RiverI get it—you’ve written a book. You’re excited, you’ve worked really hard, your mom likes it, you’re worried someone else is going to beat you to the punch with a similar idea, your particular genre is really hot right now, you have people waiting for it.

Those may seem like the most pressing concerns in the world to you right now, but you need to SLOW DOWN. Take the time to get it right.

Unless you are an established author, NO ONE is waiting for your book. In other words, publishing will wait for you. Toss it out there before it’s ready, and you’re likely in for some real disappointment. Take the time to make it right, and you’ll be able to move forward with zero regrets—and possibly with a publishing contract in your hand.

The basic rule is this: If you want to truly know when your book is ready, you have to be able to separate yourself—personally, professionally, and emotionally—from it.

There won’t be any flashing neon signs to notify you that the time is right. When you can truly view your book objectively, then you will be able to make an informed decision about when your book is ready to submit. In other words, trust yourself.

Woman climbingWhat Do You Mean by Submit?

Figuring out whether your book is ready to submit hinges on what you mean by submit. Because submit doesn’t always mean sending it to a publisher. It can also mean submitting to beta readers or an editor, submitting to an agent, or submitting for self-publication.

When your book is ready to submit to beta readers

Other people will always pick up on things you never considered, so you must always show it to someone else—ideally more than one or two people—before you submit it for publication. The ideal number is three to five at each stage (if you end up making significant revisions after feedback from the first round of beta readers, you need to send it out again—and again—and so on). Beta readers are basically your “test group”; they will pick up on things that are irrelevant or confusing. They will also point out your weaknesses—if you pick the right kind of beta readers.

Who are the right people to pick as beta readers? Do not use your best friend, significant other, or family members. Why? They know you really well, so even if something in your book is confusing, they can probably figure what you meant. They love you, so they will probably love whatever you write. That love will also keep them from being brutally honest or from giving any negative feedback.

Do use:

  • An acquaintance or friend of a friend—someone who doesn’t know you well.
  • A person who is reliable—you need to feel confident you’ll hear back by your deadline.
  • A person who isn’t afraid to be honest. You want good feedback, of course (who doesn’t?), but you also want to know what needs to be improved.
  • A member of your target audience.

You’re ready to submit your book to beta readers when you’ve self-edited or hired a professional editor and you feel there’s nothing more you can do to improve your book.

When your book is ready to submit to an agent

The best time to submit to agents is January and February. Agents tend to finish up existing work before Christmas, and they come back from the holidays eager to find new books to rep. You’re ready to submit to an agent when there’s nothing else you, your editor, or your beta readers can think of that needs to be improved.

Note: Keep in mind that agents may suggest edits or even going down a different path as a condition of accepting your book—they’ve got lots of experience with what appeals to the market, and they also know what publishers are looking for. You need to be ready to make changes if suggested. If you don’t want to make the suggested changes, self-publishing might be a better option for you.

Book and glassesWhen your book is ready for self-publication

A self-published book should be just as polished as a traditionally published one, if not more so. If you’re submitting to a traditional publisher, you can skip the stuff below. If not, you need to have the following before you can be ready to self-publish:

  • You have an epic cover design
  • You have a compelling manuscript
  • Your manuscript has been professionally edited and proofread
  • All the support pieces are ready (marketing blurb, website, social media, and so on)

Ten Things to Address

Before you can consider your manuscript ready to submit to anybody, you need to address these then things:

  1. Do you introduce the main character and the main plot in the first few pages without giving away the whole story? If not, you may lose the reader before he or she gets hooked on your story. For nonfiction, did you effectively introduce the problem your manuscript solves?
  2. Have you eliminated the use of backstory in the first half of the book? For nonfiction, did you create a sense of forward motion in the first chapters and provided helpful information to keep the reader reading?
  3. Cats fightingIs there enough conflict? Do you reveal both positive and negative aspects of the main characters as they respond to the conflicts? For nonfiction, did you create conflict through stories and examples, or did you raise thorny issues you’ll resolve later?
  4. Are there up and down moments throughout the arc? Does the protagonist have up and down moments throughout the emotional arc? Do those moments increase in frequency and intensity near the end of the story? For nonfiction, does the pace quicken as the manuscript moves forward?
  5. Do the emotions of the main characters provide a more complicated relationship between them as the story progresses? For nonfiction, do you point out tough issues, even if you don’t know how to resolve them?
  6. Do you maintain your unique voice throughout?
  7. Is the pacing consistent and appropriate for your story or manuscript?
  8. Is your chosen point of view the right one to use for the greatest impact? Your story might take on a whole different—and more compelling—meaning if told through the eyes of the neighbor who observed the murder instead of the murderer.
  9. Do you give the reader insights into the needs of the protagonist before she is aware of them herself? Are her primary needs clear to the reader in the first few pages? Does she finally realize them adequately? Does she experience complete redemption by the end of the book? For nonfiction, do you provide the reader an in-depth benefit for having read your manuscript?
  10. Have you taken care of the basic editing tasks? Is your manuscript free of punctuation, grammar, and spelling errors? (News flash: spell-check won’t pick up everything, so make sure you also use grammar-checker.) Have you overused adverbs, adjectives, and phrases? 

Five Tests to Perform

There are five tests you can do to tell if your manuscript is really ready to submit—and these get into the real nitty-gritty of things, going way beyond spelling and grammar and sloppy adverbs.

Captain HookTest Number One: Make sure you have a hook so your book will be guaranteed a spot in the market. No agent or publisher will take it if it doesn’t. Can you write a single statement about your book that captures the major characters, the main theme, and the challenge they face? If you can, you’ve likely got a hook. You need to know how to distinguish your book and your hook; that’s something agents and publishers look for right away. If your book deals with a universal issue, do you provide a fresh approach that will be compelling?

How to fix it:

  • Examine your theme. Is it compelling enough to create a hook? As painful as this is, you need to start over if you come up short. Better to start over than to have an unpublishable book.
  • Articulate your goal.
  • Define the problems more clearly.


img art readydropcharacter


Test Number Two: Take the main character from your final chapter and drop him/her into the first scene. (You can simply imagine this, or you can write it, whichever way works best for you.) When landing in that first chapter, your character should behave differently. If not, you have a flat character.

How to fix it:

  • Put larger obstacles in the character’s path so the character has to grow and change.
  • Put more at stake and make what the character stands to lose (or does lose) more important. This adds emotional depth and will force epiphany

Give your character some flaws, even some distasteful qualities. You can still have a character that is likable and sympathetic. Just make sure the character is good at the core.

Woman yawning

 Test Number Three: Look for passive voice and get rid of it. Passive voice happens when something that is usually “done by” the subject of the sentence is instead “done by” the object. Here’s a perfect example provided by the bastion of all knowledge, Wikipedia: Active voice says, “Our troops defeated the enemy.” Passive voice says, “The enemy was defeated by our troops.” See the difference? Active voice describes action. It’s immediate. Passive voice puts your plot and characters at a distance.

How to fix it:

This seems sort of bizarre, but one skilled editor suggested searching for the word as. Too many is a red flag!

Get rid of all words that aren’t critical—the nonessential ones are usually contributing to passive voice.

Use direct sentences.

Vary the length of your sentences.

Never describe how someone said something. Use action to show it instead. 

Test Number Four: Read only the first paragraph of each chapter. Is there consistent movement? Are things progressing? Does the plot escalate? Or is the plot or character just meandering along, out on a Sunday drive so to speak? Everything in your plot needs to move the story forward.

How to fix it:

Eliminate things that don’t move the plot forward. You may have written some killer descriptions, but if they slow things down, they need to go.

Same thing for characters. If you’ve got some secondary characters that don’t advance the plot but sort of distract or muddle things up, get rid of them.

Switch up the scenes if it makes sense.

If necessary, go back to the drawing board.

GarbageTest Number Five: Create a dynamic setting. Each scene needs to be significant to the story, and your character needs to interact with the scene. Try for three highlights in each chapter. And each scene you create needs to engage one of the reader’s five senses in a tactile way. (Exactly how foul-smelling was that pile of garbage?)

Do All the Back-End Work

If you’re self-publishing, you need to take care of all the finishing touches before you publish. If you don’t, it’s like stumbling down the racetrack. If you do, you’re free to fly like the wind. Ask yourself:

  • Do you have a professional-quality, totally outstanding, I’d-hang-that-on-my-wall-as-art book cover that was actually designed by a professional designer? (If you happen to be a professional designer, take a stab at it. If you’re not, find someone who is.)
  • Do you have a gripping book blurb? You’ll need it for all kinds of things, so make it the best it can be.
  • Are your social media platforms set up? At the very least, have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
  • Do you have a marketing plan? Get some professional advice if you need to.
  • Is your website up and running? It doesn’t count if you’ve merely thought about it. Readers should be able to access it right now.
  • Have you planned for search engine optimization? You need to know how to increase the visibility of your website to users of a search engine. Magical things can happen when you increase the quality and quantity of traffic your website gets.


Woman hidingWhat If Your Book Is Ready but You’re Not?

Houston, you have a problem. But it’s not a deal-breaker. If you’ve done everything to get your book ready but you’re still afraid to push the button, you need two things: In that situation, you need two things:

Moral Support. Get someone who loves you to give you encouragement. Go to a significant other, a family member, a good friend, or a member of your writers’ group—anyone who will tell you that you have the world by the tail.

Tough Love. If you’re still wallowing in fear and indecision after receiving some good moral support, let me suggest some tough love. To wit:

No one else will submit your book for you

The longer you avoid it, the more anxious you’ll get; string it along for too long, and it can escalate into a full-blown panic attack

If you’re confident your book is ready, just get it over with. It’s like ripping a strip of wax off a very hairy leg (or back, or chest): RIP it, and it will be over with before you know it. Tug at it a micrometer at a time, and you’ll be miserable.

What’s the worst that can happen?

You submit your book to an agent or publisher, and it gets rejected. Hang on—that’s not a bad thing. These people have seen your name on a manuscript they declined. Agents have to pass on superb manuscripts every day for any number of reasons. Agents say it often takes a number of positive contacts before they begin to really take notice of a writer. It will be a big plus for you if they remember your name. Submitting is a great way to make that happen.

No one likes your book, so you put it in a drawer and start your next book. Don’t worry. Once you are a best-selling author, believe me, they’ll be fighting for that first book.

Agents say it often takes a number of positive contacts before they begin to really take notice of a writer.

So go ahead—submit! You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

(Photos: river, Blogspot.com; woman climber, Daily Express; book and glasses, tildenhotel.com; cats, eBaumn’s World; Captain Hook, mikeomearashow.com; woman falling into hole, Pinterest; woman yawning, ladycarehealth.com; garbage, caltonjock.com; woman hiding face, Patheos.com)


"Kathy writes compellingly and swiftly, has an eye for detail, and possesses an uncanny sense for how to shape a story to make it pulsate with energy."
 —Taylor Halverson


"Kathy Jenkins has honed her editing skills with such precision and excellence that today she is viewed by many (including me) as the best editor on the planet. No matter how many times I have read and reworked a manuscript, Kathy improves my writing with meticulous care and good will."
 —Susan Easton Black


"Kathy has been so helpful to me in bringing my manuscripts to fruition, encouraging me to work diligently on my writing craft. She makes every author better in every way."
 —Ed J. Pinegar


"Kathy brings life in her writing, wisdom in her editing, and experience in her consulting; she has made me a better and more confident author."
 —Ganel-Lyn Condie