Louise Cusack on Manuscript Development

Manuscript development – most writers need it, but few know anything about it. Who better to talk about the topic than Louise Cusack, award-winning Australian author of romantic adventures set in lost worlds who has also run her own manuscript development business for the past 8 years. Her novella in the anthology Magic, Mystery, Voodoo and the Holy Grail won the PRISM award for fantasy/romance. Louise’s romantic fantasy trilogy, Shadow Through Time, published by Simon & Schuster some years back, will be released by Pan McMillan’s Momentum Books eBook imprint early in 2012. Ta, Lou –

Thanks for inviting me to talk about manuscript development, Ian. It’s a subject close to my heart. I started my writing career almost twenty years ago trying to write romance novels. I belonged to a critique group and each month we’d comment on each other’s stories. At the time I thought it was very helpful, but in retrospect it was more a case of the blind leading the blind! We were all talented, but none of us knew much about the craft of writing, and as a for-instance, we didn’t know what viewpoint (point of view) was, and as a consequence we were head-hopping all over the place. Luckily one of our group entered a competition where she got feedback and bit by bit we picked up scraps of craft along the way, at a workshop here or from a how-to article there, and over the course of the next eight years my writing reached publication standard – http://ifyoumustwrite.com/published-books/ and the trilogy was published by Simon & Schuster.

To be honest I don’t recommend that journey. It takes way too long. Of course new writers need to write as much as they can – it’s like playing scales if you want to be a concert pianist – but you have to hit the right keys! If you’re consistently making the same mistakes in your writing and not learning to do any better, you can waste valuable time creating stories that will never see the light of day.

In contrast, I’ve seen what good advice can achieve when given at the right time. Eight years ago the EnVision workshops started with myself and three other published speculative fiction authors working with emerging writers for a week to help them hone their manuscripts. Pre the workshop we did manuscript assessments on the novels our assigned writers had submitted, then on Day One of our week together we’d hand the assessment over with a list of editing tasks. That first day was often a turbulent one, with many participants receiving professional feedback on their stories for the first time. Tissues and chocolate were close at hand! But over the course of the week the writers would perform the editing tasks and each day we’d catch up with them to give feedback, helping them overcome the individual craft issues each needed to address.

We worked hard to ensure that by the end of the week each writer was crystal clear on what their strengths and weaknesses were, and how they could move forward with their writing, and I’m thrilled to say that I saw some writers two years in a row and the leap forward in their writing was amazing. EnVision ran for three years, then it stopped, but it was long enough for word to get around that having an industry professional give you feedback on how to fix your novel was invaluable. At that point I was hooked. I loved helping authors achieve their dreams, so for a time I conducted manuscript assessments under the auspices of EnVision, then I branched out and started my own business, alongside my own writing.

I’ve done hundreds of assessments now and have helped three novelists along the way to publication, as well as steering many writers towards competition wins. I also teach writing workshops and mentor writers so I can have that face-to-face connection. As for the critique group I started in, you’ll be happy to know that we’re all published now and still meet several times a year to offer each other emotional support, rather than critique.

So can manuscript assessment help you get published? I certainly think it’s a short cut for those who have problems with their stories that they can’t see. But one thing it’s not is a quick-fix for lazy writers. An assessor doesn’t ‘edit’ the manuscript. Instead they tell you what isn’t working and how to fix it, but you need to do the work yourself. So it’s really only an option for those with the passion and determination to keep editing, to keep believing in themselves and to persist.

Because the honest truth is that those four virtues: passion, determination, self-belief and persistence are far more important than any advice an assessor could give you. But having said that, if you’re still interested, check me out here: http://ifyoumustwrite.com/manuscript-development/, and look out for my Shadow Through Time fantasy trilogy which is scheduled for an eBook release in early 2012 with Momentum Books.

Happy writing!

Thanks Louise. I particularly like your point about editing, because so many beginning writers think that they just have to hammer out the story draft and an editor will fix it. This NEVER happens. Good advice is invaluable, but it’s always up to the author to learn the craft of self-editing. Without it, you’ll never get published.

Momentum Books is a brand new imprint from Pan MacMillan. Until their official website goes live, you can find out about them here: http://www.momentumbooks.com.au/Momentum%20Press%20Release.htm

3 thoughts on “Louise Cusack on Manuscript Development”

  1. Hi Louise & Ian
    really enjoyed the post. And some great advice for new writers. I agreed with your comments Louise, having an industry professional read your work can add such depth to a story. I worked closely with a freelance editor for eighteen months before I was contracted, and I know her advice and experience helped sell my first book to Harlequin. It was an invaluable experience.
    And I do remember those days when we were blindly leading one another Louise :) It's been a fun journey.
    Great post!

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