Be Kind to Your Judges' EyesAs you finish up your manuscript and prepare it for its grand adventure in the GH, remember this one very important fact. The judge who reads your manuscript is predisposed to like it. This IS the GH, after all.
Judges who are also entrants do not judge in the category they enter, so you won’t be competing against the judges who read your manuscript. The likelihood that a judge will score you low because her best friend/critique partner/chapter sister is competing in your category is nil. The seven or so manuscripts she will read wouldn’t be a drop in the bucket of the hundreds of manuscripts in your category, so why would she bother?
Yes, your judge wants to like your manuscript, so why annoy her with mistakes that are easily corrected?
The most heinous of these are:
1. Not enough white space.
2. Tiny font
3. Tiny margins
4. Too many lines on a page
5. Cutting off your entry at a low point or just letting it fizzle out.
Let’s dispense with the easiest one first—-not enough white space. Simply put, lots of white space means lots of dialog. Readers, be they judges or the editor who reads your manuscript, are looking for a manuscript that reads quickly, and dialog is the best way to move the story along and allow your characters’ personalities to shine through. Think of your favorite television shows (remember Moonlighting, and more recently, Gilmore Girls?) where the dialog was smart and snappy and it was the characterizations kept you coming back week after week. Dialog is dynamic! Leave the long descriptions of country hedgerows to Thomas Hardy.
Look at your manuscript. Is the print so tiny you need a magnifying glass to read it? Is the text spread all the way out to the edges? Have you labored to squeeze as many lines on the page as is humanly possible?
If I’m your judge I may be predisposed to like your story, but I’m not going to care too much for you!
Early in my career I was given a piece of advice that I believe is golden. Pick a format and stick with it. If you’re spending time manipulating your manuscript differently for each contest you enter, you’re wasting time you could spend writing. While there is no universally applied standard manuscript format, most writers use the following:
1-inch margins all around
a 12-point font (usually Courier New or Times New Roman)
25 lines per page
I know writers who don’t begin each new chapter on a new page (again, enabling them to squeeze more words into an entry) but I still observe the advice I got from an editor I targeted for my work early on. She said to present the manuscript as if it was already a book, and specifically mentioned starting each new chapter 1/3 of the way down the page. Adopting a specific format came easy to me because I like the predictibility of routine and because I consider sweating those kinds of details a waste of time.
Yes, it’s true that Jack Kerouac first submitted On The Road on a roll of paper that resembled a scroll more than a book, but it’s unlikely his manuscript would have made it past the mail room today, regardless of how exceptional it was.
Last but not least, end your entry with a hook. Don’t just print it out to page 55 and stuff it into the envelope, even if it cuts your entry short by a page or two. When the judge finishes reading and picks up the score sheet you want her to be thinking WOW! not UGH. Or worse, be questioning your storytelling skills because you didn’t take the opportunity to be brilliant when you had it right there in your hands.
White paper, black ink, no glitter, perfume or hidden bribes of chocolate. Be professional Remember, when you final, this is the manuscript the final round judge, possibly an acquiring editor, will read. Good luck!
Don’t forget that Friday (that’s tomorrow! Eek!) is Q & A Day. We look forward to lots of Qs and a fun, free-ranging discussion.