuscript stand out? Is the secret a good pitch letter?
The secret is to have a great manuscript. A pitch letter can be a very useful shorthand way to let a publisher or agent know who you are and what sort of book you’ve written, but if the manuscript itself isn’t working, then you’re wasting your time. A really grabby opening is the most effective way to hook a reader – but remember, the rest of the manuscript has to live up to that opening. Just having a great opening isn’t enough.
What is one piece of advice writers should bear in mind when preparing their manuscripts?
I have three, really: Firstly: after you’ve finished your draft, try to come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes and imagine that you are reading it for the first time. Leaving a good space of time between finishing a draft and coming back to it again is the key to this. Secondly, be brave. Your draft may need significant changes to reach its full potential. Be open to those changes. The thing that’s hardest to do may be the best thing you can do for your book. Thirdly, trust your instincts. Remember why you wrote this manuscript in the first place. Keep that enthusiasm going and communicate it in your work: readers will notice if you’re just going through the motions.
Linda’s six-week course, From First Draft to Polished Manuscript, will take place across six Tuesday evenings: 10, 17 April and 1, 8, 15, 22 May, from 6:30-9:30pm at the NSW Writers’ Centre. Book in here.