You’ve poured out your soul. You’ve written your heart out. You’ve struggled and sweated over how to say what you want to say. You’ve paced the floor, clicked your heels, and now you think maybe it’s ready to submit. But how do you know?
“Good question” usually means you’re going to get a lousy answer. I won’t promise you anything different now, because it can be so hard to know if your article, story, proposal, or manuscript is ready to send to agents and editors who, if there’s any justice in this world, will be honored to read it and eager to publish it, making you rich and famous in less time than it takes to change your typewriter ribbon.
Sorry. Got a little carried away. And nostalgic.
Seriously, though, writing and publishing is such a subjective business that it’s hard to know if your piece is ready to submit to someone, somewhere. After all, you want to make a good—even great—first impression, right? You want to ensure the best possible chance for success. And fame. And—sorry, started to get carried away again. Still, though I can’t offer you “Ten Surefire Ways to Know Your Piece Is Ready to Submit,” I can suggest “Ten Surefire Ways to Know Your Piece Isn’t Ready to Submit.” That’s almost as good, right? So, here goes:
- If you haven’t prayed (and listened) for wisdom and guidance, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you just wrote it today, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you haven’t written (and “field-tested”) a gripping hook, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you haven’t spell-checked it, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you haven’t read it aloud, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you haven’t proofread it, it’s not ready to submit.
- If no one else’s eyes have seen it (to edit or critique), it’s not ready to submit.
- If you haven’t made sure the person(s) you’re sending it to actually represents or publishes in your genre, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you haven’t researched the genre, it’s not ready to submit.
- If you can’t say what other successful books are like yours and how yours is better or different, it’s not ready to submit.
Much of that list is serviceable for both short form (articles, short stories, etc.) and long form (book proposals and manuscripts). I think so, anyway. Though, to be fair, what do I know? I just dashed this off today and sent it off without even spell-checking or proofreading. (I’m really hoping no one can tell.)
How about you? What metric do you use to decide when something you’ve written is ready to submit for publication?
Excellent advice! I once had a “buddy” assigned to me in a writing group whose first page was so riddled with grammar and spelling errors I couldn’t read it. She was sure it was ready to submit. She considered it the editor’s job to fix everything! Her job was to tell the story. Unreal.
This is great advice for me. I have been writing a blog for almost three years. Sometimes I might overdo the editing process. I agonize over it. (Can you guess I am a perfectionist?) I will keep your list handy to review when I cannot hit the publish button.
Is it ready to submit,
must I let it go?
I really do not want to quit;
please say it isn’t so!
There are revisions yet to make,
and always one more task;
I just really need to take
more time, that’s all I ask.
But every job circles ’round
to its own right ending,
and every man has therby found
a Will to which he’s bending,
but let not these normal rules apply,
for God, I do not want to die!
Being a severe introvert, I’m not much into making comments on articles, but I have to say how much I really appreciate this piece! It gives me a hope that I haven’t had in years, and especially during such a trying time as this. Looks like I’ll try again to get my memoire represented. I passed all 10! Let’s do this!! ?
Kristen Joy Wilks
Number 10 is the hardest for me. What’s the balance in trying to find other books like your own and having people say, “Oh my goodness, your book sounds just like XYZ that I just read!”?
Megan, that can be a good sign, far far better than “there’s no other book like this.” The purpose of a comparisons section in a book proposal is to show that other similar books have been successful, so there’s a chance yours is “hitting a nerve,” so to speak.
This is a great list. And it’s helping me make a good evaluation of the book I’m almost done with (it’s almost ready—doing that final out-loud read through). Thanks for this, Bob!
Your advice, as always, is practical and excellent. Thanks for being willing to help the little people (previously unpublished writers).
Great list, Bob! Numbers 1-7 are even more essential for indies. We’re fully responsible for getting every book to the level of quality that a reader wouldn’t know it was indie if they didn’t look for the publisher name. That’s what it takes to get reviews that say they couldn’t put it down and can’t wait for the next one you write.
I would expand number 7 to say look at it with your own “editor eyes” several times before giving it to someone else to read. You want to give the people willing to give you their time as a beta reader something that will be an enjoyable reading experience, not something that’s only a rough draft.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D.
Okay, so I have a few weeks left before I send you my manuscript. One thing that I like to do is to ask someone who is part of my target audience to read the manuscript before I consider it ready to go. For example, as a “32 Forever” kinda gal, I would ask a middle-aged woman to have a look-see before I sent the manuscript in. I would also request that she be brutally honest….I have someone in my life who is willing to serve in that capacity, which is nice.
Thanks for always providing sensible (and usually easily followed) advice. I can’t think of anything to add to the list.
Number 5 is one I need to keep reminding myself to do, but I hate doing it. But if I learned nothing else from Toastmasters, it was that reading something aloud is critical . Too many times, I wrote something in what I thought was ‘proper’ speech only to find when I practiced that speech, I sounded stupid and was tripping over my words. It was a good reminder to keep my “voice” intact and write so the cadence creates a natural flow.
Great list, Bob. I have to say I’ve been trying to avoid number 5, reading it out loud, but I know it is coming soon!
Great article. I too struggle with number 10. My one “complete” manuscript (edited several times by myself with advise from readers) falls between the lines of other books I have found dealing with High Functioning Autism. I’ve been hitting the wall of “How do I complete this book proposal?” I may search for more beta readers and see what they come up with…
Kristen Joy Wilks
Hmmm … well, I usually think that the manuscript is done several times and then change my mind for “just one more” revision. I’m on revision #16 of my current WIP. But that is after doing all ten of your steps. So, I do all that, think that my book is ready, pitch it at a conference, have the editor or agent say “Yes, send it!” and then I freak out and revise it again … sometimes several times and then finally send. I do always send it, but once, it was a year and a half after the request to send, oops!
Thank-you for making me laugh, I always enjoy reading these articles. Even if I never become “famous”, I am blessed to have found a precious tribe to belong to.
I’ve done ALL you suggest. I’ve even had over a hundred readers (most of whom are not personal friends) test read it, and 80% raved about my novel. I’ve written over 200 agents who say they are interested in my genre, but have received either silence or kindly rejections. I don’t know how to find MORE agents who handle women’s historical with a Christian bent. I’ve been warned to expect to have to write 1000 queries before I find an agent, but, amazingly, I can’t find that many agents who handle my kind of book (historical, strong women, family saga, World War I, based on true and amazing lives.) There simply ARE no other novels like mine, but I do my best to suggest somewhat comparative stories.
What do I do next? Where do I find MORE agents? (I’m keeping careful track). Even YOU turned me down — but very nicely.
Lorie, you raise a great point. “Is it ready to submit?” is a very different question from “Is it sure to be accepted?” Alas, there is no reliable answer to the second question, as this is a subjective and ever-changing business.
I have done all that, so how to I get an agent to look at it. You yourself rejected it for no known reason. Yet I see evidence frequently that many people would enjoy and benefit from the book, Heaven Is Beyond Imagining: The music, beauty, waters, flowers, joy, peace, love, relationships, and more, described by eyewitnesses. I see people all the time asking about things of heaven that are answered in this book.
Jacques, it sounds like you HAVE gotten an agent to “look at it,” even if it was just me. 🙂 So much goes into the decision to represent (or not represent) a work that makes it difficult, even impossible, to specify what may have been the reason(s) for each such decision. I truly wish it were possible to give detailed critique in response to each submission.