Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Getting Your Work Ready for Submission

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

I turned on the TV recently and heard a great line on Dancing With the Stars. 

"If you want to shine, you have to polish."

This is fabulous advice for writers, because editing puts the shine on our work, and when we skip that step, we hurt ourselves. If you've ever sent work out you thought was ready and wasn't, or work you thought was good enough, raise your hand.

-raises hand-

Yeah, most of us have done it.

So when you're taking that final peek at your work and deciding if it's ready to go or not, ask yourself:

1. Does the text read smoothly?
Read it to yourself. Read it out loud. Do you stumble over any spots? Feel a choppiness? Awkward sentences? If so, fix them, even if you think "oh, this one won't hurt me." In truth, one probably won't, but if you have one, odds are you have more than one.

2. Do you have any incorrect words?
They're hard to catch, and they're vs there vs their don't show up on spell check. A quick search can double check to make sure you're using the right version. Same with your vs you're. Other commonly goofed words:
  • who vs that. Who is for people, that is for things.
  • who vs whom. Try replacing the who with a pronoun. If you'd use "him" it's whom. "He" is who.
  • affect vs effect. Affect is something that acts upon something else. Effect is the result of something.
  • take vs bring. Take goes away from the speaker. Bring is brought toward the speaker.
  • farther vs further. Farther is for distances you can measure, like three feet farther. Further is for abstracts, like further understanding.
  • fewer vs less. Same thing. Fewer is for things you can measure, less is for abstract ideas. Fewer hours, less time.
3. Is everything spelled correctly?
This seems like a no-brainer, but with auto correct and simple human error, it's easy to have a correctly spelled word that's the wrong word.

4. Are you over using words or phrases?
I have favorite words I use a lot of, like still, just, only. Every book there are a few more than creep in for whatever reason. Check on the words you know you over use, and keep an eye out for ones you've used a lot of this time. Also look for ten dollar words -- they stand out and are remembered. Using them a lot in the same manuscript is more noticeable that you'd expect.

5. Is the back half as polished as the front half?  
Either we get caught up in the story or we get tired, it's not uncommon for more work to go into the first half of a manuscript. Try starting the story in the middle and reading through. Does it read as well as it should?

6. Is everything consistent?
If you have special formatting, or a way of writing something is it the same throughout the book? (for example, I italicized drew and push in The Shifter to give a graphic representation of Nya using her powers)

7. Is there anything you don't like or is nagging at you?
Some self doubt is normal, but if there's something specific you're concerned about and it's bugging you, trust your instincts and fix it before you send it out.

8. Are all your names easy to differentiate?
Names that are too similar can be confusing. Looks for ones that start with the same letter, or have similar letters that can be easily confused. These things can be subtle, and even when you set out not to do it, it can slip in unnoticed. I never realized that Danello and Lanelle are the same name with two letter differences until the second book. Will anyone confuse them? Maybe, maybe not, but why take that risk when you don't have to?

9. Look for fragments that might be better as one sentence.
Conjunctions are the search word here, or common joining words like even, when, that, which, there. In fact, I edited a line in this post for this very reason. "If so, fix them. Even if you think "oh, this one won't hurt me." The full stop between them and even was awkward, so I made them one sentence. Sometimes you want the fragment, other times it reads smoother without.

It's a cliche, but "you only get one chance to make a first impression" is true. You want your book to sparkle so brightly an agent or editor can't wait to snap it up. You don't want to come across as someone who's almost ready for publication.


  1. This is a great post to read right before editing. Thanks.

  2. Nice reminder. I'm especially grateful you pointed out the difference between farther and further. Those are hard to catch.

  3. It's scary sometimes to realize the difference that a good polish could make. I always mess up who vs that. I'm getting better though! Great post!

  4. This is a great list of things to keep an eye out for--I'll definitely be returning to this post in a couple of weeks, so thanks!

  5. I'll sometimes change the font or go to single line spacing when editing. I change it back, of course, but seeing my words in a different spot on the page helps me look at a familiar MS with fresh eyes.

  6. I think this checklist is a good thing to keep in mind for a cover letter as well. That is often the first writing the editor or agent sees. Thanks!

  7. Great tips. I was embarrassed after sending out an early version of my first book, in a "what the heck was I thinking?" kind of way. But you live and learn, and I've been told by CP's that the first draft of my new book is better than the tenth draft of my old one. Now I'm on to the polishing!

  8. Don't think I'm picking on you, cause I do the same thing more often than I'd like, but a perfect example of #3 takes place just above it. You typed father vs further. Father is certainly spelled right, but the missing r makes it the wrong word. ;D Easy to miss.

  9. Great checklist!! You're so full of helpful suggestions. :)

  10. Could I make a small suggestion? I've been searching your blog for additional posts about synopsis (other than the general guidelines at top) and having sort of a hard time. Maybe add a search widget to the blog?

  11. Excellent! Thank you for the advice. And LOVE number 2. Will be referring back to this post often.

  12. *raises hand*

    Number 5 can sometimes be an issue -- put so much emphasis on the beginning the rest can get short shrift!

  13. BellaVida: Most welcome.

    Chicory: I always have to check those myself :) Even when you know the difference, they still slip in there.

    Laura: Thanks! What amazes me is even after all the work I out into polishing and proofing Shifter, the copy editor still found stuff. What a learning experience! Invaluable.

    Jess: Most welcome. These are all things on my own "things to double check" list.

    Deb: What a brilliant suggestion! I love it.

    Beth: Oh definitely.

    Kristi: Grats on that! I bet everyone has a "what was I thinking?" story about their first submission. It's a rite of passage for writers.

    Jaleh: Oh goodness, LOL. You know what? I did it TWICE. I fixed the one and never bothered to check the other. Thanks for letting me know!

    Angie: Thanks! Suggestions as always welcome. I thought there was a search feature at the top, but I'll double check. There' are also the labels on the left hand side and one of them is for synopsis. I'm actually in the process of a major revamp of the blog to make things easier to find, so hopefully the new look will make that easier.

    Deborah: Most welcome :)

    Bluestocking: That's the one that really gets me. I'm so ready to be done by the time I Get to the end.

  14. Excellent list, and I'm happy to say I knew all the commonly misused words bullet points. *grin* And you are SO right about the nagging thoughts--trust your instincts! I always have to change those things after my CPs see them, so I should do them BEFORE that point.

  15. Yes, I raise my hand. I'm going to go through my manuscript again for voice but will definitely look at these things too.

  16. Wow, this is a really helpful post! I'm deep in revisions, and this makes me step back and organize my thoughts.

  17. I must be blind. Anyway thanks for pointing it out. :)

  18. Carol: Yay! Every time I ignore my instincts they come back to bite me.

    Natalie: There is so much to check on. If I didn't have my list I'd never remember it all.

    Hopejunike: Thanks! Hope it helps you out.

    Angie: No worries. It was way up in the corner and easy to miss. I added a new button where it's easy to find.