Why you should enter a manuscript development program

This month I entered the Queensland Writers Centre (QWC) and Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program.

Each year (up to) ten lucky writers are selected to participate in a four day retreat, during which time Hachette publishers and editors provide feedback on their manuscripts. Being part of the program does not guarantee publication, although of course some of the participants do receive publishing deals from Hachette. The feedback and connections alone make it a prize worth winning. Understandably they receive hundreds of submissions from all over the country, so I know the chances of my manuscript being selected is a long shot. The lucky 2018 program participants will be announced in November.

I’d been revising my contemporary women’s fiction novel My Mother the Feminist and decided it was time to muster some courage and put my work out there.

I’m glad I did. Whether I get selected or not, here’s how entering the program has helped me to improve my writing.

Focus on the first fifty pages

To enter the QWC/Hachette Manuscript Development Program you had to submit the first fifty pages of your manuscript. For me that meant submitting my first five chapters. Like most writers I’d written and re-written my first chapter several times, but seeing those first fifty pages together, knowing they were going to be judged, made me look critically at the impact those fifty pages had. Had I hooked the reader in? Was my voice full of personality and was it consistent? Was it clear what my protagonist wanted and had I established enough conflict?

After more rewriting I hope so.

I’ve written the dreaded synopsis

I was required to submit a synopsis alongside my first fifty pages. Of course I’d always planned to write one, probably next year when I’d (hopefully) be ready to start querying. Writing the synopsis was as difficult as everyone says it is. This year I completed QWC’s The Year of the Novel online course, with Pamela Cook at our wonderful instructor. Pamela kindly shared a synopsis planning tool (that unfortunately I can’t share here), which helped me to write my synopsis.

Although it’s not perfect, my synopsis is now written. Between now and querying next year I can edit it into something special, rather then leaving it until the last minute, which is what I would have done if I hadn’t have entered the manuscript development program.

Connecting with fellow writers

This last point isn’t about my writing but was an unexpected bonus of entering the program. I shared the fact I had entered on my Instagram and Twitter accounts. It was amazing to see how supportive my followers were and also how many new connections I made with fellow writers. As someone who is trying to build an online author platform it was heartening to feel part of a community I so admire and start building relationships with other writers.

I’d love to hear about other manuscript development programs (primarily Australian, but global competitions that accept worldwide entries too).

Good luck if you also submitted to the QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program this month – fingers crossed for good news in November.