Monday, December 15, 2014

Bringing a Murdered Manuscript Back to Life

By Andrea Merrell

This week I'm giving away a copy of my book, Murder of a Manuscript: Writing and Editing Tips to Keep Your Book Out of the Editorial Graveyard. All you have to do is leave a comment below, and you will be automatically entered for the drawing.

And the winner of Yvonne's book is ... Nan Jones! Congrats, Nan. Please send your address to and we will get your book in the mail.

“They murdered my manuscript! It never made it past their inbox,” the writer exclaimed. “Is there hope? Can it be brought back to life?”

I hear you saying, “Been there—done that—threw away the tee shirt.”

It’s heartbreaking for a writer to have her prodigy killed in its infancy by an agent, editor, or publisher. Unfortunately, rejection comes with the proverbial territory, but if we can discover the reasons, learn from our mistakes, and keep moving forward, we have a chance to breathe life back into our words and send them out again.

The key is to do your homework. Check the guidelines. Know what each publishing house, website, magazine, or contest is looking for, then spend time making sure your submission is as clean and professional as possible. Sometimes that requires going back to the basics.

Questions to ask yourself:
  • Does my proposal give the necessary information?
  • Is my manuscript formatted correctly?
  • Are my first few pages filled with typos?
  • Did I start with a strong hook?
  • Did I use redundant words and phrases?
  • Is there too much backstory in the beginning?
  • Am I telling my story or showing by using action, strong verbs, and creative dialogue?
When reviewing a submission, these are areas I notice first.

Getting deeper into the manuscript, I look for:
  •  Plot issues.
  •  Correct use of POV (point of view).
  •  How the writer sets the scene.
  • Well-defined and relatable characters.
  • Content that is presented in a clear and concise manner, with a natural flow. This is especially important in nonfiction.
Even in a simple devotion, you want to connect with the reader and pull on their emotions.

Last, but certainly not least, writing tight is critical in every genre.

Whatever you do, don’t be discouraged and never give up. Call on a writing buddy, consult your critique group (You do belong to a critique group, don’t you?), or hire a professional editor to help you polish your manuscript. Writing is most definitely a process and not an event. Having a teachable spirit and learning from mistakes is critical and will always take your writing to a higher level.

What do you struggle with? What tips can you add to the list. We would love to hear from you.


  1. As an editor, I look for this teachable spirit because my first editor taught me so much since I was willing and had an open attitude. Let's face it, as authors we never "arrive" - there's always more to learn.

    1. You're right, Paula, a teachable spirit is key in anything we do. As writers, we can never allow ourselves to get to a place where we feel like we've "made it" and there's nothing else to learn. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Great advice, Andrea. In my workshops on writing for Chicken Soup for the Soul, reading and following the guidelines is the first thing I advise. From what I've heard, not following guidelines is editors' number one complaint.

    1. Tracy, it's amazing how many people do not check or follow the guidelines. This is one of the most important steps to remember before we submit our work. It can make all the difference in the world between acceptance and rejection. Thanks for sharing with us.

  3. Having writing buddies is fantastic, a group that will honestly critique your work is priceless.

  4. I totally agree. Having a community of writers is important. Thanks for stopping by.


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