Monday, November 11, 2019

How to Evaluate Your WIP and Figure Out Your Next Steps

Welcome, Mary Kole

As a literary agent and now a freelance editor, I’m heavily involved in a writer’s “What’s next?” question. This is a question I get over and over from writers. Whether they’ve just typed “The End” on a manuscript for the first time, or they worry that they’ve reached the end of querying a project. Whether they’re deciding how to submit, or wondering if it’s time to put it in the desk drawer.

The two most important crossroads that writers face are, “Is my project ready to submit?” And, “This project hasn’t succeeded as hoped. Is it time to give up?” Let’s attempt to unpack both of them here.

To me, there are three considerations that determine your next steps in either scenario. The first is your own opinion of the project. Try to step back and consider it with clear eyes. Is it solid work? Are you proud of it? Do you have any deep-down-secret worries about it? Are you scared, basically, or are you stoked? Your own opinion of the project can never be objective, of course, but your gut as a writer is still something to consider. Very often, writers discount their own assessments because they feel insecure. (Shout out to all of you Insecure Writers!) 

But too often, I work with clients who have been steered away from their own instincts by well-meaning critique partners or professionals. Outside feedback is very important—see the next point—but your own understanding of your project is crucial, too. Ask yourself point blank: Do you like it? Do you see any potential flaws?

If you have not submitted yet and are wary because you see opportunity for growth, the project is not yet ready to submit. You want to put your best foot forward. Address any glaring or niggling issues before you move forward. The same thing if you’ve already submitted, but without success. If you know what the issue is, then deal with it sooner rather than later. Make sure you satisfy yourself first. Many mistakes can be prevented with this simple advice.

The second consideration is outside feedback. Before you decide to submit, or decide to give up on a project, make sure you get at least one outside perspective on your manuscript, whether it’s a critique partner or freelance editor. Many writers shy away from this because they don’t know where to find a good critique partner, or they don’t want to pay for an editor. The former concern is exactly why I’m launching Crit Collective this month, it’s a free forum dedicated to critique partner matchmaking. Check it out! 

Because writers can never be truly objective about their own work, having outside perspective is crucial. Make sure you check this box before you decide to submit, or decide to give up. Even if your project has already been through several rewrites, new eyes on it will potentially inspire one last revision—one that might make all the difference. Make sure that you get someone you can trust, and who has experience either editing or reading widely in your category. They will provide you with data that you can’t possibly give yourself, so don’t skimp on this step.

The third consideration when you’re deciding what to do with your WIP is completely external: the market. I often tell writers not to fixate on trends or the market when they’re writing. Trends come and go. But when it’s time to either submit or quit (at least on a particular manuscript, for the moment), the market becomes important. What’s going on in the industry? Are people sick of your particular category? Are there larger forces at work that make your project either more or less marketable right now?

This is the time to pay attention. If you’re considering submitting for the first time, some market research will help you position your pitch intelligently. (You can take a ten-hour self-guided course from me on the topic of the research and submission process, the Manuscript Submission Blueprint.) If you’re deciding whether or not to give up on a project, check the market again. Something may have shifted. For example, a few years ago, the female scientists market was a bit of a bit of a backwater. Now it’s a red hot segment! 

Maybe some new opportunities have opened up since you last researched your place in the current publishing world. If you’ve been on submission with a project a few times, you have probably spent at least months waiting. Maybe the market is now worse for your idea. But it could also be better.

Putting it all together, I recommend three gut checks. First, how do you feel about the project? Whether you’ve just finished it and have some qualms, or whether you’ve been submitting for five years but you still feel some hope. Next, how do qualified others feel about it? Have you gone back for one more round of feedback? If there are still things you want to do with the project in terms of revision, I’d say you should make the final attempt. You never know. Finally, how’s the market temperature for your ideas? Things change over time, so it doesn’t hurt to check in with the industry.

Sometimes, an idea is past or ahead of its time. This can potentially be fixed by waiting for the market to change. Sometimes, the current execution of your idea isn’t working. This can be fixed by listening to yourself and others. Sometimes, it really is time to let go of a project, at least for now. This can only be fixed one way: Starting the exciting creative process on your next idea!


Former literary agent Mary Kole provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres, working on children’s book projects from picture book to young adult, and all kinds of trade market literature, including fantasy, sci-fi, romance and memoir. 

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She has been blogging at since 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books.

Editorial Services Website:
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Children’s Writing Blog:


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations on Crit Collective!
I've always used multiple critique partners because I know I am too close to the material.
While I was writing and editing my first book, everything said science fiction was dead. That obviously shifted after I started submitting and eventually the book (and the series) found a home and was very successful.

Pat Hatt said...

The market sure does waiver and come back and around and around and around. Sometimes one just has to hurry up and wait.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Great advice. Thanks Mary!

I agree that CRIT partners are urgent to help us see things we may have missed and they certainly help us get back on track. I also agree if you LOVE your story or feel it will help others in a subject matter that is taboo in the industry, a writer should keep at it. So many wonderful stories have been kept away from readers becuase of fear or anxiety.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

More writers need to listen to their gut instinct. Too many grow impatient and act anyway, even if something niggles at them that it's not time.

Tyrean Martinson said...

I think having "good" feedback from crit partners can really help. I was shy of finding a critique group for a while, but now I have one that's really helpful. I've also learned it's really good to find out if your betas or CPs understand your audience or market. I have a manuscript that's YA and SF. Having a perspective from a CP who is a great writer but who writes memoirs is still great for feedback on writing and dialogue. However, having feedback from a CP who also writes YA or someone who has teenagers or who teaches teenagers, is really, really good. And, having another CP who writes SF is helpful, too.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

Great advice! I'll be looking at Crit Collective. However, I'm not sure that there are others that will read short stories and give me feedback. Thanks again for a great article. I'm on my way to check it out.


Powdered Toast Man said...

So I guess my 6 year old daughter isn't the best person to critique my work.

cleemckenzie said...

Your Crit Collective is a great idea, and I know there are a lot writers who will be interested. It's not easy to find a good critique group, and it takes a lot of time.

Trust your gut is perfect advice.

Thanks, Mary. This is a great post, and good luck with your newest venture.

Mark Koopmans said...

If it was for Michael Di Gesu (above) my published book would never have seen the light of any part of the 24-hour cycle!

Thanks for sharing and I've bookmarked the Manuscript Submission Blueprint webpage. I'll be back :)

nashvillecats2 said...

Congrats on your achievements and thanks for sharing this wonderful post.


Elizabeth Seckman said...

The Crit Collective is a great idea. I have been blessed with good writing friends who will read for me, but it's always a good idea to get fresh input.

Nicole Pyles said...

I am definitely going to check out your critique group. What spoke to me about this post is taking advice from a critique partner that goes away from your instincts about your work. Insight and feedback is so helpful but sometimes can steer you in the wrong direction. Great post!

Jemima Pett said...

Crit collective sounds just what I need!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Excellent points, Mary. Essential in this market today. Thank you.

hammadshaikh said...

There definitely is! Take a few minutes now and think of three things that you have finished, anything that you have seen through to the end. Is there something in your past that you never thought you would ever manage to do, yet somehow you did it? Probably, in hindsight, you no longer think that it was anything major, nothing to boast about, but I would wage that before you saw it through to the end it seemed insurmountable. The fact remains that you did it. You did what you had to do and saw it through to the end. You did not procrastinate.   Author's Unite