Is your manuscript ready for editing or publishing?
Do this test to find out
5 Questions to assess your editing readiness
So you’ve written your novel, short story collection, memoir or work of nonfiction and you want to take the next steps to publishing. The first goal that usually comes to mind is to get the work edited. However, I seldom recommend this as the first step. Text editing is probably going to be the most costly part of getting your work into print, which means you want to make certain it is ready for this investment. So where should you begin?
Take this quick test to help determine what stage your work is at and what you should do next:
Publishing readiness test
1. Objective feedback
Have you had feedback from impartial beta readers or professional book coaches and written at least a second or third draft? Yes/No. Even for very experienced authors, the first draft of a book is usually quite rough and contains material that just doesn’t fit or it has plot holes the author is not aware of. A first draft of a novel or work of nonfiction is seldom ready for copy editing.
Do you have a clearly expressed premise statement? Yes/No. The premise statement in fiction is a paragraph-length formulation of your character, their problem situation, and what they must do to resolve it. In non-fiction, it is a brief summation of the problem and proposed solution (other forms are also possible). Publishers are going to ask you for the premise before they even pick up the manuscript. And if you don’t have a premise, chances are your book also doesn’t have a tight plot or a strong logical argument.
Can you outline the plot structure (fiction) using any of the recognised plotting models (e.g., three-act structure, Hero’s Journey, Snowflake, Truby)? For non-fiction structure, can you outline a clear logical argument or describe the structure you have used and why you’ve used it? Yes/No.
4. Starting point
For fiction: Does your story start with a hook or an inciting incident that introduces the main story conflict in the first one or two pages? Yes/No. Far too many authors begin their stories with exposition and backstory and don’t give their readers a compelling reason to carry on turning the pages to find out what happens.
For nonfiction: Have you begun with a strong statement of the problem you are going to solve or the thesis you are going to prove? Yes/No. Read more about strong opening lines.
Have you followed the guidelines for writing and punctuating dialogue, constructing scenes, and managing point-of-view characters? Have you run a spellcheck and preferably also used a text-improvement tool like Grammarly or ProWritingAid? Is your formatting neat and consistent (e.g., consistent fonts for headings, correctly spaced paragraphs)? Yes/No. You need to get the text as tidy and error-free as you can before asking an editor for a quote.
If you answered no to any of these questions, your manuscript is probably not ready for text editing. First, see what you can do to correct any of these issues yourself. Then get professional help with any problem areas that still remain. I recommend you begin with an editorial assessment, which is a high-level critique and overview of your manuscript (see more below).
An editorial assessment is the highest or most abstract level of editing and focuses on story, plot, character growth, logical argument and general structural and stylistic issues. The output is a detailed report on what you need to work on to get the manuscript ready for editing.
It is a common understanding in mainstream publishing that a first or even second draft of a manuscript is not yet ready for text editing. In publishing houses, a manuscript is first given an editorial assessment where it is read and evaluated by high-level editors who assess whether the book is commercially viable in its current state. They will then make recommendations to the author on what they think needs to be changed. Moderate to significant rewrites are common, even for the more experienced authors.
The same should apply for independent authors who self-publish on Amazon and other platforms. You want to make certain your book works as a story or logical argument before investing in text editing.
If you think you might need to start with this level of support, take a look at my editorial assessment offers.
Once your manuscript has passed the high-level editorial assessment and any recommended rewrites, it will go into text editing. If you are aiming to get the manuscript published by a mainstream publisher, you can usually omit the text editing phase as the publisher will do the editing. However, advice on this varies and some agents might want you to get the manuscript edited before submitting it to them.
The level of editing will depend on how much work the manuscript needs. If you feel ready to explore text editing, have a look at my copy editing options.
Once your manuscript is through text editing, it is ready for publishing. If you are self-publishing, you can now format the manuscript for ebook or paperback and get the cover designed. If you are being traditionally published, all this is taken care of by the publisher.
I hope this article has clarified your options and you have a good idea of your next step towards publishing. If you would like more detail on everything covered here, take a look at my short Kindle e-book Get Ready for Publishing: Eliminate the 8 Critical Errors That Will Make Publishers Reject Your Novel or Memoir. It covers everything in this article in more detail plus other checks and basic corrections. If this article showed you had lots missing from your manuscript, this little book will help you fill in the gaps.
If you want even more detail, try my full-length book, Write Masterful Fiction, described in the block below this.
If you’re unsure of any of this, send me a sample of your text with your questions and I’ll reply with some recommendations. I look forward to working with you to bring out the best in your manuscript.
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