I was recently asked to give feedback on an unpublished manuscript of another emerging writer. I was told the MS was complete and ready to send out on queries.
I was mortfied because now I was faced with having to tell an emerging writer (a complete stranger, no less) exactly what was wrong with her draft. It particularly troubled me because she sent it around with the idea that it is ready to go out to publishers with query letters. Think about it: that means she either can’t see what is wrong, or she didn’t actually read her work. Either way: not good, amirite?
I spent almost two hours writing comments in MS Word track changes just on the summary and the first chapter. To do that for the complete MS with these sorts of problems goes way beyond doing someone the favour of beta-reading something that is query-ready. (I can read an entire 250 page MS of light fiction in about two hours, and then write an overview with suggestions in about 30 minutes plus a little wool-gathering time).
I’m not even a particularly diligent proofreader (as anyone who reads my posts or my first drafts knows), so it’s not like I was spending that time inserting Oxford commas and debating the merits of colons vs. semi-colons or n-dashes vs. m-dashes with myself.
What that means is I had to write the second most difficult email of 2014 telling this person what was working (a short list) and what was not (a much longer one). I think I was as kind and supportive as a person can be. Bleh.
Just to share some of what I experienced, a quote follows. Note that this is not intended to mock or belittle this other writer. I think it’s more a cautionary anecdote about the importace of second (and third) drafts.
She shoved the last bite of the sandwich she had thrown together in her mouth and hurried from the kitchen.
I have a very cartoon-like image in my mind right now that involves a cantilevered, unhinging snake’s jaw and Dagwood sandwich fixings. Neat trick if you could do it; fewer dirty dishes.