7 Things to do to Your Manuscript Before Submission
Are you considering submitting your manuscript to us? Terrific! We can’t wait to see it. But first, there are a few things we’d like you to do to it.
1. Put your manuscript away.
Yup. Stick it in a drawer. Move it off your desktop. Put your folder of notes someplace else. Don’t look at it. Don’t think about it.
You need to put some distance between you and your manuscript. After looking at it every day for weeks (or months, or years), you’re too close. It’s that whole forest-through-the-trees thing.
You need distance from the piece to be able to look at it objectively.
Because there’s going to be flaws, and errors, and typos, and you’re not going to see them. Yet.
So, if you just typed The End and hit Save, stop. Hide it. Get it out of your sight and go work on your next book for a month. After a reasonable length of time, you can…
2. Reread your manuscript. Start to finish. Out loud.
If you haven’t done this exercise on your work before, you’ll be amazed at what your ear can pick up that your eyes miss.
Our eyes become accustomed to our words and gloss over mistakes. Typos, clunky dialogue, those words your spellchecker thought were correct, and those incredibly long, run-on sentences that never seem to end, jump out when read aloud. And you know that voice thing that writing books and classes always talk about? Part of your voice is how your writing sounds. So, read your manuscript out loud and listen to the words you speak.
Another important reason to read your manuscript aloud is that books aren’t just read any longer; people listen to them. Audiobooks are the fastest-growing medium for book publications. Readers are increasingly consuming books in their car, at the gym, while doing the dishes, and while falling asleep. It’s a market that we, as the publisher, want to get your book into. To make that happen, the book has to read well.
3. Give it to an impartial reader and get feedback.
You need an impartial reader, here. Not your mom/dad/husband/wife/mee-maw/paw-paw/Sunday-school-teacher/therapist, but someone who doesn’t have to worry about looking across the dinner table at you after their feedback. It’s a rare relationship that can survive literary criticism, so don’t risk it!
Beta-readers, a local writer’s group, even websites like www.critters.org, can help you connect with readers who can give you the unvarnished truth without worrying that you’ll get your feelings hurt.
If you can’t take criticism from a beta-reader, you’re probably not ready for the commercial publishing space.
Yes, this type of feedback is incredibly subjective. That’s the world of publishing, period. But, if a perfect stranger loves your book, you might be onto something good. If not, her feedback might be the thing you need to turn a good book into a great one.
4. Double-check your word count.
Appropriate word counts differ from genre to genre, but there’s generally a sweet-spot around the 80,000-word mark for adult fiction. This excellent blog post from Writer’s Digest goes into further detail about standard word counts. Make sure your word count is appropriate for the genre.
Why is this so important? Two reasons.
First, each additional page, whether in print or eBook format, adds to the cost of production, in terms of editing, book design, printing, translation, and audio recording. So every page has to count.
Second, readers are looking for a length appropriate to their genre. Science fiction and fantasy readers want the in-depth world building that justifies 120,000+ word tomes. Thriller readers want a faster read that won’t take them a month to finish.
Stick to the word count. If you’re short or over, then the manuscript isn’t ready for submission.
5. Look at your manuscript from the perspective of the buyer.
Think about your last trip to the bookstore. You scanned the shelves, pulled random books out because of an intriguing title, perhaps. You checked out the cover art, back cover blurb, maybe the inside jacket copy. Then, you flipped through the pages. And in an instant, your eye communicated to your brain that something was right–or wrong–about the book. You either started reading some pages or reshelved the book.
Your book is a product, and you have fleeting seconds to convince the buyer to purchase your book.
At this stage, you don’t have any control over the cover art, jacket blurb, and even your title should be considered a working title. But you, the author, absolutely have something to say about how your words look on a page.
Take a few minutes to do this exercise. Make a copy of your manuscript, set the line spacing to 1.5, and save as text. Then load it into a free ebook converter such as Online-Convert.com and check out the formatted output. (Note: it took us about two minutes to finish this exercise with an 85,000-word manuscript).
What do you see? Do you see lots of pages with endless blocks of text? Or, hopefully, do you see a balance of dialogue and narrative? Flip through the pages, as if you were in the bookstore looking at the printed version. What is your eye telling you?
This isn’t a perfect production of what your book would look like once a professional book designer has done his magic. But you can see if there are portions of your manuscript that are crying out for revision.
6. Make sure your manuscript is formatted correctly.
This may seem like a no brainer, but too many authors ignore standard manuscript formats. This stuff is essential. We’re not interested in crazy fonts or margins. We’re also not going to reinvent the wheel: here are two excellent resources to show you what you need to do.
- How to Format a Book: 10 Tips Your Editor Wants You to Know, by Blake Atwood.
- Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, our Manuscript, by Chuck Sambuchino.
7. Get your manuscript professionally edited.
We recommend doing this after your first round of beta-readers because, frankly, it’s an expense, or rather, an investment in your author career. A second set of eyes needs to be on your manuscript before it gets to an acquisitions editor.
As to whether or not you need one, well, you do. You shouldn’t consider a professional edit to be a luxury any longer. At a time when over a million new titles a year are being added to Amazon each year, your book will be in brutal competition against so many other works. You need to do everything you can to ensure your manuscript rises above the fray.
Whether you’re submitting to CamCat Books, or an agent, or another publishing house, a professional edit is crucial to ensuring your book gets a fair shot.
You might be thinking, aren’t agents/publishers going to be editing my manuscript anyway? Well, yes, to an extent. Both agents and editors will go through rounds of editing before committing a manuscript to be formatted for print or eBook.
Editing is a cost, both in time and money. An agent who has limited time will always prefer a polished manuscript over a piece that needs significant work before it can even be presented to a publisher. A publisher is going to weigh the cost of a substantial edit against future earnings potential and factor that cost into an acceptance/rejection decision.
Don’t take the risk. Get the manuscript edited. See our Author Resources page for recommendations.
Now, we can’t promise that if you do these seven things that we’ll publish your book. But we can promise that doing them will help your manuscript stand out and rise towards the top of our slushpile.
We’re looking forward to reading your submission.
Update 08/04/2020: We didn’t get to go to too many conferences this year, but at the events we did get to attend, questions about the necessity of professional editors looking at an author’s work dominated. Several authors asked me how many manuscripts we get that are professionally edited (and how did we know?). We know a manuscript is professionally edited because that’s a question on our Submissions Questionnaire, (and often we get a personal recommendation from the editor herself). To answer the first question, we ran some numbers on the submissions year-to-date. Authors indicated that their manuscript was professionally edited on 57% of the submissions we’ve received so far in 2020. It’s not that we won’t accept a manuscript that hasn’t gone through a professional edit (we have), it’s just that it’s easier to say yes to a manuscript that has.