Monday 26 March 2018

A Workout to Get Your Manuscript Publisher Ready

By Rachel Sweasey, Rhiza Press

Last week I supplied a list of steps to follow in order to refine your writing to the stage where it can be submitted to a traditional publisher, if that is your intention. This week, I flesh them out a little.

1. Read widely

Okay, so this really has to happen before you start writing. Read heaps of really great writing by successful authors. Work out what they’ve done that makes you sit up and think. Look at how they structure their stories, how they use POV, build characters, paint scenes. How does their writing make you feel? I’ve just finished editing Patricia Weerakoon’s Snowy Summer and I swear I could smell Sri Lankan spices and feel the chill of mountain air on my face. How did she do that? Ask those questions and then practice writing that way.

2. Work out why you’re writing what you’re writing

American author Harper Lee only ever wrote one book. It is an international bestseller that has sold more than 40 million copies. To Kill a Mockingbird is written with exquisite skill. Yet why did she never write again? “I only had one thing to say and I’ve said it,” she said.

As a Christian writer, you might believe you are called to write and publish one thing in particular. If that is the case then I believe God will bless you with success if you are true to your calling. However, there’s a big difference between that scenario and being a writer of faith who has a talent and a desire to write. What is the thing you have to say? If there’s one theme on your heart that you keep coming back to, then I’d say that might be it. And once you’ve worked out what you want to write and why you want to write it … start the work of writing.

3. Do some writing training, and then practice

Whatever stage of your writing journey you’re at there are probably some new tools you can add to your pencil case (unless you’re Kate Morton or Ian McEwan :))

There are all kinds of online courses, mountains of books full of tips (take a look at the Books for Writers site, and talks given by authors in bookshops and libraries. Every little piece of training can help you improve your writing. Having heard Margie Lawson speak at last year’s Omega conference, I’d recommend her courses.

Some of the training you’ll find will give you some basic tips that you can apply to every piece of writing. Here are my favourites:

  1. Beware weak qualifying adverbs
  2. Make certain that every word is working hard work.
  3. Check for head-hopping
  4. Remove unnecessary ‘telling’
  5. Write a first page to die for
  6. Start in the action
  7. Carefully proofread each and every line

4. Apply all your training to your manuscript

Whether or not you do all your training before you start to write your main thing, or you’ve already completed a manuscript and now need to revisit and refine it, now’s the time to apply everything you’ve learned.

5. Befriend a beta-reader (or three)

Find some widely-read friends who will read your (best) work and give you honest feedback. So, probably don’t pick your mum (she’ll gush) or your spouse (you’ll fall out). Ask them to report back on specifics: which characters did they feel connected to? Did they feel engaged with the plot? How hard was it to read/put down?

6. Apply the beta-readers’ feedback to your manuscript

7. Engage a Professional Editor

No, you don’t have to marry one. But you will have to pay for their services. Once you are sure that you have written the one thing you need to write, in the best way you possibly can, and you’ve applied all the new learning you’ve just gained, and you’ve edited, and edited, and re-written, and edited after applying the feedback from your beta-readers, then engage a professional editor. You might only want to pay for a manuscript appraisal at first, and a good editor will give you a detailed appraisal that will help you work out the big things you need to work on: structure, character building, tone, POV etc.

A professional editor will also be able to honestly advise you whether or not you are likely to find a home for your work in a traditional publishing house, or whether you should pursue self-publishing instead. Either way, the expense will be worthwhile.

8. Next? You guessed it. Apply the advice of the professional editor.

9. Re-engage the professional editor to complete a full edit

This is possibly an expense you’ll balk at paying. But remember the process of refining gold. If your aim is to refine your work to be the best it can possibly be, this is an important step. And in the long-run I believe it will be money very well spent if your aim is to get your work published.

10. Enter a competition

This is one tip that may be new to you. Many published authors first found success with their work in writing competitions. Believe it or not, these competitions aren’t just out there for a little fun and to give out prizes. There are talent spotters involved in the reading and judging process. Entering competitions achieves several goals. You’ll discover if your work is as good as you think it is. You’ll hopefully get some feedback (though you may have to pay extra fees for this). You have to write and edit to a deadline (always good practice). And you may even be talent-spotted 

11. Find a Publishing House

Another fact that may not be as widely understood as it should for emerging writers: Not all publishing houses are the same. In order to find the best home for your manuscript you need to research publishers in much the same way you’d try to find adoptive parents for an orphan. Do they publish stories like yours? Have they already published any similar? Which of their published books is your MS similar to (but not TOO similar – if your story has already been done before, then you have some serious re-thinking to do). Have you read their submission criteria? Does your writing fit? Have you included anything that they state they don’t want?

Once you’ve found a home where your baby might settle and thrive, and after all of steps 1-10 have been followed, I think you might be ready to press ‘submit’ :)

About Rachel Sweasey

Rachel Sweasey is an editor at Rhiza Connect, the newly branded imprint of Rhiza Press dedicated to inspirational adult fiction for the faith-based market. She also edits the inspirational texts for Book Whispers, a consultancy that offers appraisal, editing, typesetting, printing, design, and marketing services. Rhiza Press also has a Young Adult imprint, Rhiza Edge. Rachel graduated from Griffith University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Literature and Composition. She lives in Brisbane with her husband and 3 children, has known Christ as her saviour since the age of 14, and serves in worship ministry in Wynnum Baptist Church.


  1. As already pointed out in the comments of your previous post: Hiring an editor to appraise and then edit a manuscript prior to submitting to a publishing house, that has its own editing staff, is not an expense an author should incur. If the author intends to self-publish, that is a different story.

    To better enable authors considering the path that is one " will have to pay for their services." What fee does Book Whisperers, where you work, charge for those services? What what out of pocket expense would an author pay for an appraisal and for a full edit of say a 100,000 word manuscript?

    As to the other advice in the article, as in the previous one, good information and advice, although researching a publishing house might also include success of previous publications, how long the publisher has been in business, type of rights they are generally interested in, etc.

  2. As well as entering writing contests, volunteer to judge. I've learned a lot about writing (and about entering contests) from judging contests. Some organisations only allow members to judge, while others allow non-members to judge. And it's not just writers who can judge - some contests specifically seek out reader judges.

    Most contests allow readers to choose what genres they'd like to judge (including the heat level when it comes to general market romance contests), and how many entries they can manage. It's well worth offering.

  3. Thanks for those tips, Rachel. Looking forward to your input at the Omega Writers' Retreat in May.

  4. Totally second (third?) entering writing contests! Great advice Rachel!

  5. Hi Rachel, Thanks for sharing your advice. I love Margie Lawson’s writing classes and I’ll be attending my second Immersion later this year. One of the best investments I’ve made in my writing career.

    Writing contests that have editor/agent final round judges are a great way for an unpublished writer to get their work in front of industry professionals. I learned so much from entering unpublished writing contests.


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