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a conversation on: knowing when your manuscript is ready to submit

Let’s get this party started with the second “conversation” topic: How do I know when my manuscript is ready to submit?

The following is just my opinion on the matter. Different things work for different people. I’m assuming you don’t want to know about my failed submissions, so I’ll tell you how it worked for me with MATCHED. And as you read on, you’ll find out why the girl in the picture below is my secret weapon when it comes to revision

*First, I wrote the book, which took from Fall 2008 to August 2009. (I was working on another project at the time as well-BEING SIXTEEN. But it does usually take me nine months to a year to write a book. I am slower than many authors I know.)

*I knew from writing my other books that I had to give myself time off from the manuscript in order for it to be good. So, after I’d revised it several times, had my first-round readers go through it, and made all the changes I could, I took a month off before coming back.

*Then I had even more people read it. By the time I was ready to submit, I had had thirty people read it. That is wayyyy too many, FYI. While all the readers were great, it was just way too many voices. So I wouldn’t recommend thirty readers. Maybe five. Five would be good, if they are good readers. You MUST get a reasonable amount of feedback and work through it. Over and over.

*Then I revised it again. Significantly. Several times. And then, the key…

*I have an “it’s getting worse” reader. Elaine. My sister (pictured above) is unbelievable. She has read MATCHED so many times. And she is fantastic at being honest and discerning. So, as she read the revisions, she was able to tell me when I started spinning my wheels. When she sent it back and said, “This is getting worse, not better,” I knew it was time to fish or cut bait.

*And, also: I had a deadline coming up for another book with Deseret Book and I was almost out of time to get that in.

So here is my equation (which is super scientific and very, very mathematical) regarding how you can know when it’s time to send your book in:

Manuscript + extensive revision + a month off + feedback from x amount of trusted readers + more revision + your most trusted reader telling you it’s time to let go + other important things in your life getting overrun by book = time to submit.

And if you do want to know why my previous submissions failed to result in an agent, I can sum it up for you in this second, also very scientific equation:

general badditude* of writing + not enough time spent away from manuscript/in revision = rejection.

Opinions? Questions? Let’s talk.

*I think this should be a word, and you read it here first.

+ comments (18)
  • becca
    September 7, 2010

    Do you think Elaine would tell ME when MY manuscript is getting worse rather than better? That’s a pretty great thing you’ve got going on there.

  • Aubrey
    September 7, 2010

    I agree with you on getting good readers. I haven’t even finished my MS and I see it developing into something so much better…although…

    What is your opinion on letting people read a WIP and revising before finishing the MS?

  • KearyTaylor
    September 7, 2010

    I have a similar equasion. I have to write the entire first draft before i will allow myself to edit anything. I usually go through 2 or 3 rounds of editing after that before I send it out to my reading people. Get feedback, more rounds of editing. I have a really hard time taking time away, though I know I should. It’s too exciting for me to get to the submission part!

  • ally
    September 7, 2010

    Becca, I know. I’m so stinking lucky. I dedicated Being Sixteen to her in gratitude, but I still owe her BIG TIME.

    Aubrey, when you say “finishing,” do you mean a full draft? I have two readers who I let read as I’m going. Elaine and my husband. They’ve read every single book I’ve written and I can trust them to be both constructive and honest. But usually I give them a pretty big chunk–100 pages or so–so they can get a feel for the story. Otherwise they’re just getting stuff that’s choppy and piecemeal.

    Keary, that is great. I love that you find the submission process exciting! I was always so scared. Still am. But excitement is a much better feeling.

  • SusanA
    September 7, 2010

    Since I’m still waiting to hear back from DB on my book, I’d love to know what ‘other’ DB book we will be seeing from you. You have something coming out soon?

    I have one of those readers who tells you when it’s getting worse. She’s worth her weight in gold. Only she’s tiny, so maybe she’s worth way more than that. WAY MORE. Everyone should get one of those.

  • ally
    September 7, 2010

    Susan, nothing is coming out from DB in the foreseeable future. That project was (hopefully) going to be the first in a series, and ultimately I just couldn’t do two series at once and be a good mom. It was hard to walk away but I know it was the right choice (and DB was incredibly supportive).

    I love that your reader is worth way more than her weight in gold. And yes, everyone should have one. They’re better than fairy godmothers.

  • Bridget
    September 7, 2010

    She is a keeper for sure! Good luck with everything you have going on right now I can’t wait to read Matched!

  • Alexandra
    September 7, 2010

    Interesting! I’ve heard something like that, too–if the manuscript is getting worse or has become stagnant (as in, you’re moving chapters or scenes around but not actually improving anything) then it’s either time to step back or time to submit. I’ve also talked to a couple people who admitted to submitting too early, but finding an agent who saw through some rough patches to the story underneath.

  • Sandy Shin
    September 7, 2010

    Thank you for the two forumlas, Ally! :]

    I think it’s great that you have a reader who’d truthfully tell you when your manuscript is getting worse instead of better with repeated revisions. And taking some time off between revisions is a great way to regain much needed perspective.

  • JolenePerry
    September 7, 2010

    Wow. This is excellent timing.
    I just wrote a post to blog tomorrow and you pretty much answered all of my rambling questions. This is the track I’m on right now and I did have the misfortune of starting to force a book downhill, thank goodness for good readers.

  • Tasha
    September 7, 2010

    I have this dilemma in that my husband doesn’t read. Sure, he would probably read my book – when I get the d@#% thing done, but as he isn’t an avid reader in his own right, it would be a “Good job, babe” read and that’s it.

    Maybe one of the reasons I don’t have my book done yet (besides time) is that I don’t have someone in mind as a reader.

    Maybe I’ll hold tryouts. Cheerleading costume optional.

  • Carolyn V.
    September 7, 2010

    Oh, I like badditude. I think I get that way too much.

    Excellent post Ally. It’s so cool that you have your sister to help you out! =)

  • RaShelle
    September 7, 2010

    That’s great you can use your husband and sister for constructive and honest feedback. For me personally it wouldn’t work, but I’m so glad it does for you. Great formula btw. =D

  • Terri Tffany
    September 8, 2010

    I love your persepective. I know time away helps so much. I actually used Beta readers this time after my critique group but then I finally sent it to be professionally edited and oh no! I have to completely tear it apart and work it through again!
    And I thought it was almost ready.
    So from that I plan to rewrite, get a few people to read it again and then go for it.

  • ally
    September 8, 2010

    Bridget, she really is, isn’t she? I hope you are d doing great. And I hope you like Matched!

    Alexandra, that definitely happens too (an agent seeing potential in the rough). It’s a fine balance.

    Sandy, thanks! And I really am lucky to have a great reader who is also a family member so I can beg her and threaten her with embarrassing stories. 😉

    Jolene, I’m so glad it was helpful! Good luck with your book!

    Tasha, you make me laugh. I think having auditions is a great idea. 😉 If I were in Cedar I would want to come to your writing group. That would be awesome.

    Thanks, Carolyn! I’m glad you liked the post. And I hope you are doing great! I need to pop over to your blog and see what’s new.

    RaShelle, I know. It is really lucky. It also helps that part of the reason I fell in love with him was that he was an English major who wrote sonnets. So I knew what I was getting into. 😉 Glad you liked the formula!

    Terri, that sounds like a fantastic plan! I hope it all goes great. It sounds like you are being really smart and thorough and it will pay off!

  • Elana Johnson
    September 10, 2010

    Badditude is so a word! I make up words all the time; we should start our own dictionary.

    I love your scientific formulas! And I so agree that when someone tells you, “Uh, hey, I liked the other one better,” you know you’ve gone far enough.

  • ally
    September 13, 2010

    Elana, so fun to hear from you. Let’s do start our own dictionary. But can we call it a wordinary?

  • Calder
    April 14, 2011

    Fantastic post Ally! Thanks for sharing some great info with aspiring writers.

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