How Get Your Manuscript Ready to Be Published

How to make sure your ms. is the best it can be before sending it out to be read

Peterson's Holiday Helper manuscript page
Before you send your manuscript out to be read, make sure it's the best it can be. Valerie Peterson

Is your book manuscript ready for reading by an agent or editor? Is it ready for uploading to that self-publishing software? 

Whether you're emailing your manuscript to an agent who is reading with an eye to representing you, or you're an indie author about to publish, make sure your manuscript is the best it can be before you hit the "send" button. Here are suggestions to help bulletproof your manuscript — and improve your chances for publishing success.

Sit on it

Not literally. But putting some time and space between you and you manuscript. Letting it "sit" without re-reading or editing for at least a couple of weeks —preferably longer — is critical if you want to be able to make it the best it can be. Having a fresh eye will both help you be more objective when you're re-reading for editorial improvements and enable you to spot errors more efficiently.

Get feedback

Make sure your manuscript "reads" as well as it can.

And for to ensure a good read, you need objective feedback on your text or story. Some things to think about... because an agent or editor or reader will be judging you on these:

  • For fiction or non-fiction — does the narrative move well or could the pacing be better? Does it get bogged down in too much detail to flow well? Does the plot or non-fiction argument build on itself to a climax or natural ending — or should the order of action or chapters be rearranged?
  • For fiction — do the characters behave in a manner that's believable, given how you've set them up? Does the plot flow from the natural progressions of the characters' action — or is there a little too much coincidence for readers to suspend disbelief?

Where to get feedback? For the kind of critique you want, try not to rely on your mom or your best friends — unless of course, they have publishing credentials and they're sworn, to be honest and constructive.

(For advice about this, read how to ask for and get feedback on your novel.) 

Instead, if you have the funds, use a reliable, well-reviewed paid editorial service.

Or do as best-selling romance author Donna Fasano does - and find a few loyal beta readers who will give you thorough, honest, constructive feedback. Online forums (such as Goodreads) are one place you can establish these sorts of relationships. You can gauge the type of read and viewpoint of your betas by your commonalities of reading taste, how they review books you like, etc. (Read more about Donna Faz's group of six "hawk-eyed" beta readers, and more of her publishing advice.)

When you're sure that your manuscript's content is as good as it can be…

Spell check and proofread your manuscript

First, use your word processing program's spelling and grammar check feature to ensure there are no glaring errors.

Then proofread carefully. Your familiarity with the material somewhat hinders you in this capacity (hence, the "fresh eye" heed, above). If you're an indie (versus about-to-be traditionally published), it's highly advisable to go a step further and spring for a professional proofreader who can at least ensure there are no grammatical errors or glaring typos.

Format your manuscript properly

Formatting properly for your particular book publisher is critical for the production stage of the manuscript and can make the difference between a smooth publishing process and or one with delays or problems.

If your book is in the "practically published" stage, your publisher will likely be giving you their production department's specific direction on how to format your submission.

If you're self-publishing, your DIY publishing service is likely to have extensive guidelines on how to format your files for uploading/publishing. (Usually, these are fairly user-friendly, but if you're not at all technically inclined, you can hire a freelance file formatter.)

However, if you're in the pre-publication agreement stage and sending your manuscript out because an agent or an editor has requested a read, use these general manuscript formatting guidelines.

Send out your best

All of the above work may seem time-consuming, but to very often you only get one shot at an agent or editor's attention or a reader's appreciation.

For you best shot at book publishing success, make your manuscript the best it can be.

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