Before You Hit Send on Your Manuscript

Nothing is
more exciting and unnerving than finishing edits and getting ready to send in a
manuscript to an agent or editor. Even if you and your critique partners have
gone over your pages several times, doubts still nag.

Did I catch every misspelled word and homonym?
When I made my last edits did I inadvertently cut
out or add another word?
Is my writing the best it can be?

Whether you’re a contracted author or an unpublished
hopeful, there’s always some lingering anxiety when turning
in a manuscript. Over the years I’ve learned a few things to help answer the
above questions and make my manuscript the best it can be before I hit send.

Check for Repetitive/Weasel Words

No matter how many times I think I’m
being creative in my word usage the same words seem to show up in every
chapter, multiple times. Aside from starting my own Repetitive Word List with alternate
synonyms I can choose from at a glance, I’ve been using Notetab light for years,
thanks to a tip from author DiAnn Mills. While I’m sure this free download can
be used for many different things, I use it to calculate my repetitive/weasel
words. In a matter of seconds it calculates how many times (and what
percentage) I use every word in my WIP. Then I identify my overused words and
do a search and replace with the weasel words in all CAPS, so I can identify
that word later in my read through and find an alternate. This search not only
identifies my weasel words, but helps me identify passive writing so I make it

Listen to your Manuscript

No matter how many times I read my manuscript, there always seems to be one more mistake I missed. That’s why I listen to
my manuscript before I turn it in. Even when I think my story is polished, my
ear picks up several mistakes when I listen and read along. Microsoft reader
has a free download where you can import your WIP and have it read back to you.
There are other programs available like Natural reader, and you can even
convert your manuscript into a pdf file and listen to it that way. These are
all free and work fine if you don’t mind the robotic voice, otherwise you can
upgrade for a more humanlike reader.

Do One Last Read Through

listening to my manuscript and making the corrections, there’s always a chance
my fingers added or deleted something unintentionally, so I go over it one last
time. I can really be OCD about checking and rechecking, but no matter how many
times I read or listen to my WIP or have my crit partners look it over, I
always find one more mistake.

Double Check Your Attachment

Though many
authors will agree you can edit your manuscript indefinitely and never truly be
satisfied, there comes a time when you have to hit that send button. Still
there’s one more ritual I go through even after I attach the document. I open
up the attachment at least once to make sure I attached the right one. Just the
other day I attached the wrong document because I had several earlier versions of
the manuscript in my folder. Imagine my embarrassment to realize too late that
I sent the wrong document. Thankfully that didn’t happen because I double
checked my attachment.

Every author
has their own pre-send ritual, but no matter what you do, you have to hit send
on your manuscript sooner or later. Better find what works for you and be
thorough and confident you’ve just turned in your best story possible, than
have the doubts linger.

How do
you get your manuscript in the best shape possible before you hit send?

Gina Conroy, a.k.a. “the other Gina,” is a monthly contributor to Novel Rocket. She’s the founder of Writer…Interrupted and is still learning how to balance a career with raising a family. She is represented by Chip MacGregor of MacGregor Literary, and her first novella, Buried Deception, in the Cherry Blossom Capers Collection, released from Barbour Publishing in January 2012. 

Interview With Teen Novelist, Rachel Coker

Rachel Coker resides in Lanexa, Virginia
with her parents, 
who’ve homeschooled her since she was a child, and two
sisters. She has a passion for great books, and has been surrounded by them all
her life. Her gift for writing became apparent at the age of eleven, at which
time her parents, who owned a Christian bo
okstore,  signed her up for a year of lessons with a
professional writing coach. Rachel also has a deep love for classical music and
old black-and-white movies. When she is not writing or playing the piano,
Rachel enjoys spending time with her family and friends and serving God.


Rachel, I’m so happy you’ve found the time to do an interview here. I’ve been eager to find out a little about you and your work. Tell me about your recent release.

debut YA novel, Interrupted: Life BeyondWords, just came out in March! It’s been so exciting to watch this book
grow from just an idea in my head, to some words typed out on my computer, to
an actual book that I can hold in my hands and read! It’s a story that’s really
close to my heart and one that I love talking about and sharing. Interrupted revolves around the life of
Allie Everly, a teenager growing up in the 1940’s. From a very young age, Allie
has to cope with caring for her terminally ill mother and dealing with the
grief that surrounds her death. After her mother passes away, Allie is sent to
live with an adopted mother half-way across the country! Interrupted is really just the story of how Allie goes from a
grief-stricken, bitter and angry girl into a woman who realizes that she can
open her heart to love and family, even if she’s not experiencing the life she
had originally planned on. Her eyes are opened to the love that surrounds her,
and she comes to realize that the best way to deal with pain and sadness is not
to cling on to the past, but to embrace what God has given you in the present.
It’s a very sweet story.

Ah, yes, we are often so busy weeping about the past or waiting for the future that we fail to live in the present. What is your goal when you
put Christian messages into your novels?

Well, my goal
is not to be preachy or judgmental.
While my books do have a Christian message, I always try to work it in as a
part of that character’s story, not a five-point sermon. When the reader gets
to a passage in one of my books where a character learns about God’s Word or
comes to salvation, I’d love for that person to feel inspired and encouraged,
not angry or hostile. The message of the Gospel is one of hope. We realize that
even though we have rejected Christ and gone our own way, we are still offered
the gift of salvation and peace. Many of my characters find joy and peace in
Christianity, and that’s what I hope my readers will find as well!

When you started did you think you’d get the book published?

It never even crossed my mind, to
tell the truth! I was a fourteen year old kid (I can say that now, with all the
wisdom of my sixteen years), and I was just writing because it’s what I loved
to do. It wasn’t until I finished writing Interrupted
that I started thinking about getting it published. But even then, it wasn’t as
much of a life-long desire and out-of-reach goal, as much as it was the
extremely mature approach of: I spent a
lot of time working on this and I might as well try to get it published
When you’re fourteen, you’re kind of ignorant about how difficult that might

But with God all things are possible! And it helps to have an agent. How did you find yours?

Once again,
this sounds so immature and silly, but I literally just Googled “Christian
literary agents” on my computer. I checked out a book from the library on how
to write cover letters, and sent a short email to about a dozen different
agents. I can honestly say that it was by God’s grace alone that I ever got
published, because only one man was even interested in reading a book written
by a teenager, and that’s the agent who I ended up signing my book with.

Smart man. OK the question we all want
answered…how in the world did you find a publisher? It’s pretty incredible for
a sixteen-year-old girl to be published. You are a great writer, but did you have to
fight to be read? Do you think it was harder for publishers to take you
seriously because of your age, or do you think your age helped you because
you’re unique?

I think that my
age was both a stumbling block and a catalyst to my entrance into the publishing
world, if that makes any sense. So maybe you could say that my age tripped me
on my face and then picked me and carried me across the finish line. I don’t
know if that makes any sense, but it’s definitely true! Publishers were wary
about signing a minor because of not only the legal implications, but the risk
of immaturity. It’s hard to focus on working and writing when you have all the
stress of school, growing up, and basically trying to be a normal teenager. On
the other hand, I think that Zondervan realized that my story would appeal to a
lot of teenagers all over the world. We all fit into the same basic mold. We’re
trying to grow up and make our voices known and gain the respect of adults, but
we don’t want to lose our individuality. So I think that it’s encouraging for
teens to hear about my story because it lets them know that they can still do
what they love and be successful at it, no matter what their age.

But they probably won’t all be published
quite as quickly as you’ve been. It’s not easy to get published. I think you
put a lot of work into this. You say you were fourteen when you started this
book (I hope your parents eased some of the stress by letting you work on the
book as part of your schooling!), but most authors don’t get the first thing
they write published. Did you write other things before you wrote Interrupted?

I wrote my
first fiction story in sixth grade. It was a short story for a school
assignment, and oozed of melodrama and sentimentalism. But it had good bones,
and I guess my mom saw the potential. So she hired a fiction writing tutor to
help me learn how to write, and I worked with him for about a year. After
seventh grade, I was on my own. I just wrote all the time and tried to develop
my own style and voice.

What are your three favorite novels?

Gone with the Wind, by Margaret
Mitchell; Bridge to Terabithia, by
Katherine Paterson, and Ella Enchanted,
by Gail Carson Levine. Kind of an eclectic mix, but I love them all.

What do you think is most
important–conflict, characters, or voice? What should we work on first,
or can they not be separated?

Books should always be focused on characters first, story second. The first
thing I always think of when I’m coming up with a new book idea is my main
character. Is she quiet, funny, sweet? What kind of background does she come
from? What are her hopes and dreams for the future? And then the story sort of
centers around that. As my characters grow, the story moves along with them.
Just like in real life. What’s important isn’t what’s going on in the world
around us, it’s how those changes impact our personal lives and journeys.

What is your favorite part of writing

Getting to know
my characters. I like to call it “meeting new people”. When you take the characters-first
approach, you really view the individuals who make up your book as real people.
You know their hopes and dreams and fears and all their innermost parts. And
you really grow to love them because of it. You cry when you have to put them
through something embarrassing or painful, and you get giddy with excitement
when you give them a really great moment. You care about them as if they were
your real friends.

Ha! I remember the first time I had
characters kiss and call each other silly pet names. I was embarrassed for
them. I thought, “If they knew we were all watching them, they wouldn’t be
acting this way. They think they’re alone.” I felt bad for not giving them

OK, last question: Do you have a life verse
or a Bible passage that shows the direction you want to go with your writing?

absolutely! I sign all of my books with the verse Galatians 6:14, which says,
“But may it never be that I would boast, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus
Christ; through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
That’s a really special verse to me, because it reminds me where I come from. I
love sharing my special story with people and inspiring them to achieve their
own goals and dreams, but I always try to remember that everything I do is not
a result of my own abilities or talents, but because of the grace of God in my life.

Wonderful reminder! Thanks so much for
answering my questions. I appreciate your time and I’m going to be watching
your career expecting great things. It’s wonderful to see young people
committed to serving Christ through writing and committed to serving their readers by
presenting Christ in a winsome manner. 


 is the local liaison for SCBWI in Cobb County, Georgia. She has published short works in a number of places and has received an SCBWI Work in Progress grant. She can usually be found blogging about young adult novels at

Getting closer…

No, I’m not talking about the dreaded mid-April tax deadline. In case you didn’t notice, that’s come and gone.

I’m talking about another important date: the first deadline in our Launch Pad Contest, the event we’ve designed to help launch your manuscript out of the slush pile.

We’re currently taking submissions for all categories. But if you plan to submit to the Historical category, you’ll have to get your entry to us by 11:59 pm on May 10 — and that date’s coming right up.

But never fear; we have other categories to choose from as well, like Contemporary Romance, Middle Grade/Young Adult, and SciFi/Fantasy, among others. So if you’re an unpublished novelist and would like to participate, click the Launch Pad Contest tab for the complete rules. But don’t dilly-dally. We look forward to seeing your submission!

Pam Zollman, Novelist, Author and Founding Member of RWA

Today, I had the opportunity to interview Pam Zollman, one of the founding members of Romance Writers of America.

Pam Zollman is the award-winning author of 40 children’s books and numerous short stories and articles. Her middle-grade novel Don’t Bug Me!(Holiday House, 2001) has been translated into other languages. It was a Sunshine Sate Young Reader book, in the Florida Battle of the Books, and was one of Bank Street College of Education’s Best Books of 2002. A Chick Grows Up(Scholastic, 2005) was an honor book for the Maryland Blue Crab Readers Choice Award in 2006.  Many of her books are included on school and library reading lists, and her Life Cycle series for Scholastic have been translated into Spanish. Her short story, “Millie’s Garden,” won first place in Highlights for Children’s annual fiction contest in 1996.

So many aspiring writers think there is a set path to getting published, would you tell us about your journey to publication?

I think every writer I know has taken a different path. It seems that some of friends didn’t start writing until later in life.  Me? I was seven. I wrote a rhyming poem about a bee and a tree and my family loved it…so much so that my mother can probably recite it for you if asked (or even if *not* asked). I won a silver dollar in elementary school for a poem about the American Revolution. I wrote a novel when I was twelve (it was “only” 50 pages and I didn’t do a lick of research, even though it took place in France and I’d never been there). I wrote short stories in high school and college. My teachers all through school encouraged me to write. So, my family and teachers set me on the writer’s path at a very young age. When I look back now, I think it was expected of me to someday become a rich and famous writer. Well, I’m neither rich nor famous, and I still rhyme bee and tree, but I am a writer. My family and teachers may have pushed me in that direction, but it was a direction that I loved. I’ve always loved reading, and as a child I wanted to read all the books in the downtown Houston library. I was dismayed when I discovered that the library bought hundreds of new books every year. Dismayed, but not discouraged. In fact, that was when I decided I wanted to write books that would be in that same library.
I know you were an integral part of the original RWA group, can you tell me the story of how it began.
I first met Rita Estrada and Parris Afton Bonds back in mid 70s when I attended my first writers conference (the Southwest Writers Conference, which was held on the University of Houston campus). It was Rita’s first conference, as well. We met in the registration line. Also in line was Kit O’Brien Jones (a published romance author) who took us under her wing and introduced us to a lot of people. We all stayed in the hotel on campus and spent time after hours in our rooms getting to know each other.  
After the conference, a few of us met informally in an occasional critique group. Rita, Kit, Mary Tate Ingles, and I all lived fairly close to each other on the far northwest side of Houston. Parris lived at that time in Dallas, I believe. We went to the next several Southwest Writers Conferences and Rita brought her mother, Rita Gallagher.  We asked the conference people for more romance workshops. The next year (1979, I think) we met Vivian Stephens, an editor with Dell Candlelight Romances, and we dreamed of a writers conference focused only on romance.
Rita Estrada has always dreamed big. People say I dream big, and if that’s true, then I was taught how by Rita. She talked about starting a writers group just for romance writers and having a conference. She and Parris started talking to a lot of other romance writers that we all knew, and Rita decided that we should all meet and discuss forming a group. I had just had my first baby (Keith) in April of 1980. He was around 8 months old when I took him with me to that first gathering of romance writers (both published and unpublished) in the bank conference room, December 1980. There were 40 or so people attending, and we quickly formed a new writers group, called Romance Writers of America. We elected officers, and Rita Estrada became our first president. We decided to have our first conference the following June 1981 at a hotel in The Woodlands (just north of Houston). From December 1980 until June 1981, we offered a charter membership of $15 annually for life and we were amazed at how many people joined us. We were hoping for around 100 people at our first conference. Well, the media found out about us and we wound up with close to 800 people there, including editors, agents, writers, and media. It was a mad house!  We crammed people into class rooms, we ran out of food, and we had to shuttle people from other hotels (because the hotel where the conference was being held was too small).
Have you heard the story about the editor who was in a bathroom stall and was handed a manuscript under the door? Well, this is the conference where it first happened, and the editor was Vivian Stephens.
We had our first writing conference at that conference and awarded the Golden Heart to the winning unpublished manuscript. Since then, we added the Golden Medallion for the winning published manuscript, as well as dividing into a variety of categories.  The Golden Medallion was changed to The RITA to honor Rita Clay Estrada, our co-founder (Vivian Stephens is credited as our other co-founder and has the RWA Vivian Stephens Industry Standards award in her name).
After the conference, RWA had so many members across the nation that we had to divide into chapters. Houston, itself, had four chapters, and Rita asked me to organize the Northwest Houston chapter. We met for the first time in September 1981 and I was elected president, serving for three years. RWA’s first headquarters were in Rita’s dining room. I went there once a week, when Keith was in Mother’s Day Out, and spent time helping with all the paperwork that such a fast-growing organization generated. We were in her dining room for several years, before we finally moved into an office. Rita Gallagher (Rita’s mom) started the monthly newsletter, The Romance Writers Report, which is now a glossy magazine, and I helped proofread it and write articles.
While I was president of the Northwest Houston chapter, I wanted to have an autograph party for several people who had books coming out that year, Rita Estrada being one of them. Rita said, “Think bigger.” So, I decided to include all the romance writers in the Houston area who had new books coming out. Rita said, “Think bigger.”  So, I included the surrounding states…and wound up with 33 authors from Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. We called it Autograph Extravaganza and held it at the newly opened Willowbrook Mall in far northwest Houston. The mall was very excited about this three-day event and gave us free advertising in the food court, plus the media covered some of the events. We had authors sitting at tables up and down the mall. We sold t-shirts and pens to autograph those t-shirts. Publishers donated books, and we had so many that we gave away bundles of books every hour. The other three chapters (West Houston, Bay Area, and one other that didn’t last and I can’t remember what it was called) helped us with transporting the authors and putting them up in their homes. The authors all paid their own way because we didn’t have enough money.
Pam is continuing to reach out to new writers through her local writing studio, The Writer’s Plot. Through this unique experience she offers the opportunity for writers to grow and network with one another and industry professionals.