Friday, September 10, 2010

Does Your Novel Need a Facelift?

Wouldn't it be great if manuscripts sold the minute they were printed out and sent off to a publisher? More often than not, publishing is a long process.

There can be a delay, sometimes a big delay, between the completion of the story and the actual sale of a novel. If a manuscript doesn't sell right away, you might have become discouraged. At that point, it may have ended up in the bottom of your desk drawer.

Then one day, you discover the manuscript, dust it off and re-read the entire thing. It doesn’t sound half bad. You decide to send it off again. But before you try round two, make sure your book doesn’t sound dated. You don’t want publishers to suspect they have a vintage book on hand, one that you’ve been sending out and haven’t sold since Elvis was king.

If it has been more than a year since you sent off your novel, it might pay to run a checklist and make necessary changes. If it has been more than five years (and yes, it’s more common than you think) it is essential. To update an older manuscript, make a thorough search for these points and use find and replace to make necessary changes.

Content Cheklist

Slang and Language:

Slang:Nothing dates a book more than old slang. “Gag me with a spoon?” Only if your book is set in the 1980s. Phrases like bling-bling and “think outside the box” will date your novel at 2007. But by the end of 2008 they will be history. If it is important to your book to use slang to “add color” be sure to keep it current.

Launguage Use: Language usage may also change as new words are added to the general vocabulary and old words decline in popularity. Some words, too, over the years change in meaning. For example, the word “gay” has an entirely different meaning than it did in the 1950s.

Money:Money values are always changing. For this reason it is important to go over your book and check places where money transactions, especially important ones, have taken place.

Ransom: Bring 20,000 in unmarked bills to the park if you ever want to see little Debbie alive again.” Well, that used to be a lot of money, but these days it’s hardly a dent in the old Mastercharge. Though a million dollars isn’t the high stakes deal it used to be, it is still a fair ransom amount. Anything under that is an insult.

Home Prices: Home prices fluctuate so much it’s better not to even mention them in your book unless it is an important plot point. A book from the late 1960s tells how a woman purchased a nice home in a good neighborhood for $25,000 dollars. In the 1990s you could still purchase a house for $50,000. Today, most homes sell for over $100,000.

Food and Lodging:Check any part of your novel where transactions of this kind take place. Just a few years ago you could get a room at a hotel for around thirty dollars. Those days are gone. A ten dollar meal might have been a luxury at one time, now it is a cheap date.

Clothing and Social Habits:Clothing styles are constantly changing. Red lipstick, stockings, and mirrored compact are all reminiscent of a bygone era. Let’s hope your book doesn’t date back that far, but even a few years can bring about a change in wardrobe and social habits. Smoking, for example, only a few years ago was socially acceptable. Now, only the villains dare to light up a cigarette in public.

Car Models:Vehicles are another item that are susceptible to change. It is much better to mention a general brand name rather than a specific model of car unless that car is integral to the personality of the character or important to the plot. For example, if your manuscript contains a Ford Falcon, time for an update, while the more general term Ford should last for decades.

Technology:Ah,ever-changing technology. The past few decades have brought about a plethora of new gadgets—computers, cell phones, music CDs. These are constantly changing and since no one can foresee the future, if mentioned in your book, these items must be constantly updated. The bane of the mystery or spy thriller author: what is the hidden information concealed on these days—tape, disk, or cd?

Tips for Updating your Manuscript:

* Slang and Language Usage: Look for and avoid if possible “trendy” slang that won’t be here tomorrow. If using current “buzz words” is essential to the story, be sure to update your draft if the book does not sell within a year.

* Money values: Be general when mentioning money values that are not important to the plot. For example, there is no need to be specific about the dollar price of a meal or hotel if you describe it as being upscale.

*Clothing and social habits: Look for changes in styles and in social habit such as smoking that reflect current times and attitudes.

*Vehicles: Make sure your vehicles haven’t become vintage.

*Technology: Keep current with the latest changes in technology by checking your manuscript for outdated phones, computers and other electronic devices that change in short periods of time.

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