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Is Your Book Ready for Publication?

This is a big question for a lot of writers, me included. You’ve put in countless hours writing your first draft, thinking about characters and character arcs, protagonists and antagonists, about plot, about scenes and settings, about place, about dialogue, about the elements of fiction and perhaps the elements intrinsic to your chosen genre, and much, much more. After all that, you’ve had beta readers (ideally other writers with experience writing and publishing whose opinions you trust), taken into consideration their feedback and edits, and then gone back and revised based on the suggestions you believe improve your manuscript, and discarded those you feel don’t add value to what you’re trying to accomplish.

And then you’ve gone and rewritten and revised numerous drafts to come up with your final product, and it’s ready to release out into the world, whether you’ve chosen to go the agent/traditional publishing route, the Indie route, or the self-publishing and/or vanity publishing route. Right? Well, if the process I’ve just laid out for you isn’t what you’ve done, you may want to rethink where you’re at in the process. That is, if you want to give yourself the best chance of being successful and thought of as a legitimate author.

Now, I know that sounds harsh—and it is. But the point of this is that I want you to succeed. I want you to put out the best book you can, and that requires work. There are plenty of articles out there touting self-published works that are bringing in the dough. Some with actual critical success as well as financial success. Kudos to those authors who’ve accomplished that. But here’s something you probably already know: those books and those authors are unicorns. They’re not the norm; they’re the exception.

Personally, I made a pact with myself a long time ago regarding what and who I wanted to be as an author. To break it down, this is what I wanted (and still want) for myself: I want to be published by one of the big 5 publishers, or one of their imprints. That’s it. And that requires writing the best book I can write, submitting it through my agent, AND getting lucky in the process. I have one novel published by a small indie, and I’m thrilled that I do. I also have a bunch of short stories published in literary journals, which is also a notch in my belt, because all of these publications are published by third parties—meaning I didn’t self-publish them. Someone thought they were good enough to publish, and so they were published. But that’s just my situation. Yours may be different. But you should know what you want long-term for yourself as a writer. And that is what you should shoot for.

To do that you need to make sure everything that comes before sending your work out into the world is completed.

“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”

~ Steven King

So, did you consider all of the elements of fiction in the first paragraph of this post before you sent your work out or self-published it? If you did, great. If you didn’t, did you ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish? If not, ask yourself why not right now. It may help narrow down the why of why you want to see your name on a book.

You don’t have to have the same goals as your writing friends or other writers you know. It’s 100% your decision.

For me, this is what I consider before I send my writing to my beta readers:

1. Have I reached a point where I believe there’s nothing further for me to improve?

If I’m changing a comma here, an adjective there, and then changing them back, I may

be done with all I can do at this stage. It’s probably time to send it off for feedback.

2. Do I have a compelling opening?

Have I read and re-read and revised and rewritten my opening so that, if I’m a reader, I’ll want to keep reading? Now that I’ve finished the draft of my novel, should I go back and rewrite/revise my opening? Chances are you probably should. The novel has changed, and so has the need to update the opening to line up with the rest of the novel.

3. Do I have a character or characters that I care about? And are they flat or round?

To this day, I receive feedback from publishers through my agent that tell me that they didn’t “connect” with my protagonist. Now, some of that is obviously subjective/personal to the editor at the publishing house, but not always. Your job is to make readers care about your characters, especially your protagonist. If they don’t, they’ll stop reading, which isn’t what you want.

We don’t know much about our flat characters, but we should know plenty about our round characters. Flat characters serve a purpose in the narrative, otherwise they shouldn’t be there. But our round characters need to be real people. They need to have depth, and we need to know a good deal about them if we’re to invest our emotions in their lives.

4. Does my protagonist have a character arc?

Do they face challenges and adversity that they must overcome, only to encounter more challenges and more adversity? Does it, by the end of the manuscript, lead to a resolution? It should.

5. Does my novel have a plot?

This is a topic a LOT of authors, in particular new authors and authors of speculative fiction, argue against. But plots are why readers read. They want to know why things happen as they do. Remember, plot is causality. Without causality, you just have characters running around doing things, but not necessarily for any reason. And for the reader, that’s simply unsatisfying. And if it’s unsatisfying, they’ll stop reading.

6. Are my scenes intriguing? Do they advance the plot or reveal character in some way?

Scenes are where the action is. It’s where characters interact with each other, and where we learn who your characters are. It’s also how we learn about motivation— meaning WHY characters do what they do. This is what moves the plot along. Scenes also give the reader a break from long blocks of text, which can weigh down the reader’s attention, which you obviously don’t want to do. Not for too long, anyway.

7. Do my readers know where things are happening?

Ask yourself if you’ve given enough description about place, time, and setting, which includes the location of where things are happening, but also the year, the time of day, the climate (is it winter? Is there something going on politically? Economically? that I should make clear in the narrative?). Your characters shouldn’t just be walking around in nowhereville—unless that’s specifically part of the story you’re trying to tell.

8. Is my dialogue working?

I have been told that I write good dialogue. Now, I’ve never really focused heavily on how to write dialogue: it’s just something I’ve always felt comfortable with. I don’t always “listen” to how people speak to write dialogue, I just do it. Later, if my novel takes place in a location where dialect or a foreign language is prevalent, I go back and make sure I address it in some way. But it doesn’t have to follow the exact way people talk. I don’t have to translate Spanish words verbatim when I’m writing in English, because it probably won’t work. I’m talking about context, intent and meaning, and so on. So, consider these things in your dialogue. It could be that all I have to add is a specific dialogue tag to get my point across or make the character believable by what she says.

Dialogue should also paint a better picture of who your character is. I don’t mean gender; I mean are they intelligent? Are they mean? Generous? Direct? Manipulative? Cagey? Who are they, and how do they talk to people? What words do they use? Vocabulary is important; it tells us their education level, and perhaps where they’re from. Remember, everything they say needs to be important. And it needs to move the plot along in some form or fashion.

9. Is my point of view obvious? Do I even have a clear point of view (POV)?

There are basically three POVs—First person, Second Person, and various types of Third Person points of view. We won’t get into that here, but ask yourself if there’s a specific vantage point or lens through which the reader experiences the story. If there isn’t, or if you switch POVs unintentionally, make sure there’s a reason for it.

Oftentimes we switch POVs by accident, and so we need to go back and revise sections so we’re consistent.

10. Is my style consistent?

Personally, I write literary fiction. My style from book to book is that I don’t have a consistent one that I stick with. So style is something I consider very important from book to book. I may go with a casual style if I’m trying for a more “popular” fiction style novel, and with a heavier, more detailed style when I’m trying to write something that’ll still be relevant a hundred years from now. I’m not saying you have to do that, only that that’s what I try to do with what I write. Just make sure you’re being consistent throughout the novel when it comes to style. I do my best to make sure I’m consistent by writing the first draft as fast as I can. That helps me keep style top of mind. It may help you as well.

11. Do I do the themes of the novel justice?

You’ll likely have more than one theme when you’re writing your novel. There are plenty of themes in fiction—Justice, love, family, betrayal, good versus evil—and many others. If I know there’s a theme in my work (I almost always do), then I’ll make sure in rewrites that I address and enhance those themes so as to maximize their effect. I enjoy focusing on that aspect of novel writing because for me it’s like putting puzzle pieces in the right place. Sometimes these puzzle pieces are just for me; I know that readers will l likely miss what I’ve done. But that’s okay; sometimes it’s the subtle elements within my work that the reader enjoys without knowing why they enjoyed them.

12. Have I read and re-read and then rewritten and revised the novel enough times so that everything is addressed?

What I mean is, Have I closed up all of the holes? Have I addressed all of the questions readers will have based on what I’ve introduced in my work? If I haven’t, I’ll need to go back and do that. There should be no open questions by the end of the novel. I’m not saying you can’t end the book ambiguously, only that the reader should be left satisfied when they reach the last word of your novel.

Have I proofread my work? You can use Grammarly or Word or whatever program you use, but make sure you do a run-through of your novel to make sure you don’t have typos or misspellings or grammar issues. Sometimes you break the rules intentionally, during dialogue, to show education level, for style, etc. But it should be obvious to the reader why you’ve done so. If not, the reader will be distracted and view you as an amateur, which is obviously something you don’t want them to think.

13. Before we reach the end here and I’m ready to send my work out, I let my work rest for some time. I allow myself to forget everything I’ve done, so that I can review it later with fresh eyes. It may be a week, a month, a year. Sometimes it’s longer than that. I then go back and read it again, often making revisions. I do this because when I first write a novel I’m often too close to it to see where something is missing, or where I’ve erred in some way. You don’t have to do that, but I highly recommend it. It could be the difference between how an agent or editor views your work. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression, and you don’t want to screw that up because you’re lazy. Not after all of the work you’ve put in writing.

Before we end, I want to mention something called being self-aware in your writing. There are many definitions for being self-aware, but I’ll just share what it means to me. Being self-aware when it comes to my fiction means that I know when something is working, and when something is not working. It means that I realize when I need to kill my darlings (meaning I need to cut something—a character, a scene, some exposition, whatever). It means that I don’t pretend something that’s not okay is okay. It means that I look at my work as a professional editor would look at it, and I make the necessary adjustments that I need to make to improve the work.

Remember, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, my goal is to be published by one of the bigs, and that means I need to put forth my best effort. It means I have to make sacrifices. It means I can’t take shortcuts. And it means that I have to be and act like a professional. If all I want to do is write a first draft and throw it up on Amazon, so be it. I’m not criticizing anyone if that’s what they want to do. It’s just not what I want to do.

I want to write books that bring the same joy to others that I get by reading quality books written by writers who treat their craft like it’s the most important thing they can do in their lives, because that’s what it is for me. I want people to read my books in a hundred years, and I just don’t see that happening unless I put the work in. So, I put the work in. I don’t worry when other writers ask why I haven’t published anything in years. They don’t know my story, and I don’t need to tell them. I’ll just keep on pursuing the dreams I set for myself long ago. And hopefully, in time, they’ll get to see those dreams in hardback at their favorite bookstore or on a stand at an airport somewhere around this beautiful world.

If you've completed a novel or long work of prose and need a substantive editor, please feel free to email us at to get your book ready for submission.


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