Thanks to editor Marlene Adelstein for this guest post!
How many times have I heard those words or some variation? (Plug in husband, aunt or high school English teacher). As a freelance book editor, many of the writers who contact me have a few things in common.
- Someone they know has read and ‘loved’ their manuscript.
- They’ve quickly gone on to query agents or submit it to them.
- They get rejected (or don’t even hear back).
- They don’t understand why they’ve been rejected since their ____ (fill in the blank with appropriate relative or friend) loved it, leaving them frustrated and unhappy.
I don’t doubt that these friends or relatives loved their work but that doesn’t mean their manuscripts were ready to be sent out. Although well meaning, your mother may not know about the craft of writing. Your brother might not know about plot, structure, or point of view. They may not be able to articulate what exactly isn’t working and why.
I get asked all the time what the biggest mistake is that writers make. Answer: Writers send their books out too soon.
So how does one know when it’s time, when your book is truly ready to send out into the world?
It’s hard to know. I wish there was a thermometer for books, some digital gizmo you could pass over your pages to test for doneness. Here’s my best advice:
1. If you think your manuscript is done, it probably isn’t. You might be so sick of it you can’t read it one more time. You can recite your dialogue from memory. But more than likely IT’S NOT READY. RESIST TEMPTATION. DO NOT SEND IT OUT. Don’t send your book out too soon!
2. Get good outside reads. By ‘good’ I don’t mean mom or dad, sis or bro. Sure, let them read, enjoy, and give their comments. But find another set of sophisticated readers who know how to evaluate your kind of material. They may be:
- A) Your writers group. Pay attention to their notes that resonate. (You’re not in a writers group? Join one. Can’t find one? That’s a post for another day.)
- B) Other writers who write your same kind of material. Try to find a writer who is at least familiar with your genre.
- C) Other writers who have published are particularly valuable. You may need to get creative. Ask around. Go to a college writing program and talk to the professors (who might be writers themselves.) Sign up for writing conferences. These are great for networking. Do your homework and find ‘good’ readers!
- D) Freelance book editors who do it for a living. You will get another level of critique from a professional.
3. Revise, revise, revise.
4. Then read it again. Give it to those good readers. Again.
5. Eventually you will know when your book is ready. Or maybe you won’t be sure but you’ll be ready to test the waters.
Writing and selling a marketable book in today’s publishing climate isn’t easy, but not impossible. Take the time to make your book as strong and professional as it can be. It will only strengthen your chances to get an agent and ultimately to get published. And if you’re planning on self publishing, the same is true. And your mother will still love it, maybe even more.
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