(This post first appeared in Seekerville March 20, 2009.)
This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed pimping your manuscript here in Seekerville. Be sure to check out some past articles, as I won’t be covering what has been already mentioned in these archived posts.
11/7/07 Staging Your Manuscript by Tina Radcliffe
5/8/08 Pimp Your Prose by Ruth Logan Herne
Reading further indicates you agree
with the following disclaimer.
If not, please click on the escape icon,
displayed by an X in the right upper corner.
The opinions expressed herein or statements made in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the other Seekers. The actual facts expressed here belong to everybody. The distinction is yours to draw. This post is meant for educational purposes only. Any resemblance to real manuscripts, living or dead is purely coincidental. Furthermore, the individual letters, words, and punctuation marks involved in the making of this article had no options, and should not be held accountable for the writer's statements. No contest score sheets were harmed or named during the making of this disclaimer. Still further, the author is not accountable for any damage caused by the application of this information to any manuscript existing or nonexistent. All contest score sheets used in the production were strictly borrowed without permission. This space (____________) intentionally left blank.
Should you pimp your manuscript for a contest? Is the Pope Ca--I mean, yes, ask any diva. There are tricks to the trade,all's fair in love and romance writing, and today we share a few of those tricks, which really are simple common sense. The mistake many writers make is thinking that entering a contest is just that. No, it involves strategy. Pimping your manuscript is strategizing.
Can you afford to throw away a contest entry fee? Neither can I. In any given contest you've got more than the final judge to impress. You first must pass the inspection of the contest coordinator. Then you must dazzle up to as many as five first round judges and with some contests, second round judges. Then you have one chance to make a good first impression on the final editor or agent judge.
Pimping For Beginners:
1. Read the rules. All contests are not created equal.
- at least 1 inch margins on all four sides
- 12 point Courier New, 12 or 14 point Times New Roman
- 25 lines per page
- header with title and contest category in upper left (no font mentioned)
- 24-25 lines per page--with the exception of the last page of a chapter or the first page of each chapter which MUST start one-third way down a new page
- Unjustified text, aligned left
- 1 inch margins (doesn't mention top or bottom)
- The chapter may be printed or typed in either standard manuscript format or faux galley format
- Manuscripts should have unjustified right margins
Entrants who do not comply with the above rules of XX contest will be contacted and given until the contest deadline to correct the infraction. (Off with their heads!)
Manuscript format is not a judged component of the XX contest. Judges may or may not point out formatting issues to an entrant, but no points are deducted for perceived infractions. (Dude, I'm not your mother!)
Obviously if you need to pimp your manuscript you want to find a contest that is pimping friendly. Pimping friendly means they use words like: industry standard or publishing standard without the tedious details. With these contests unless you really make your pimping noticeable you are going to be able to fly under the radar.
If you simply cannot cut or trim your contest entry to meet the guidelines and you need all the available space you can get then try changing your format or your font enough to get the space you need but not enough to cause an INFRACTION!
Warning. Save a copy of your manuscript pages before you dabbled as a back up.
Then go into the format area and the page set up area of your document and play with everything until your finished product stays within the rules and gets you the space you need.
You can play with space between letters, space between sentences, gutters, and point size. Be bold, mess with everything. Don't forget to play with the font and spacing on your header too. If you don't know where these areas are in your version of Word then use the handy dandy help tool. Mac users you are on your own.
2. Read the score sheets.
If you think you don't need to read them, you are wrong.
By the way, if score sheets are not available on the contest web site, ask the coordinator to send you a copy.
One caveat-there are several contests out there which do not release score sheets and/or do not use them. Often these contests utilize strictly published authors and are comparable to being published and having a reader review you. Don't enter these contests unless you are consistently finaling in other contests. You will be frustrated as you will receive little or no feedback.
That said, do not wait until you get your manuscript back to find out you just wasted your time and money on a contest with a score sheet Nora Roberts couldn't have pleased.
Are the questions broad based or are they intended to assist the judge and the entrant?
For example, this section of scoring from a contest for category romances (remember category romances vary from Harlequin Romance to Supers) gives the opportunity to score from 1 to 5 in these areas . The total for this section is 20 points. That is huge. Can you pimp your manuscript to get those twenty points? Sure, this one is very pimpable.
- Do the heroine & hero meet early in the book and is the attraction between the two believable?
- Can you determine the internal conflict for both H & H?
- Can you determine the external conflict for both H & H?
- Is there sufficient ground work to support their physical attraction and emotional relationship?
CONFLICT / PLOT :
Is there believable Internal conflict?
Is there believable External conflict?
Is the plot original or told with skill and a fresh twist?
It is much more difficult to pimp your manuscript in contests with broad or vague questions. This is about as vague, broad and subjective as you can get.
Evaluate the Subjectivity of a Contest.
One popular contest bases 30% of their judging on subjective items. They list the section this way: Emotional Reader Reaction: (30%)
So if you write a book with a topic that is sensitive or your hero starts out as really unlikable, the best you can hope for if you get the wrong judge is a 70. That won't put you on a final judges desk.
Points, Points, Points!!
It is not just the questions on the score sheet that are important. The points allocated for each section is hugely important. Check out how many areas are lumped into one scoring area.
Look at this contest which gives a large portion of points to a section they call 'Style' which is basically five points for each bullet. The topics lean toward the subjective.
Style: 30 points:
- Shows rather than tells.
- Style is easy-to-read with a rhythm created by varied sentence length and structure and smooth transitions.
- Descriptions are vivid and give reader a sense of time and place.
- Information is fed in naturally, as needed—not too much or too little at a time.
- Narrative, dialogue, action and introspection interwoven and balanced and viewpoint is handled well.
- Grammar, punctuation and spelling do not detract from the story.
- Check for words like felt that show.
- Evaluate your sentence length. Read your entry aloud for smooth transitions.
- If a reader picked up your pages would they be grounded in time and place?
- Go through and use different colored marker to evaluate your narrative dialogue and action. Is it balanced? (Maybe you don't actually want it balanced as this is not your voice-but know it will weigh against you.)
- Never send anything but your best work out to a contest. Have someone check for errors.
This next contest is even tougher with fifty points in this section. That is half of the contest's total points. Again, some are subjective-it is a contest after all.
STORY – 50 POINTS (1-5 points each)
Does the story hold your interest to the end of the entry?
Is the point of view consistent? Are POV changes smooth and logical?
Do sensory details (sight, sound, touch, smell, taste) enhance each scene?
Does the setting support the story? Is the story well-grounded in the setting?
Do inspirational elements grow organically out of character or plot?
Do scenes flow smoothly, giving a sense of movement?
Is there an opening line or paragraph that immediately hooks the reader into the story?
Is the writing fresh and original, avoiding clichés?
Does the writer utilize showing and telling skillfully?
Is the author’s voice distinct and unique?
You can pimp this contest too and get the maximum points allowed by pimping the highlighted areas. You can't do a thing about a judge who doesn't love your style and voice so work on other areas until they are perfect.
The following contest leans heavily subjective with ten questions worth ten points each. Ten being the highest and one the lowest. There are suggestions in each judging question but no set checklists. This will be one tough contest to ace, since it depends so heavily on whether the judge likes your story and it is very broad.
Plot : Appropriate for genre? Believable/logical? Complex enough for length?
Wow, and that is for TEN BIG HUGE POINTS!!
Another contest with similar scoring uses only 2-4-6-8-10 for those big tipping point categories. While subjectively based it gives clear guidance to the judge.
Plot and Conflict: Does the story start at a good point with a strong sense of movement? Does at least one main character have clear external conflict and at least a hint of internal conflict? Is point of view consistent with the character whose head you are in? Will the conflict sustain the plot? Does the plot seem contrived? Do the scenes flow with effective transitions?
You can easily pimp your entry to meet the judging criteria of the above example. Add a line to hint at your hero's conflict. Cut that internal passage the heroine has while waiting for a plane. Check your POV carefully. Would the heroine say that if you are in her POV? What keeps your H & H apart? Can you show the conflict or hint at it?
Bonus points/Penalty points:
I personally don't like these types of questions because if you are a strong writer readers love you or hate you. You can't pimp a thing here. Others would argue however that if you are a writer who can template a story (technically perfect but the story has no spark) then these questions are very effective.
OVERALL APPEAL –Would you want to finish this book if it were published, and would you
recommend it to a friend? (Score 0 through 5)
-->GENERAL IMPRESSION—5 points
Is your interest piqued? Did these pages reel you in? Are you wondering what will happen next? Would you buy this book to find out how it ends?
Synopsis : If you write a lousy synopsis you are shooting yourself in the foot by entering a contest that judges them. That translates to five points or more that are keeping you from finaling. You cannot afford five points. In some competitions you cannot afford .5 points.
Pimp your entry by learning how to write a synopsis.
Hooks & Grabbers
A grabber pulls them in and a hook makes them want more.
A contest is a great place to test your grabbers. Sometimes the contest will specifically judge them. It's an easy way to chalk up points.
Read your first line out loud. Is it something that would make the contest judge want to keep reading? If you don't understand grabbers, open up any book on your TBR pile and read the first line or the first few lines.
Hooks are a trickier because while contest divas know what a hook is, they often have a hard time breaking their own preconceived rules and regulations for contests. They are pimping shy.
Time to break out. Pimp your hook!
Don't even think about ending mid-sentence, mid-paragraph or mid-- anything. If you haven't made that contest judge scramble through your entry to find more pages with your ending hook, you have failed.-->
This is not a hook:
This is not a hook:
Don’t even.” Angel said. “I have a full-time job too.”
“You do?” Sophie queried.
“Angel hasn’t shared her news?” Dora asked, a pinched expression on her face.
No room for the last few lines. So what will I do? I'm going to shift my font and my formatting, ruthlessly cut words to get that hook right where it belongs. Usually what I discover is that my story is better for the pruning.
-->Now here is a hook:
“Don’t even.” Angel said. “I have a full-time job too.”
“You do?” Sophie queried.
“Angel hasn’t shared her news?” Dora asked, a pinched expression on her face.
“What news?” Sophie glanced at her sister.
“Ma.” Angel repeated the warning.
“Your sister is now a stripper.”
After you have done a basic review of the contest score sheet go through and judge your manuscript.
Go ahead and write down the scores you would give if you had to use the contest score sheet as a judge. This is not an evaluation of the quality of your manuscript but a check list assessment of whether the factors they judge are evident in your first pages. Often a judge is bound by an inflexible score sheet.
Is the contest too objective? Too subjective? How does your manuscript fare?
And finally, can you pimp your manuscript to make it work with the score sheet and the contest rules? Or will you be totally changing your voice and style.
Only you can decide.
3. Last, utilize a checklist much like you do before sending your manuscript off into the world. Here a nice self-editing list in no particular order of importance. Feel free to share those editing points you think should be added to this list.
1. Use the word find tool and scan for overuse of: going-it-and-but-just-only-that-would-as. Replace or eliminate.
2. Have I introduced too many characters at once, detracting from the H&H conflict and requiring a scorecard?
3. Avoid cliches.
4. Have I used strong action verbs or did I rely on vanilla verbs such as went, came, started, found herself, made, feel/felt?
- Toward not towards
- Backward not backwards
7. How many exclamation points do I have? Two is one too many.
8. Check for redundancy: too, always, ever, never.
9. Read pages aloud to see if you skipped/left out a word. This also eliminates sentences that have an 'off' tempo.
10. Have I overused the em-dash or ellipsis as a technique?
11. Do a word check for words ending in 'ing' preceded by was. Can I create a stronger more active sentence?
12. Check for unnecessary commas.
13. Can I make a stonger sentence by eliminating 'ly' words? She ran quickly to the goal line.
or instead try, She raced to the goal line.
14. Have I over used the attributive clause? "You want to start over," Mary said with a frown.
Mary frowned. "You want to start over?"
15. Do all my sentences start the same?
Mary got up...
16. Use your tool option to highlight: his/her, she/he. Have you overdone it?
17. Evaluate for action then reaction. Additionally, do your characters react, respond?
18. Is there emotion on every page?
19. Avoid over use of ending sentences with prepositions (-of-to-in-with-for-on) or the pronoun--it. This isn't a rule, simply a warning to avoid overuse.
20. Read aloud to eliminate dangling modifiers.
So what do you think? Are you read to give it a try?
Pimp your contest entry for stellar results!
Today we're giving away a ten page critique to one writer and a surprise reader package to one reader. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition. Comment to be entered.