It seems like forever since you started your novel. You completed a first draft, reread, revised. You tore it into pieces and put it back together again. Your critique partners have given you tons of advice, and your mother — naturally — th
inks it’s a perfect work of art.
But is your manuscript actually ready?
By ready, of course, I mean ready to submit to agents. There’s nothing more frustrating than having an agent love your query, praise your opening chapters, and then reject your completed manuscript. It happens. It happens often, in fact. Even once I’ve requested the full, there’s an excellent chance I’m still going to pass, for any number of reasons. Sometimes it becomes clear fairly early on that the first chapters got most of the attention, while the rest of the story still needs some serious work. Other times the pacing lags — the middle is dull, the characters go off in some inexplicable direction, or the elements of the story start to fall apart. Occasionally weird things start to happen and I find myself scratching my head, wondering if I mistakenly picked up a different book part way through.
The saddest rejection for me to write, however, is for the manuscript where I read from start to finish and discover it’s just not quite ready yet. Perhaps the ending was unsatisfying or anti-climactic. Or the story worked, but the writing itself feels unpolished and unprofessional. With these sorts of reading experiences, I will try to send the writer some helpful suggestions and encourage them to resubmit if they’re willing to do the work. Occasionally I see the project again, but more often I don’t.
Ideally, you will cut these problems off at the pass, long before you put your precious baby into the hands of your dream agent. One more pass through the story can make or break your chances for success. Here’s a list of things to look for when you feel like your manuscript might be finished:
- Do you start your plot early, but not so early that the reader has no idea who your protagonist is? Early action is great — and important to engage the reader — but a sense of the status quo before the events of your story is necessary as well.
- Does your protagonist experience ups and downs along the route of the story, with tension climbing toward the
- Does your protagonist have some flaws or are they too perfect? Likewise, does your antagonist have some redeeming qualities that make him/her realistic? Are these revealed through their emotions and actions?
- Is your point of view consistent throughout the book? (Meaning, do you maintain your chosen system of POV, not necessarily that you only have a single POV.) Have you kept your tenses straight throughout as well?
- Do all your characters have something they want/that motivates them, not just your protagonist and antagonist? Are these characters all distinguished from each other and necessary to the story?
- Does each scene advance your story in some important way, even sex scenes (if you have them)?
- Have you reviewed the entire manuscript for your own personal “favorites” — those words you tend to use too frequently? Have you cut out unnecessary adverbs, dialogue attributions (he screamed, she exclaimed, they questioned…), facial expressions used as filler (blinking, smiling, grinning, frowning, biting of lips, etc.)?
- Does the pacing of the story feel consistent and appropriate to the action?
- Is your conclusion satisfying? Do you tie up all the ends without relying on conveniences or coincidences? Have you left any major questions unanswered?
- Has your protagonist achieved their goal/learned his/her lesson/come out the other side of this adventure truly changed?
It often helps to set aside your completed manuscript for a few weeks before tackling this list. That way you can come at the material with fresh eyes and any issues will be more likely to jump out at you.