Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Theory on Thursday with Louise Cusack

Today I have romantic fantasy author Louise Cusack visiting. Not only is Louise an award winning fantasy author whose Shadow Through Time trilogy is about to be released by Pan Macmillan’s eBook arm Momentum Books.  She is also a highly successful manuscript developer, writing mentor and tutor with several clients published and many more winning prestigious competitions.

Louise is going to tell us a bit about her manuscript assessment service, but first, don't forget - if you haven't already done so - to read the two posts below and comment for a chance to win a book by Ruthie Knox and a book by Jennifer Weiner. Only a couple of days left to enter both.

Here's Louise...

Getting serious: Manuscript Assessment

There comes a time in every unpublished writer’s career when they wonder what they have to do to get across the line, to get a publisher or an agent to take them on.  They might have been writing for years, doing well in contests, and have crit buddies who love their work, but still… no contract.

So what can they do?
Well if this is you and you can’t see a way forward, you might decide to give up your dream of being published by Harlequin or Berkley or Avon and go with a smaller ePublisher or even self publish, not realising how challenging it is to drum up sales when you don’t have the huge distribution machinery of a big International publisher behind you.  And while there are the rare, celebrated authors who rise from self-publishing obscurity to become International best sellers, the vast majority of authors who have long, successful careers have been published by big publishing houses.  So if you also want to go the traditional route, what can you do to lift the quality of your work to a standard that will excite publishers and agents?

One way to give your career a jump-start is to have a manuscript assessment by an industry professional, and the Australian Writers Marketplace among other sites will give you a range of assessors to choose from.  Always query them first to see what you get for your money, but to give you an overview I’ll tell you what I do, so you can see if an assessment might help you.  I charge a touch under $400 for a sixty thousand word manuscript, and my clients consider that to be an inexpensive way to help them bridge the gap between where they are and where they want to be: signing a contract that delivers thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars if they can create a novel publishers will bid on.  Every business spends money on development, and career writers are no different. 

A good assessment can help you eliminate the craft issues that are holding you back, and clarify and strengthen plot structure and characterisation.  Every manuscript is different, but the number one flaw I see in manuscripts is lack of tension (most often caused by a goal/motivation/conflict structure that is unclear or not compelling).  Other problems I’ve diagnosed in the 150 manuscripts I’ve assessed are structural flaws that affect tension or pacing, characterisation weaknesses (either due to viewpoint control issues, lack of internalisations or clichéd reactions) or problems with dialogue, visuals, pacing or grammar.   The most heartbreaking are manuscripts that have been beautiful written with faultless grammar, but have either no viewpoint control, predictable plots or clichéd characters.  On the surface these manuscripts shine and their authors don’t see the critical flaws that are stopping them being published, so I find it very satisfying to help these talented writers uncover their Achilles Heel and offer direction towards overcoming it.

Knowing what isn’t working is half the battle.  Having clear direction on how to fix the problem is vitally important as well, and that not only helps you edit to make your novel more saleable, it also makes you mindful of that craft issue in the next story, ensuring that each future draft is stronger.

If you’d like to check out my webpage on manuscriptdevelopment or the rest of my writingtips website you may find something that helps you turn your good story into a great story, and my New Year’s wish for you is that your manuscript snags the attention of a jaded publisher or agent searching for the next big thing.

Remember: Luck happens when opportunity and preparation meet.  A big contract can happen, but you need to work to make it happen for you!

Thanks Louise - sounds really helpful! I'm curious, have any of you tried a manuscript assessor? If so, how did it work for you?


Leah Ashton said...

Hi Louise! This is a really interesting post. I've never used a manuscript assessor, but I was lucky enough that my (now) editor worked with me as part of my New Voices prize, prior to my first book being accepted. So in a way I did have a manuscript assessor, as I definitely needed guidance to get my book right!

Helen Lacey said...

Hi Louise and Rach!
I credit selling my first book to Special Edition as a result of working with a freelance editor/assessor. She gave me the guidance and advice I was looking for after many years of working alone. Writing is a business, and getting published is a challenging road - working with an assessor to get my book right, to me was like working with a personal trainer instead of going to gym. The specific advice I received was invaluable on my journey to get published.
Great blog post :)

Louise Cusack said...

Lovely to see editorial help getting writers over the line. Should be more of it! With all the contests and assessors available now there's no reason to sit on a manuscript. Thanks for dropping by Leah and Helen!

Rachael Johns said...

Thanks so much for sharing this process with us Louise and Leah and Helen for adding your experiences. I was about to contact Helen Lacey's assessor when I got the call, so I'm very pro assessors!!

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