So your manuscript is finished...but is it ready?
Finishing your first manuscript is an accomplishment. (Starting your first manuscript to begin with is a huge accomplishment). Now, you have a point A to point B thought with a setting and characters and you can’t wait to introduce them to the world.
How do you know when your story is ready for submission?
Are you the only person who has read it?
If the answer is yes, your manuscript is not ready to meet the agents. Critique partners, writing circles, friends, prior teachers, classmates, coworkers and family members are just some of the many options who could give you an outside perspective on where your manuscript could improve.
Social media platforms, specifically Twitter, often flows with posts of authors looking for someone to swap pages with, giveaways of content critiques, and is abundant with writer’s groups and editing threads. Do some research, find your favorite outlet, and join. Let others read your manuscript, take their opinion into consideration, and allow yourself to grow with and learn from other writers/readers.
Are you within the proper word count range for your genre?
If your story is running on the higher than normal end of the spectrum, or you’re barely meeting the usual recommendations ground floor, your manuscript most likely requires another draft.
No one enjoys pressing the delete button and cutting ties with a scene they have grown attached to, but unfortunately, everything can’t stay. Save that beloved scene for a sequel or a different manuscript, but don’t be afraid to trim the excess and leave only the most important details of the story.
On the opposite end, too short a word count can be an indication of not taking advantage of areas where more detail could be added. Remember: Show, Don’t tell. One adverb could be written as five or more beautifully placed words or actions if done correctly.
Don’t start sending your manuscript out until you’re ready for and open to changing it if necessary. In the editing process, suggestions will be made to improve your manuscript. These may include reworking scenes, changing a title or character name, or deleting a scene you love.
Have you taken a break from your manuscript?
If you’re so tired of reading your own manuscript over and over and over you could scream - you’re doing it exactly right.
Take a break!
Taking a break from a story has many benefits. It gives you time to clear your thoughts and lifts some of the pressure a writer puts on themselves.
Time away offers a fresh perspective of the story, allowing a reader to jump in and edit with an open mind and write from new angles.
Does your manuscript start in the right place?
Everyone wants an opening line that’s big, powerful and tempting enough keep us on the line. But if your story begins with fireworks, a high speed chase, never before seen demons, a natural disaster, etc and then…
“It was all a dream.”
… Go back to the drawing board. The beginning can be interesting and well built without all the antics.
Be detailed without oversharing in your opening pages. You’re telling a story only you know to a group of people who have never heard it before and have no idea where it is going. Give us the most important points first: The Who, When and Where, and sprinkle the Why and How throughout the story as those details become pertinent.
Have you read your MS out loud or had someone read it to you?
Reading out loud allows us to hear the words we wrote instead of just reading them. Reading out loud is a good way to pinpoint flow issues, run on sentences, and words that don’t fit perfectly.
Microsoft Word offers ReadAloud mode, a feature that allows the computer to read each word back to you.
In multiple Point of View stories, read each point of view from beginning to end as if it is its own story. Say your odd numbered chapters feature Charlie, and your even numbered chapters feature Matt: Read all of Charlie’s chapters beginning to end, ensuring every scene is necessary and all loose ends are tied up. Then, do the same with Matt.
Your manuscript is probably ready if:
You’ve determined what genre/age group you’re writing in and your content and word count fit.
You’ve had multiple drafts
Your manuscript is completed.
You’ve consulted with critique partners, writing groups, friends, sensitivity consults
You’ve read your manuscript out loud
You’ve taken a break from your manuscript
You’ve acknowledged each Point of View of your story and deemed them all complete and necessary
Your manuscript starts in the right place
You’ve edited so many times, you’re now just moving words around to make it sound different, but not necessarily changing the content
With a completed, edited - and edited again -manuscript in hand, you can now proceed to researching agents, working on a synopsis, drafting a query letter and crossing your fingers.