Pub Rants

A Very Nice Literary Agent Indulges in Polite Rants About Queries, Writers, and the Publishing Industry

Is Your Manuscript Ready? By Danielle Burby

You’ve done your research and know the basics of writing an excellent query letter, but what comes next? What happens when that query letter works and an agent requests your novel? At the end of the day, it all comes down to your manuscript. Are you and your manuscript ready for an agent? How do you know? The short answer: Ask yourself whether you’re treating this like a marathon or a sprint.

Once you’ve typed “The End,” you may be tempted to immediately go out and query every agent you can find, but keep in mind that, while it is a major accomplishment to finish writing a novel, even the most practiced authors need to take time to revise. The first draft is where the ideas form on the page, but it is only in subsequent revisions and rewrites that the actual story begins to emerge. Writing, like any other art, is a craft that takes skill and dedication. Keep in mind that you don’t have a deadline. There is all the time in the world for you to work and rework your novel until you have gotten it into the best shape you possibly can.

As you revise, remember that this is your world and you have full control over it. What a liberating superpower! Nothing in your novel is fixed in stone. This means you can have fun and play with everything from characterization to the rules of the world to the stakes and goals that drive the plot.

Some tips for revising:

  • Print out your draft and make notes in the margins to highlight moments that can be improved.
  • Map out the plot, point by point. Poke as many holes in the logic as possible. Re-map and revise.
  • Read the entire novel from start to finish several times, with a different focus each time—plot, character, language, copy editing.
  • Read out loud and listen to your words. Hearing can illuminate writer tics in need of eliminating or monotonous sentence structure. Revise with that in mind.
  • Share it with trusted readers who will push you even farther. If someone has a crazy suggestion, give it a shot! If it doesn’t work, at least you’ve tried it. Revise again. Repeat.

Whichever revision style you choose (and you can choose more than one!), your goal should be to make your book better, stronger, more powerful.

My biggest piece of advice to new authors is this:

  • Set the bar high and take the time needed to get to a masterful final draft.

Too often we get requests from agent-seeking writers asking for a chance to resubmit a now-revised manuscript. Occasionally we may say yes, but more often we have to say no because of time constraints. You might only have one shot at an agent read. Spend it wisely. Remember that each and every draft will make you better at what you do. Keep creating and writing and challenging yourself. Keep running this marathon.


13 Responses

  1. Shep said:

    Some of the best advice ever imparted to me was the theory of letting your work get cold; after editing intensely, sometimes you have to put it away for a while. A week. A month. Six months, whatever it takes to let your red-hot obsession with the words cool down. When you pick it up again, you bring to your own work a little fresh perspective. ‘New eyes’, so to speak. It might not work for everyone but maybe it will.

  2. William Huber said:

    My novel isn’t ready to be published but I still think I need an agent. An agent could help motivate me to get it finished and decide how and where to market it. I’m an old man, so when you say there is no deadline, in my case there is. I’d like to get my stuff out there before I kick the bucket.
    Thanks from Bill Huber

    1. Amanda Redinger said:

      I do freelance editing for people writing their first novels. The biggest challenge is always getting them to realize how much work needs to be done after that first draft and before submitting to an agent. This seems to be the danger zone, where a lot of people just give up. Very sad, because their projects often have a lot of potential.

  3. amy said:

    i just finished writing my first novel. After 8 years of writing, I worked with a professional editor to do a developmental edit. It took over a year. That is to say, yes…when you are finished, you are not finished! And yes, you need an editor if you’re at all serious.

    1. Skye Blaine said:

      I’ve been working with a developmental editor as well. She sees my manuscript through new eyes. I have a new first chapter that pulls the reader in so much faster.

  4. Shirley Fedorak said:

    I’m in the process of doing a deep/extensive edit of my spicy romance. Editing takes a lot of time and is hard work, but worth it. I can’t imagine submitting a first draft to anybody.

  5. Cortney Whiting said:

    Would the same logic apply for non-fiction? I have finished my book proposal and first three weeks of an eight-week Bible study. Since it is a different type of genre, I have been a bit unclear as to how or when to submit. Any information would be greatly appreciated!

  6. Patricia Striar Rohner said:

    I am about finish my second novel and am looking for a traditional publisher. I need a literary agent to help me connect. My novel is called “Shari’s Secret” and describes a dysfunctional, emotional couple and their tendency for cheap thrills and sexual twists.

  7. Leslie Padgett said:

    My manuscript is just about ready. It is written but I need to find an editor. I have edited it as much as I can and now I need a professional. I can’t find one as of yet.

  8. Margaret McManis said:

    Finished second MG novel in trilogy set in medieval Spain with historical characters, Persian mythological creatures, mystical holy relics,a lost codex, a corrupt bishop, a dangerous pilgrimage and four Relic Hunters on a quest dictated by Queen Isabella. Mash-up of ‘Ghost Knight’ and ‘Inquisitors Tale’.Know anyone who might be interested?
    Have published PB in past without an agent. Great advice for the future.

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