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 editors—a worthwhile ambition—but 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 publisher—it might have a ton of potential—but 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>