by Hank Phillippi Ryan

You’re going to do it. Right now. You hover your finger over the button, and reassure yourself. It’s all fine. Just hit send, you tell yourself. This book is great. It will go to auction. Everyone will love it.

But are you truly ready to send in your manuscript?

I have read so many manuscripts in progress, so many of them, from people who think they’re ready to send to prospective agents or editors.

And I can’t tell you how many times I think: No no! Wait!

They say you can only learn from experience, but what they don’t tell you is that the experience it doesn’t have to be your own. Here’s a checklist of what to look for—one more time!– before you hit that send button.

Does it look right?

Is your manuscript properly formatted? Nothing says “amateur” like lack of a header, lack of a title, lack of an author’s name, lack of the page numbers. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m doing” like extra spaces between paragraphs, incorrect punctuation, wacky fonts. Make sure your physical document looks professional.

Who is this about?

Is there a main character introduced on page one? The reader must instantly know who is telling your story. Who the reader will be on the train with for the next 385 pages.

What genre is this novel?

Is that clear from page one? Are you clear in your own head about that? Every genre has specific expectations, and if the reader does not know what kind of book they are reading, your pages become more and more confusing. If it’s a paranormal, or science fiction, or historical—make sure that’s clear from the beginning. No “surprise, it’s a ghost!” at the end of chapter one.

Is the setting clear?

The reader must know where and when your story takes place. If your characters are talking in a black box, without description, the reader will not be able to picture it, and will be instantly confused. Think of your novel as a movie. Is there enough on your first page to start that movie playing? Your book should start a movie in the mind of your reader. If it doesn’t, weave in more setting.

Will the reader care?

On page one, you must give the reader reason to want to continue. Deep desire, high emotion desperate stakes. Or even just something to touching or engaging or intriguing. By the end of page 1, is your reader compelled to keep reading?

Will the reader be confused?

Suspense is different than confusion. Suspense means “I can’t wait to find out what will happen.” Confusion is “what the heck is going on?” Readers want to be immersed in the story with the main characters, not guessing what is happening. The goals and motivation and setting for your main character should not be a secret. If your story takes place on Mars, tell me that right away.

Are you giving the reader too much information?

Packing your opening pages with backstory and explanation only takes the reader away from the story, it does not immerse them in it. Ask yourself: does the reader need to know this right now? Or can I tell them later? You certainly do not need information that will never matter in the story. If you mention someone’s grandfather, that grandfather should appear later in the book.

Is this story clear?

Clarity is your Holy Grail. (How many times have I used the word “clear” in this post?) If your point of view character sees something or knows something, we are happy to with them on their journey of discovery, but readers will be annoyed if that mission is not understandable. The reader is happy to find out something along with the main character, but if the character knows it, we should know it too.
I often say to students: just tell me what’s going on! And then I will accompany the character to find out why that’s happening.

Are you solid in point of view?

You have point of view slips. You know you do. Look one more time. Do you have someone who describes a person who is behind them? Wait—they can’t see her. Does someone know what another character is thinking? Nope. They can assume, or predict, but they can’t know. One scene, one point of view.

Do you need all those words?

Ask yourself for every sentence: what work is this doing? Why is this here? Can I make this shorter? You may think you are protecting your precious words, but they aren’t so precious if they are clogging your pacing. Here’s how to cut cut cut. I mean: cut.

Can you cut the research?

Yes, you spent all that time looking up and understanding medieval weaponry. But how much of that does the reader actually need to know? If you have one or two cool things, the reader will assume your character is cognizant of the rest of it. And they will use that knowledge when the proper time comes.  So keep the cool stuff, save the rest for…someday.

Do you still have fillers?

Please make a final run-through for your unintended pet words. Of course. Actually. Just. Really. In fact. Apparently. Still. We each have our own filler words, and often writers are unaware that they are even typing them. Do one last round up to see if you can clear the underbrush.

Yes, it is tempting to say–– I am so tired of this manuscript! I’ve done so much work on it, it must be fine. I’m going to send it! The agent/author will see my talent shining through.

Career authors, that is not the best decision. You know writing a terrific manuscript is very difficult. And will take much longer than you think. Look at it one more time. Wait two weeks. Look at it again. Ask these final questions, and see how you would change it. Aren’t you glad you waited?

What final steps do you take before you submit your manuscript? Let’s talk about it on the Career Authors Facebook page.