Monday, February 4, 2013

In Pursuit of the Immaculate Manscript

Among editors there's a mythical, magical artifact known as the Immaculate Manuscript. I've overheard editors telling tales of this beast, usually while huddled in green rooms at conventions or in the smoky corners of bars. None of them has yet seen one, though rumors abound that an I.M. turned up once on Jackie O.'s desk at Doubleday a couple decades ago. 

What is an Immaculate Manuscript? It's just a manuscript so clean it needs no editing at all. It's perfect. The formatting is exactly right. The story is perfectly structured, the action perfectly paced, the characters perfectly rendered. The actual words on the page are perfectly chosen, their placement correct down to the last sentence and word. Every comma and quotation mark and period is in just the right, perfect place. An Immaculate Manuscipt is so inspiring of awe that when an editor starts reading one the angels sing, the pages glow with a soft radiance (hmmm... in the computer era, that quality may need to be tweaked), and all the tension drains out of the editor's overworked body.

An Immaculate Manuscript needs only to be smoothed like an already well-fluffed pillow and sent off to the printer. 

I would love someday to turn in an Immaculate Manuscript.

I work at it. I write as cleanly as I am able. I revise with an eye to structure, pace, and grammar. When I think things are looking good, I send my finished book off to beta readers I hope will alert me to any errors. One of these readers, my husband Steve, is a comma specialist and surgically removes or adds the little buggers, trying to achieve comma perfection. When I send in a story, it is as shiny and polished as I can make it.

I haven't achieved perfection yet, darn it, though I've been told by more than one editor that my manuscripts are uncommonly clean. Captive Heart earned high praise for being almost error-free...but the editor wanted content changes in the story and, well, so much for being immaculate.


One of my reasons for wanting to turn in an Immaculate Manuscript is not only that I might be beloved by editorsa worthwhile ambitionbut because the editing process itself can introduce errors. This was more common in the past when publishing a book involved more middlemen. Typesetting led to all kinds of potential for misspelled words. I still smart about my very first published book, for which I never saw the galleys (yes, I was very young and naive) and the typesetter managed to misspell a word in the very first sentence. I was so miffed  I corrected the mistake by hand at book signings, something that makes me laugh now when I find copies in used book stores. But any time words are deleted or added or changed, the odds of a mistake finding its way into the book increase.

The best reason for a writer to aspire to an Immaculate Manuscript is that it makes for better chances of selling the book. A manuscript could conceivably be immaculate and the story be uninteresting to a publisher. Not all stories are worth publishing, however well-written. But by far the more common situation is that a story might be very interesting to the publisherit might have a ton of potentialbut the manuscript is so riddled with errors editors shudder at the amount of work it would need to be made publishable. Such stories are inevitably rejected.

A nearly immaculate manuscript will keep an editor reading long enough for the story, and the writing, to sell itself. The editor faced with few errors to interrupt the flow of the writing and action might start nodding to himself and think, "I can do something with this. It's almost ready." That's a good place to be. 

I'll settle for that. In the meantime, I will prepare each submission with an eye toward producing an Immaculate Manuscript. Just once in my life, I would love for one of my editors to hear angels sing. 

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/medmss/7351798806/">Walters Art Museum Illuminated Manuscripts</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

photo credit: <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/turatti/4853806212/">jaci XIII</a> via <a href="http://photopin.com">photopin</a> <a href="http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/">cc</a>

9 comments:

  1. A great post, Tali! Delivering an Immaculate Manuscript would really be awesome.

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    1. If I can ever master the dangling modifier, I have a shot. :)

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  2. Oh, we can only dream. It's so frustrating to read and reread looking for mistakes until we think it's perfect. But sure enough, you submit it and that's when you notice that one misspelled word or punctuation error. It's like a living being on the page how it winks at you so it's the only thing you focus on, despite how well-written the rest of the story is.

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    1. It drives me crazy. Because I'm sure...certain...the editor reading my submission will zero in on that typo and think "A pity she can't write."

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  3. I've never thought of an Immaculate Manuscript before. Obviously such a thing is so rare it's still yet to reach the ears of writers. I'm like you, and no matter how many times I go over a manuscript, one little bugger always turns up. It's like you can't see the forest for the trees - or you can't see the trees for the forest - which ever way round it is...lol

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    1. Entire industries have arisen around the pursuit of this mythical manuscript. :) I'd be rich if I could promise to deliver one. But I can't even produce one!

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  4. Never gonna happen! :P I will never, ever, ever, get the hang of commas. While I'm good at spotting other's typos or errors, I rarely manage to catch all my own. Not to mention all the disembodied body parts always flying here and there in my stories, lol. Ah well, pipe dreams can be fun to fantasize about. Fun post! :D

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    1. Oh gosh, autonomous body parts. I can have nightmares about those! o_o

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