Monday, March 25, 2024

How Does a Writer Really Know When Their Manuscript Is Ready?

Welcome Mary Kole to IWSG again. This is such an uplifting and encouraging post filled with great common sense tips for writers.

Writing a novel or memoir manuscript is a labor of love. This effort requires a unique blend of passion, creativity, and perseverance that brings your story to life on the page. But once those final sentences are written, a daunting question looms like a shadow over the finish line: How do you know if your manuscript is truly ready for either submission to literary agents and publishers, or self-publishing? For aspiring writers and seasoned authors alike, this question sits at the heart of not just the writing process, but at the invisible transition from creator to published author. In a world where every word can be endlessly adjusted, how do you decide when it’s time to call your project really, truly finished?

Here's a comprehensive guide to help you make an important decision in this definitive moment in your writing journey.

Knowing When to Stop: The Art of Self-Editing

The first step is always the hardest. Once you’ve completed your first draft, the elation of this great accomplishment tends to quickly be replaced by the intimidation and complexity of the self-editing process. The art of revision is crucial to learn, it’s through this process that you mold your story to reflect its true potential. Begin by scrutinizing the structure and clarity of your narrative. Are your characters compelling and consistent? Are they relatable, deep, and flawed, with big needs and wants? Does the plot flow naturally via a sense of cause and effect, or are there gaps and logic flaws that need addressing? 

Every word must serve a purpose, every scene must move the story forward. Look for redundancy and tighten your prose. Remember, less is more when every word counts. Look out for unnecessary adverbs, adjectives, and prepositions that dilute the potency of your sentences. Often, the simplest phrasing is the most powerful. Be ruthless with your cuts. Furthermore, you should ensure that your characters' voices remain distinct and true to their nature. Remove any dialogue or action that feels out of step or is a clear plot contrivance.

Taking a Breather: The Power of Distance

After swimming in the intricate details of your manuscript, you need to take the critical step of getting away from the page. A breather allows you to return to the project with a fresh perspective, as if looking at your work through the eyes of a reader. A hiatus can bring clarity, highlighting potential issues that you’ve missed in the heat of creation or the organized puzzle of revision. Put your manuscript in a drawer or a digital lockbox, anywhere that you won't be tempted to peek.

There's no one-size-fits-all recommendation for how long your break should be, but a good rule of thumb is a few weeks at minimum. This allows time for your brain to reset and keep working on the story in a subconscious, “back burner” way. But don’t lose your creative momentum. Use this time to indulge in other pursuits or writing projects. Read books unrelated to your genre for fresh insight. Engage in hobbies. The goal is to fill your intellectual and emotional wells so that when you return to your work, you come back enriched and with new and focused ideas.

Seeking Feedback: Outside Eyes on Your Work

A writer’s creation is inherently personal, yet the finished product of a novel or memoir is intended for public consumption. There’s some inherent friction here, and getting quality feedback can bridge this divide. Connect with fellow writers who understand the challenge of the craft, or consider hiring a freelance editor. Fresh perspectives will bring forth strengths and weaknesses you may not have detected.

This process is important because writers are famously short-sighted when it comes to seeing their own work as an outsider might. But getting third-party feedback doesn’t have to be expensive. You can barter with writers, which will also nourish your sense of creative community. Join writing circle, attend workshops, or find online forums or Facebook groups where writers exchange feedback. When offering your own critiques, recall the kind of valuable input you want to see on your own work, and offer the same level of honesty and insight to your peers. An important byproduct of this stage is that you will learn things about your own writing when you see similar issues in others’ work.

If your budget allows, investing in a professional editor can provide a level of polish that few writers can achieve on their own. Editors bring an objective eye coupled with industry expertise that can elevate your manuscript to a publishable standard.

Research and Refinement: Understanding the Market

Publishing is both an art and a business. While you might not want to write to market initially, or get obsessed with what the market is doing while writing. However, it’s generally considered strategic to investigate the publishing landscape once you’re getting ready to submit or self-publish. What are some of the current trends? Any timeliness hook that you can leverage? How does your manuscript fit in? Research the tastes of the moment and consider how to position your story—maybe with an eye toward some current comparative titles—while maintaining its integrity. Balance is key—you want to be relevant without losing the essence that makes your work original.

Keep a keen eye on the books hitting the shelves. Analyze bestsellers, not to mimic them, but to potentially understand patterns—if these narratives resonate with readers, there's something to be learned from them. Of course, you shouldn’t chase trends at the expense of your creative vision, especially since your manuscript already exists in its more-or-less final form. Authenticity is your greatest asset. Infuse market awareness by making informed choices about genre, audience, and even the timing of your submission or release.

The Inflection Point: Submission or Self-Publishing

The pieces are falling into place, and now it’s time to consider your path to publication. Traditional publishing offers the backing of an established house, while self-publishing affords you full creative control. There’s no one right answer—the choice depends on your goals, resources, market knowledge, and the nature of your manuscript. (If you decide to self-publish, be aware that marketing is going to be the biggest challenge. Traditionally published authors are required to market their work, but they tend to have an easier time getting distribution to bookstores, libraries, etc.)

If you’re aiming for traditional publication, your job becomes to craft a compelling query letter and meticulously research literary agents who represent your genre and target audience. Submissions are a marathon, not a sprint. Patience and persistence are your allies in this pursuit. It just takes one yes, and if you’ve done the hard work of self-editing, getting feedback, and researching the market, you can consider yourself ahead of the rest of the writers in the submission trenches.

If you choose to self-publish, invest in professional cover design, formatting, and marketing. Build a platform, engage with your potential audience, and understand the self-publishing landscape to make informed choices about distribution and pricing. There is generally a steep learning curve as you learn the technology and techniques involved, but the tools that exist to help you have never been more robust. 

The Decisions Are Yours

There's no syllabus or formula when it comes to completing a manuscript, and every writer’s path is as unique as their voice and storytelling imagination. Trust the process, take your time, and remember that the final word on your manuscript's readiness should come from within. It's your creative conviction that ultimately decides if a manuscript is ready for the world.

Believe in the power of your story and the art of your craft. Know that every edit, every break, and every feedback round—from trusted friends to astute professionals—is a stepping stone toward reaching your manuscript's final form. When the project hits that perfect expression of itself in just the right way, you’ll feel it, deep in the marrow of your writing bones. Or maybe you’re just so sick of it after years of hard work that you can’t wait to get it off your plate. The former reason to submit or publish is obviously a little more compelling than the latter, but both are valid. When you decide that you and your project are ready, it’s time to share it with the world.

Photo Credit: Erin VonRuden (


Former literary agent Mary Kole founded Mary Kole Editorial in 2013 and provides consulting and developmental editing services to writers of all categories and genres. She founded Good Story Company in 2019 with the aim of creating valuable content—like the Good Story Podcast, YouTube channel, and Good Story Learning classes and resources—for writers of all categories and ability levels. Her Story Mastermind small group workshop intensives help writers level up their craft, and she offers done-for-you writing and ghostwriting at Manuscript Studio and marketing services with Good Story Marketing. She also develops unique and commercial intellectual property for middle grade, young adult, and adult readers with Upswell Media and Bittersweet Books (website forthcoming).

​​Mary has appeared at regional, national, and international SCBWI conferences, as well as independent conferences including Writer's Digest, Penn Writers, Writer's League of Texas, San Francisco Writers Conference, WIFYR, Writing Day, and dozens of others. She has guest lectured at Harvard, the Ringling College of Art and Design, the Highlights Foundation, and the Loft, and her classes can be found online at Writing Mastery Academy, Writing Blueprints, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning.

She holds an MFA in Creative Writing and has worked at Chronicle Books, the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, and Movable Type Management. She started blogging at in 2009. Her book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, a writing reference guide for middle grade and young adult writers, is available from Writer's Digest Books/Penguin Random House. She’s also the author of Successful Query Letters, Writing Irresistible Picture Books, and How to Write a Book Now from Good Story Publishing.

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Monday, March 18, 2024

Understanding the Book Publishing Contract

image from Pexels

Many writers dream of signing on with a publisher. That first publishing contract can be so exciting – and SO confusing.

Here is a list of terms, items covered, and what a new author needs to know before signing a contract.

The author usually retains rights and ownership to their work. Work for hire or academic works differ and the author may not retain the copyright.

The author grants the publisher the rights to publish the works.

The author pledges they are the sole proprietor of the work and is responsible for any violations of rights against the publisher by another party. The fine print varies, but it often falls to the author to defend against any violations.

The author agrees to deliver all components of the manuscript including script, images, footnotes, etc. within a certain time frame.

The publisher agrees to publish the work within a time certain frame.

Subsidy rights
These are rights outside of the initial book and include first or second serial rights, translations, foreign markets, movie and TV rights, audio rights, merchandising, book club rights, etc. These are negotiated into the contract with the author receiving some rights to no rights. (The author receives a percentage or the publisher keeps all of the profits.) Subsidy rights can be negotiated for with an agent. Without one and dealing directly with a publisher, an author must decide what they are willing to give up.

This is paid up front before the book is published and is often an estimation of royalties based on what the publisher expects to sell in the first year. No royalties will be received by the author until the advance has been covered in full.

The percentage for each format the author receives for each copy sold. The percentage will vary between print, eBook, audio, etc. Hard covers receive the highest, often 10% or more of net. (Not retail unless an agent negotiates a better deal.) Paperback and mass-market can drop to 7%. Electronic copies often net the best deal at 25-35%.

The publisher will deduct overpayments from future royalties or demand their return if exceeding a certain amount.

Author copies

The cost of books ordered directly from publisher by the author.

Statements and payments
How often royalties are paid by the publisher.

Reversion and termination
The rights of the publisher to terminate the book after X amount of years with a written notice to the author. The publisher also has the right to terminate before publication under some circumstances. Note that while the publisher retains the right to terminate, the author often DOES NOT. (Authors can request termination, but it is up to each individual publisher whether they will grant it or not.)

What happens if publisher closes shop.

Options on next work
The publisher gets first look at author’s next work, particularly in a series.

The publisher will list what they will do and what is expected of the author.

There are many other details – arbitration, infringement, inheritance, etc. – but the list above gives you an idea what to expect with that first contract. Always look it over carefully and hire an entertainment or publishing law lawyer if possible.

Have you signed a publishing contract? Are there things you still don’t understand? We hope this has helped!

Monday, March 11, 2024

Republishing My Book


Thank you C. Lee McKenzie for inviting me to blog here. I am happy to share my republishing tale. For three years my book was out of print and not available for sale except in second hand. The prices for books were astronomical. I was devastated and here is my story of how I was able to get it back out there into the hands of readers.

Many of you have been published by a traditional publisher and may or may not have been in my position. My book, If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor, was published in 2011 by MuseItUp Publishing as an ebook and later as a paperback. Three years ago my publisher sent me back the manuscripts on Word docs and told me she was going out of business. I had the rights to the text but not to the cover. So I went looking for a publisher for my book.

If you look on Amazon to see the rating and the reviews you will see they are very favorable. I have twenty-nine good reviews through the years. However, no publisher would do it. So I had to go with KDP Amazon, which gave me a good deal and threw in a free cover. I couldn't resist that and paid a little bit to get it republished.

We spent almost a year getting it done due to the fact that we couldn't decide on a cover. The one I had was not mine and I didn't like the morose girl on it. So we went back and forth and finally found the one I liked. Happy to say the editing of this book by Nancy Bell and Penny Ehrenkranz was so good there didn't need to be any changes at all to the original story. We did make it international print so now it has a Table of Contents and things have been moved a little bit.

Now the book has been launched in person and online and it is available on not only Amazon but Barnes and Noble and other outlets including maybe your local bookstore. I am extremely happy that the book has risen from the ashes.

As the years went by I wrote two sequels to it and it is now the first book of The Mill Valley High series. If you notice in the 2nd edition there is the first chapter of the second book in the series: Who Is Jennifer Taylor? which is not published yet but will be soon. In the meantime, I included that in the book and it is also available on Kindle Vella for free. I may be putting more chapters on Kindle Vella so check it out.

The wonderful part about this is that If I Could Be Like Jennifer Taylor has been launched both online and in person. I know a publisher in India who launched my book for me even though we didn't have a physical book yet and it was launched locally by my local library, Perrot Library in Old Greenwich, CT. At that book launch I again had no copies of the book. They are being published on Ingram and so a delay in shipping created this problem. No worries. I read an excerpt from my phone. I didn't get to sign any books, though. My copies came the day afterward. I had to laugh. In addition, my book is available at the local bookstore, Athena Books if you live in the area. You can also get it online at Barnes and Noble or ask for it in their store.  
The ebook will be out very soon. Unlike the first time when it was published first in ebook, this time the ebook was done after the paperback. I am so happy it is back out there and hope that it will be read by the middle school audience. 
Until the next time hope you are reading and writing and publishing if that's what you want to do. All publishing is cool now.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024


The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer - aim for a dozen new people each time - and return comments. This group is all about connecting! Be sure to link to this page and display the badge in your post. And please be sure your avatar links back to your blog! Otherwise, when you leave a comment, people can't find you to comment back.

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

The awesome co-hosts for the March 6 posting of the IWSG are Kristina KellyMiffie Seideman, Jean Davis, and Liza @ Middle Passages!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG posts. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience, or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Remember, the question is optional!

March Question:

Have you "played" with AI to write those nasty synopses, or do you refuse to go that route? How do you feel about AI's impact on creative writing? 

The quick answer to this one is, no. But I entered the synopsis I’d written for my next book and ChatGPT kicked out a great analysis for each character. I think this will be useful when I do some posts about these characters. I wish I’d done it earlier so I could have referred to it while I was writing the book.

I haven’t played with it more than that. It bothers me that it’s so fast and without error. I’m not happy about being upstaged by something without a heart.

Stop in at my new digs on Substack