Welcome to the launch of ALL ABOUT SUBMISSIONS Q & A. This will be a monthly feature with some bonus posts here and there. I have been collecting questions about submitting to agents, editors, etc. from writers with inquiring minds. I have recruited a fantastic team of children’s writers who have many years of experience with submitting. I developed this team because I thought it would be beneficial to writers to see answers from a variety of perspectives. This month’s answers have some common threads. Two strong threads are “Join a critique group – maybe even more than one.” And “Don’t be in a hurry. Take time to let the story marinate.”
The team had so much to offer that I will be posting more answers tomorrow. Elaine Kiely Kearns will share the seven stages that her manuscripts go through before she considers them ready. Cindy Williams Schrauben will give you eight simple, common sense guidelines for determining if your manuscript is ready. I will share a few tips and provide some links with more tips, including some additional checklists that you can use to decide if your story is ready for submission. Before I move on I would like to announce my new picture book manuscript critique service. Click here to learn more about what I offer.
Introducing the team members!
Marcie Flinchum Atkins
Elaine Kiely Kearns
Cindy Williams Schrauben
Alayne Kay Christian
HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT?
Sylvia Liu, Writer-illustrator
You know your manuscript is ready if: (1) it has sat in your computer and marinated for a while; (2) it has gone through at least two rounds of critiques and revisions, one for big picture issues and one for fine-tuning and word-smithing; (3) you’ve street tested it (read it out loud to children in your target age group, preferably not your own children); (4) optionally, it has gone through a professional paid critique, and (5) you read it and get that feeling that you have captured magic in a bottle. Getting to the fifth step is the hardest in my experience. I’ve sent out plenty of manuscripts that weren’t quite there and in retrospect, they were not ready. The one that met all of these criteria ended up being the manuscript that got me a publishing contract.
Marcie Flinchum Atkins, Children’s and Young Adult Writer
I consider my manuscript ready to go when I’ve vetted it through all of my critique groups (sometimes multiple times). When they start fiddling with commas and moving a word here or there, then I know it’s pretty close. Sometimes I’m so immersed in revisions that I think it’s ready before it really is. This year my goal is to take the manuscript as far as I can, put it away for 2-3 months, then re-evaluate it again. Sometimes that manuscript I think is really ready is really not.
Sophia Mallonée, Children’s Writer
This is probably the single most difficult question to answer when it comes to writing, and honestly there’s no clear sign or finish line. It would be so much easier if there was!
For me, I like to pound out a very rough first draft and then leave it for a week or two before I do anything with it. I usually then go through 1-3 rounds of personal revisions before I send it off to my critique group and then 1-2 rounds of edits with my crit partners. After a series of thorough revisions, I’ll leave the story to sit and marinate on its own for a couple of weeks.
The passage of time is really my best tool to judge the strength of a manuscript. After enough time has passed for me to feel distant from the story, I’m then able to pick it back up and read it with fresh eyes. If it reads smoothly, makes me smile in the right places and so on, I’ll send it out. Otherwise, I start the process all over again and might add a few new eyes into the mix for more suggestions.
I also prefer to do small batches of submissions at a time and that way, if I get any helpful feedback from my submissions, I’m able to make further revisions before I send it out again. So you might find that even after you think a manuscript is ready to submit, there are still changes to be made!
Kirsti Call, Children’s Author
I started submitting almost immediately after I got back into writing 3 years ago. I thought my first story was fabulous and ready to be published. Sadly, no publisher agreed with me!
Now that I’ve had more time working in the industry, I realize that it wasn’t ready. I needed to go to a critique group, get a writing partner, revise, revise and revise some more! I needed to attend conferences and hone my craft.
Now that I do that, I know my manuscript is ready when I have no qualms about the beginning, middle or ending. I know it’s ready when I can read it out loud without stumbling. I know it’s ready when my critique partners have nothing much to say about the story, except for how wonderful it is, of course! Nothing’s better than making a manuscript sing!
Julie Falatko, Author
Her debut book: SNAPPSY THE ALLIGATOR (DID NOT ASK TO BE IN THIS BOOK) (Viking Children’s, 2015)
Represented by Danielle Smith, Foreword Literary
In so many ways, it’s very, very hard to know when a manuscript is ready to submit. For me, at least. It took me years — YEARS — to understand that first drafts are SUPPOSED to be terrible. And that it is my job to fix them. So usually when I write, I go through a fairly normal cycle of “this is awful/this is brilliant.” I need to make sure that when I think a manuscript is done, that it is really done, and it’s not that I just happened to catch myself at a “this is brilliant” upswing. Having more than one critique group helps. Taking some time away from it helps, too, so you can come back to it like someone else wrote it, to see what still needs to be fixed.
But eventually, you’ll know in your gut that there’s nothing else you can change in a manuscript. You have to be really honest with yourself about this. It might, and probably should, take months. Take your time. Take it seriously. It’s a tough balance — you need to give yourself enough time to get it right, but at a certain point you also have to let go and trust that you’ve done all you can.
Alayne Kay Christian, Award Winning Children’s Author
Represented by Erzsi Deak, Hen&ink Literary Studio
As I mentioned earlier, one of the strong themes in this month’s answers is do not rush to submission. Don’t let your desire to be published or get an agent interfere with good judgment. In a recent Interview on kidlit411, I offered the following advice to writers. Do not be in a hurry. I don’t want to discourage any writer from submitting because there are some people who are new to the writing scene who find success in achieving publication in a very short time. However, I believe that this is rare. I know it is tempting to jump right into submitting, but I caution you to take your time. Learn your craft, and learn it well. If you can afford it, take classes, get professional critiques, and read, read, read. Be sure to join a critique group. Immerse yourself in the writing community, and learn from those who have already learned from their mistakes. It is not a race – it is a journey.
Click her for HOW DO YOU KNOW WHEN YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS READY TO SUBMIT – PART TWO with additional answers and some excellent resources for deciding when your manuscript is ready for submission.