How to Judge if it’s Ready to Submit

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

I’m leaving for England on author Julie Klassen’s English Countryside Tour. Much of the fun of this tour is the people sharing it. I already know editors Raela Schoenherr and Karen Shurrer; my good buddy, Janet Grant; fiction buyer for Lifeway, Rachel McRae; and, of course, Julie Klassen. When we come back I’m sure we’ll have lots to share about the importance of setting in fiction as well as literary travel.

But, for the duration of the trip, we’re unplugging for the most part, so I’m reposting some basic advice that bears repeating for the next few posts. Here’s one on how to know when you are ready to put that red pen down and submit.


One of the most difficult things for a writer is to close the file on a book or a proposal and declare it ready to submit. Almost as hard as prying it out of their clenched fingers at a conference.

How do you know if your submission is ready to submit?

  • Make sure it is in the correct format. This is part of the nuts and bolts. Be sure to check agents’ and publishing house websites to see the information they need in the proposal. But don’t feel you have to reformat for each submission. If you have all the information I can’t imagine anyone would ding you for not having it in their preferred order. We certainly wouldn’t.
  • Check it over for grammar and typos. If you don’t have the copyediting eye, have someone else do this for you. Nobody will hold a typo or a grammatical error against you unless the number of mistakes shows an inherent sloppiness. But don’t forget, a typo will pull the reader out of the manuscript. Especially in fiction, do you want the agent or editor to leave your story world if he’s loving the book?dreamstime_xs_18411155
  • Have it read by others who have a critical eye. After you’ve worked on the manuscript for a long time, you’ve lost all perspective. There’s no way for you to judge if it’s ready to submit or not. Most successful authors have a small cadre of beta readers who will give them tough and honest feedback. You need this!
  • Have it professionally edited? I’ve said before that I’m not a fan of having a manuscript professionally edited before I see it. I can’t tell how much is the editor and how much is the author I’m deciding to represent. However, there are a number of agents who do want to see edited manuscripts. On a panel last month I was surprised that a majority on the panel had no problem with this

And how can you increase your chances of getting a fair read?

  • Choose your target well. I’m preaching to the choir here since you are all very active in the publishing community, but you need to do due diligence on each agent or editor you submit to. Don’t shotgun. (Especially if you list them all in the email address block. Automatic pass. No one wants to be one of a cast of thousands.)
  • Send it in the manner they request. Very important! Each agency and those publishing houses who will take unagented work have a protocol. If you don’t send it in the way they request, your submission will be lost. For instance, I’ve had people query me in a Facebook private message. What in the world can I do with that? How do I file it? So the question is, how do you find out what each target prefers? Simple! You’ll find it on their websites.
  • Push the send button. “Be brave, little Piglet.” We all know you could fiddle around with this submission forever. At some point you just need to stop and send. Declare it ready to submit.

What’s the worst that can happen?

  • No one likes it so you put it in a drawer and start your next book. Once you are a best-selling author, believe me, they’ll be fighting for that first book.
  • They’ve seen your name attached to a manuscript they declined. Don’t assume that’s a negative. Editors and agents have to pass on superb manuscripts every day for any number of reasons. It will be a big plus if they remember your name. We find that it takes a number of positive contacts before we begin to really take notice of a writer. Each “touch” builds on that. Submitting is a great introduction.

So how about you? Is it hard to let your baby go? What are the dangers of waiting too long? Can you over-finesse a submission? Have you heard the term “workshopped to death”? What do you think that means? How do you tell when a manuscript is ready to submit? Tell us your experiences with submission angst.

20 Responses

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  1. Send it in when it’s good enough; finding one perfect word is vital in a sonnet but in an 80,000 word novel it leans toward preciousness. If the premise and the writing and the platform are strong enough, it’ll run without that last coat of wax and polish.
    * And yes, ‘good enough’ may be the enemy of ‘great’, but good enough is what wins battles and builds empires while the greats are left sitting in a dusty byway, living footnotes to hubris.

    • “…living footnotes to hubris…” said he with an arrogance that is itself almost a living thing. Sheesh. Ah, well, the reason I have a big mouth is because I need to be able to put both feet in at once.

      • Mary R. P. Schutter says:

        Andrew, you and I must be related. My mouth runs much faster than my brain which leads to moments I wish I could erase from life’s timeline.

      • MacKenzie Willman says:

        ….but do you inhale, Andrew? 😉
        I have, both feet straight to the hips.

  2. It’s the waiting after submission that brings the real angst for me. That is when I start second-guessing everything.

    Have a wonderful trip!

  3. Journey mercies, dear Lord, and fabulous fellowship for Wendy and the rest of the crew.

  4. Katie Powner says:

    It was easier to submit the first time because I didn’t know any better. Now, as I prepare my third manuscript for submission, I feel much more reluctance because I’m much more aware of my shortcomings. But, alas, I’m going to submit it anyway.

    • Yes, Katie. I know for me … when I look at my work from 3-4 years ago and further back, I can’t help but cringe a little. But it’s all part of the journey. I hope I don’t feel that way in another 4 years about my writing now, but … 🙂 More than likely.

  5. Have a wonderful time, Wendy. I can’t wait to see pictures. * I’ve been doing some editing on my second completed novel. I changed a relatively minor part of my plot. But just that little change began the questioning in my mind–why didn’t I have the plot go this way, or that way? I felt a slight panic in my heart. I wrote it a while ago … I guess almost 2 years ago now. As I rehashed the paths that I’d considered so long ago, I remembered why I chose the path I did. And that satisfied feeling came over me again. So I think that’s how I know I’m ready to submit … when I get that satisfied feeling. Peace.

  6. Wanda Rosseland says:

    Oh, what a wonderful fun filled trip! Enjoy yourself immensely, Wendy. And Janet and Julie and everyone else.

  7. Carol Ashby says:

    I actually enjoy the editing process, both while I’m still writing the first draft and then as I refine the whole. Each pass-through is like sanding and then polishing with progressively smaller grit until it feels so polished I can’t even find another phrase that cries out to be polished a little more. I try to have it at satin-sheen level before I send it to my betas and critique partner. They help me get it to a glossy shine.
    *That’s when I’m ready to release it, but I’m an indie publisher, so my first “submission” is to the final readers. I’d better have such stringent requirements because I don’t have an editor at a publishing house to help me make sure it’s something worth my readers’ time and money with the potential for them to love it.

  8. Great advice. Thanks so much!

  9. Angie Arndt says:

    * Hitting that Send button is terrifying. And I think I can imagine what “workshopped to death” means. Every time I leave a workshop, I begin making changes in my head.
    * I’m blessed to have friends to trade manuscripts with and a precious mentor/friend who helps me too.
    * Whether it’s accepted or not, God is in control. I’m already starting on the next one. 🙂

  10. I learned my lesson the hard way. I am a graduate of the Wrting for Children and Teens Program offered by The Institute of Children’s Literature. I graduated November 15, 1999 with several publishable children’s manuscripts. My instructor Louise Ulmer encouraged me to submit a story to RADAR titled, The Storm and the Sparrows. I did and received a written response that the story was excellent but they couldn’t use it right then. The editor did request me to send it back to them at a later time as she liked the story. She didn’t say how long, and I sat on it while I cared for my little boy, and worked . I finally thought I should ask Louise about what to do. She said it was too late to send it as since the response I had received over a year ago, RADAR had hired writers in-house and no longer accepted outside submissions. I was so upset at myself for waiting and not having contacted the editor for a more specific time frame.

    That was a long time ago. This year after finding out about the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference on July 15th, I determined I was no longer going to languish in my writing. God blessed me with a wonderful writing partner, Tamara Jorell. For both of us it was like gasoline was poured on a fire. We worked hard putting excellence in everything we did: writing, brainstorming, revisions and editing each other’s work (Neither of us could pay for a professional editor.). We worjked hard and prayed hard, between March 13, 2017 when we became writing partners until that very day. We practiced pur pitches and then rested the day before. We were loving but unapologetic in editing each other’s work. We wanted pur best for God and for future readers because we know words can change lives in big ways.

    When we started out we didn’t know for sure if we could revise het first novel, Balconies, or how far I would be able to get on my memoir. Plus Bob Hostetler at a writers confernce March 11, 2017 put on by the Minnesota Christian Writers Guild had
    encouraged me to not only write the book but work on my platform. I told God I would but I needed a writing partner. Little did I know T was needing one too, until Monday after that weekend. We didn’t hang on because I had learned my lesson. Don t languish. Instead work hard, work with someone with skill that you can trust and whose motivation is godly. Then submit a piece of excellence. Excellence changes lives, but perfection in this world is rarely if ever attained, unless it is a perfect heart towards God which He desires above all our strivings.

    • Oh, Elizabeth. The Institute of Children’s Literature was when I first got serious about writing as well! I graduated in 2002 and then from their book writing class in 2005. I am still working on a book ms. that I wrote with my instructor, such wonderful classes, and they got me going onto other classes and other learning. It’s good to meet you.

      • ej bohan says:

        Kristen,it’s good to meet you too! The classes were wonderful. I have kept all my lessons and my instructor’s comments. That experience was what gave me a love for writing and the knowledge that I could learn about the craft, really the art, of writing.

  11. Oh my goodness, I need stronger reading glasses. I was having such a hard time seeing the letters on my phone to proof my work. I grabbed some a bit stronger, still not strong enough, and noted my typos and there was no way to edit. Egads! And I was just posting about writing with excellence. Sometimes I wish there was no such thing as auto text. I’m off to the store to get a reader glasses upgrade!

    Wendy have a super time in Englad with Julie and all of those going. Thanks for the post.