Is your manuscript ready to be submitted?
When you’re writing by yourself and doing your own revisions on a story, it can be really tricky to know when the project is ready to be submitted – whether that’s to literary agents, publishers, writing competitions, or a freelance editor. Here’s a useful checklist of things you might want to consider before hitting the send button too early!
How many rounds of self-editing have you done?
It’s really important to develop some self-editing skills as an author, regardless of your goals – editors, agents and publishers aren’t miracle workers after all, and the bulk of the work is going to fall to you. You need to be able to pinpoint places where your world-building is weak, identify characters that aren’t serving a purpose, and spot plot holes you’ve left dangling, or arcs that just aren’t working or adding to the story. I highly recommend the book Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King; it’ll help you develop your skills.
Have you had beta readers or critique partners take a look?
Once you’ve done some editing yourself, the next step is beta readers, critique partners, or writer friends! Gather as much feedback as you can, and decide what resonates with you and if there’s anything you’d like to change, based on those comments. Feedback from beta readers and critique partners won’t be as extensive as what you might get from a professional edit, but reactions from readers are an important part of the process, and can help you figure out tricky plot snags or character issues.
Have you considered a development edit before submission?
Many writers have their work rejected by a publisher or agent, then hire a professional editor to do a critique or a developmental edit to fix the perceived faults. But why not find a freelance editor before you submit? They can give you a more in-depth look at the problems in your manuscript from a professional standpoint, and help you find solutions. Publishers have huge slush piles, manuscripts are often dumped for minor reasons, and the nearer your manuscript is to a publishable state, the more likely it is to be accepted.
Have you let it sit, and come back to it with fresh eyes?
Have you ever looked at something you wrote a year ago, and spotted a whole tangle of problems you never noticed? We’ve all been there. Even just a few weeks’ distance from your project can help you see weaknesses you were blind to. Writing a book is such a close, intimate process, so the distance of time can be really helpful.
Is it formatted and presented correctly?
This is crucial if you’re entering a competition or submitting to agents/publishers! Don’t give them any excuse to turn you down, and if they’ve given you formatting requirements, follow them to the letter. Guidelines vary, but it’s a good idea to (i) use a standard font such as 12-point Times New Roman, (ii) include page numbers and a header with your name and the book’s title, and (iii) add a cover page with your contact details, your book title, and the word count.
Have you done a final check for awkward/clumsy wording and spelling mistakes?
Another important one if you’re submitting to agents or publishers (although not so essential if you’re hiring a freelance copy-editor). It can be helpful to print out your writing, as we often spot more mistakes on paper than we do on screen. Another useful tip would be to change the font, if you’re checking on screen.
With all these bases covered, you should be good to go ahead and submit your manuscript! And if you make a mistake, or realise you spelt your character’s name wrong on the fifth page, don’t despair. We’re all human, it happens to the best of us, and mistakes can always be corrected.
And keep writing. The important thing is that you’re putting your work out there, and constantly improving. Good luck!
Betterwrite Associate Editor