Let’s say you’re having one of those hazy moments between awake and asleep, and your brain toys with a chicken casserole idea. You don’t want to use canned soup or pre-mixed spices. You want your recipe to be original. As your mind slowly emerges from the web of dreams, ingredients align themselves in your thoughts. Celery, carrots, fennel, onions. Different taste delights float into your mind’s eye and tickle your imagination’s tongue.
Next thing you know, you’re excited because you’ve created one amazing recipe. Toss back your covers, fly from the bed, and hone your idea as you brush your teeth and cleanse your face. Sharpen it in your mind over morning coffee. Toy with it periodically during the day. By the time you’re home again, you’re convinced you have an original, incredible casserole recipe for chicken.
You whip out a cute three-by-five inch index card and a black-ink pen and record your vision. You make several copies, one for each of the major food magazines. Taste of Home, Southern Cooking, Everyday Cuisine. Then make a special trip to town to drop them off at the Post Office, with visions of a photo-feature in Food and Wine Magazine dancing through your mind.
Uh, did you taste it? Did you try it out on friends and family? Did you tweak this, cut that, include another ingredient before sending your masterpiece off for publication?
Of course you did. No one in their right mind would send off an untested recipe!
Yet writers do so every day, and amazingly expect to hit the New York Times Best Seller List. They’ve already skipped past the “will my manuscript be accepted?” part. Of course it will be accepted! . . . right?
Just as you would test a recipe before mailing it, you should test your manuscript. Not with family and friends, unless they’re all seasoned editors, but with other writers more experienced than yourself.
Critique partners and groups are vital for creating a golden manuscript. Writer’s organizations that provide a mentor program are as precious as saffron. And if you really want to dazzle those dinner guests at the publication table, spring for a professional edit.
A recipe must be taste-tested by someone with an experienced palate before it’s presented to a food magazine. A manuscript needs to be reviewed by a knowledgeable critique partner, mentor, or freelance editor before it’s presented to an agent or publisher. Don’t forget that crucial ingredient.