You've done it! You've finally gotten that story or nonfiction book idea down on paper (or computer file). Now what? How do you know when your manuscript is ready to submit?
Many first-time authors write to me, asking me to review their work. Here's a portion of a letter that is representative of what I receive. (I've eliminated the portions that contain the confidential descriptions of plot, etc.)
"I have completed my first manuscript. Briefly it is a fictional story of approximately 43,500 words, single space, which describes the lives of various characters who become intertwined with each other.
[The author described the characters, summarized the plot and suggested potenial genres where the story might fit.]
I would like to send you a complete copy of the manuscript for your honest opinion and critique. Can I mail it to you as my file on the computer was lost due to computer crashing."
I applaud writers who seek a professional opinion before taking the next step. This writer was on the right track by including the word count, genre, character and plot description. However, I did notice some things that would cause an agent or editor to reject the manuscript.
Here are some tips that can serve as checklist for manuscript readiness before you submit:
The copy should be double spaced. Additionally, use one-inch margins all around, and paragraphs should be indented with no extra space between paragraphs. Bonus tip: Use only one space after a period.
Adult novels are generally 75,000-100,000 words. However, some small publishers will accept short novels, called novellas. Nonfiction should be in the 65,000-85,000 word range.
To identify your genre, ask yourself--where would this book fit in the bookstore (what shelf/section)? What other books (that sell well) are like it? To identify your potential market, ask: Who will read my book?
As far as plot and character development, ask yourself:
Does the plot follow an arc pattern? Are your characters (especially the main character) different at the end than the beginning? Does every scene move the story forward? Does each chapter end with a page-turner? Is the dialogue natural?
Do not lose your work! Always backup on CD or an external drive. You will need both digital and hard copies of your manuscript.
In my seminars, I always offer this advice: Writing is a passion. Publishing is a business. Educate yourself about the publishing process the same as you would when entering any new business.
Where can you get the information you need? You can attend writers' conferences, seminars and workshops. Subscribe to writers' magazines. Read books on the topic. I recommend my book for both fiction and nonfiction writers, and so do a number of my readers. Here's a review from someone who took my teleseminar last April, which used 4Ps to Publishing Success as the text for the course:
"As an aspiring author I have looked at various books on publishing, many of which left me feeling overwhelmed. 4Ps to Publishing Success is a great find because it inspires you to take action. The information is clearly presented and the exercises get you moving in the direction of completing your book. Thanks for helping me move forward towards accomplishing my goal!"
--Laura Baylor, Physical Education Teacher
The addendum to that endorsement is that Laura has just let me know to expect her completed manuscript at the end of this week. From manuscript notes to completed manuscript in four months! Much can be accomplished when you have a guideline to help you complete the task.