A Help to Write or Tailor the Manuscript on Your Heart

Today, I publish my 300th blog post. To celebrate, I share with you the major project I undertook to use many of my 300 blog posts. The project produced a resource soon to release that will help you write or get your manuscript in shape to publish. Below is the story about Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days from the book’s back pages and what professionals in the publishing industry are saying about the book.

Story of the Project

Zoe M. McCarthy was an actuary in her first career, but she always held a passion to create stories. Determined to learn the route to publication, she attended writers’ conferences, joined a critique group, studied books and blogs on writing and the publishing world, and analyzed novels to find out what worked in them.

image by stevepb

When Zoe’s first contemporary romance contracted, her further research on publishing and marketing convinced her she needed to start a blog and post regularly. Because her analytical side gives Zoe a keen interest in the mechanics and methodologies of good writing, a how-to blog on writing appealed to her. In 2012 she began her blog.

After Zoe had published over one-hundred posts, an agent and a publishing house editor, suggested she write a book based on her blog. The idea interested Zoe, and she attended a workshop on the dos and don’ts for turning blog posts into a book. She wanted to share more than the information she’d accumulated. She desired to help writers with manuscripts who didn’t know how to get them ready for publication, writers whose manuscripts received rejections, writers whose self-published novels received poor reviews, and writers who wanted to write the stories on their hearts but needed help to put them to paper. Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30Days was born.

Endorsements for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days

image by geralt

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.

—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author of the “Myrtle Clover Mysteries,” the “Southern Quilting Mysteries,” and the “Memphis Barbeque Mysteries,” http://elizabethspanncraig.com/blog/  

Zoe has developed a guiding resource for beginning writers. Her method is designed for brainstorming, shaping, and revising the early draft of a manuscript. General and specific tips are offered for applying rules of writing to enhance one’s story for a workable second draft. By exploring the plot line of Love Comes Softly, writers may examine their own work for stronger plot and characterization. Valuable tools are offered that enable the writer to develop a workable draft in only 30 days!

—Yvonne Lehman, award-winning, best-selling author of 48 novels

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightingeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers.

— Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

Zoe’s writing blog has always intrigued me. As a high school English teacher, I can attest that her tips on good grammar and her hints for excellent sentence and paragraph structure are spot on. But as an author, I also appreciate her ever-present advice that excellent skills are not enough: you must tell a good story, too. This book clearly shows how to do it all.

—Tanya Hanson, “Writing the Trails to Tenderness,” author of Christmas Lights, Outlaw Heart, Hearts Crossing Ranch anthology, and coming in 2019, Tainted Lady, Heart of Hope, and Angel Heart. www.tanyahanson.com

McCarthy crafted an amazing self-help book that will strengthen any writer, whether new or seasoned, with guidance and self-evaluation tools.

–Erin Unger, author of Practicing Murder, releasing in 2019

Celebrate my 300thblog with me and read how Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Dayswas born from my writing posts. Click to tweet.

Would you tell us about where the book laid on your heart stands in the publishing process—in your mind, in a draft under your bed, in search of a publisher, or in the world of published books?

Buy Link 

Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

5 Steps to Find the Comparable Novels Publishers Want in Your Proposal

Include books that are similar to yours in theme, tone, style and/or genre.— Rachelle Gardner

image by rebbeccadevitt0
image by rebbeccadevitt0

I’ve noticed writers, myself included, struggling to find comparable books for publishers. Many blogs explain why publishers want Comparable Titles and how to write this proposal section. But, I found little on how to find novels comparable to mine. With hindsight modifications, here’s what I did.

Step 1 – Complete this form for your book using few words (examples provided):

  1. Genre
    1. Romantic Suspense
    2. Legal Thriller
    3. Women’s Fiction
    4. Cozy Mystery
  1. Time period
    1. Contemporary
    2. 1950s
    3. Regency
    4. Pre-Columbian
image by Bonnybbx
image by Bonnybbx

  3.  Main setting
       a.  Southern Plantation
       b.  Lake Norman, NC
       c.  Rome
       d.  Thanksgiving




  1. Plot
    1. Solving a murder using police dogs
    2. Romance between widow and widower
    3. Overcoming covered wagon journey hardships
    4. Foster child surviving and receiving permanent home
  1. Theme and/or takeaway
    1. Coming home
    2. Rising above abuse
    3. Healing a broken marriage
    4. Oddball fitting in
image by kartal8167
image by kartal8167
  1. Style/Tone/Voice
    1. Humor
    2. Clean romance
    3. Christian
    4. Military
  1. Main Audience
    1. Women
    2. Young adult males
    3. Arts & craft lovers
    4. Sports fans
  1. Authors You Write Like


image by Bonnybbxvitt0
image by Bonnybbxvitt0

Step 2 – Choose the most relevant identifiers. Perhaps these will spark a book you’ve read. Don’t be too strict; appropriate books may have only a few of your identifiers.

Example: contemporary, clean romance, humor, office professionals, overbearing father, Thanksgiving


Step 3 – Search and make a list of 5 to 10 possible titles. Using your keywords, try these sources:

image by moritz320
image by moritz320
  1. Search websites, such as Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Goodreads. Make sure candidates:
    1. are fairly current
    2. have lots of reviews heavily loaded toward 3-5 stars
    3. have recognizable publishing clout (well-known publisher, multi-published author, or strong sales).
  2. Send emails to reader friends and ask: Considering one or more of these keywords, what books that you enjoyed come to mind? (Unlike story summaries, relevant keywords may keep people open to more books.)
  3. Ask your critique partners and beta readers for popular titles similar to your book.
  4. Browse books in a bookstore, noting the ones in the section in which your book would be shelved.

Step 4 – Arrange your titles from the most to least promising. During the next step, you may have the needed comparable titles before you exhaust your list.

Step 5 – Starting at the top of your list, look up the title on Amazon and Goodreads.

  1. If you haven’t already done so, read the blurbs.
  2. Read many reviews. With reviews and blurbs, you should see readers mentioning your keywords or similar words. If you don’t, put that title aside.
  3. Make sure reviews with 1 – 3 stars don’t repeatedly mention an important flaw that you’d prefer your book not be compared to.
  4. Also, reading lots of reviews might reveal some common thread or belief that’s something you’d rather not have in a comparable title.
  5. Authors with multiple books satisfying your keywords is even better.

Use these 5 steps and find comparable titles for your fiction book proposal. Click to tweet.

What suggestions do you have for finding comparable fiction titles?

Sometimes You Need a Rejection

“ I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.” — Sylvester Stallone 


Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Mister GC at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through my writing, I’ve learned an important truth. I’ve gone to conferences, attended workshops, read books on the craft, been critiqued, and written, written, written. I’ve grown in my writing ability. By great strides. But knowing this sometimes tempts me to think I’ve arrived at a place to relax.

Image courtesy of nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of nongpimmy at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Often believing we’ve arrived is driven by our growth, not by where excellence lies. Click to tweet. 

I think this is true for most of us. Sometimes we need a rejection to push us to the next level.




Rejections We Might Need


Rejection 1


  • The growth. We’ve gone over and over our scene. We’ve thought of the kinds of problems our critique partner has previously dinged us for. We know it’s perfect. Perhaps we don’t need a critique partner anymore.
  • The rejection. We receive a critique, bloody with red ink.
  • The Next Level. We realize critique partners are a permanent need. When we’re immersed in our scene, even after we’ve let it sit, we can’t see problems only other readers can. Like the turn of a phrase that makes sense to us, but confuses a reader.


Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rejection 2


  • The growth. Our writing improved after each of two rejected novels. Our third book is published.
  • The rejection. Our fourth book can’t find a home. In the rejection letters, kind editors give us suggestions to improve the work.
  • The Next Level. The rejection teaches us one published book doesn’t mean we’ve arrived in our writing ability. We must continue to hone the craft.
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rejection 3 


  • The growth. We’ve written a publishable story. We’ve done everything craft books, workshop teachers, and paid editors suggested to make it the best story. We pitch it to editors at conferences. Several like our idea and request a proposal.
  • The rejection. We receive kind rejections telling us the editors liked the story but had no place for it. They even take the time to encourage us about our story.
  • The Next Level. We realize this is the business. The rejection isn’t a reflection on us as a writer. We refuse to be discouraged. We move on to the next project. But we tuck the book away.
    • Times may change, and an editor might remember our book and request it again.
    • Or we sell several similar books and garner a following of readers ready for more of our books. We self-publish that book.
    • Or, with our growing reader base, a publisher might be eager now to look at it. This happened to John Grisham. A Time to Kill was Grisham’s first book. Many publishers rejected it. Then a publisher gave it a 5000-copy printing. But after his next books became bestsellers, A Time to Kill was republished twice and made into a movie. 


  • Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
    Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

We learn to keep our options open rather than quitting. For me, I trust in God’s will and timing.

When has a rejection pushed you forward to the next level?