Is your manuscript ready for feedback?
You’ve done it! You’ve typed the words ‘The End’ and your manuscript is complete. You might want to submit it to a publisher. Or maybe you want to get some feedback from some trusted beta readers or fellow writers. Well, hold off on that submit button for just long enough to answer these five questions first.
This might help you decide whether your manuscript is actually ready for someone else to read.
1. Have you read the entire manuscript yourself at least once?
Even if you planned your novel on a spreadsheet and have been carefully editing every page at the end of each day, you won’t know if you have a complete manuscript until you read the whole thing at least once. For best results, read it out loud to yourself. Yes, really. Nothing will make you hear a clunky sentence or an unrealistic bit of dialogue faster than listening to your own words.
2. Can you write a synopsis of your story?
A synopsis is a succinct outline of your story. Not an overview of themes and feelings, but a step-by-step guide to what happens to your characters – all the way to the end, spoilers included. Most agents and publishers will ask for a synopsis of around a page. Do you know your story well enough to burn it down to its bare essence?
If not, you need to go through it again, writing a list of what happens in every scene. If nothing happens in a scene, consider whether you should remove the scene from the story and rework your character’s progress.
3. Can you write a blurb for your story?
The blurb is your sales pitch for this story. Think of it like the log line on the movie poster. Essentially, it’s the words on the back of your book. Do you know your story well enough to write a pithy description that will entice your target audience to read your novel?
And remember, a blurb is not a synopsis. Your synopsis tells the entire story. A blurb tells just enough to make someone want to read the rest of your story.
4. Have you read widely enough in your market or genre that you know where this manuscript fits?
It’s essential that you know where your book fits in the market. For instance, if you’ve written ‘a children’s book’, but you don’t know if it’s junior fiction or middle-grade, your manuscript is not ready for someone else to read. You need a clear idea of the age group you’re writing for and the genre in which your novel fits.
Do your research retrospectively by reading as many similar recently published novels as you can – don’t rely on memories of what you read as a child – so that you are clear on where your book fits in the current market. If you’re not writing for children, don’t worry. The process is similar no matter what genre or market you’re writing in. Why do you need to know? Because publishers or agents will ask you!
5. Is your first chapter compelling?
Writers will often work very hard on their opening lines, but if you are submitting your work to an agent or publisher, your opening pages need to be compelling and engaging. Make sure you haven’t dumped your backstory into the first three pages. Read the end of your story and decide whether this opening still works at all.
If you can answer yes to all of these questions then congratulations! Ask a beta reader or two that you trust to read it and give you feedback. Take it on board, roll it around in your mind, and then decide what you might want to change or rewrite.
Remember that your first draft is not your final manuscript! Don’t be fooled into thinking that you just whip up a manuscript and then send it to a publisher who will recognise your raw talent and want to work intensively with you to refine it. Publishers prefer receiving manuscripts that have gone through several drafts because then they know you’ve taken the time to think through the structure of the story, you’ve ironed out any inconsistencies and your characters are fully developed.
So don’t rush into sending it off before it’s “cooked”. To give your story the best possible chance to become a published book, you want to make sure that agents and publishers only get your final manuscript!
And then you can start the whole process again for your next one.
Allison Tait is the author of three epic middle-grade adventure series for kids: The Mapmaker Chronicles, The Ateban Cipher and the Maven & Reeve Mysteries. A presenter at AWC and former co-host of the So You Want To Be A Writer podcast, Al’s next middle-grade novel will be out in July 2023. Find out more about her at allisontait.com.