10 Tests to Prove Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission

You’ve re-written your novel twenty times and you are about to poke your eye balls out, but is it really ready? How do you know when it’s time to start sending out submissions? Award winning author, and editor Deborah Halverson spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA conference about this very subject. She offered up the following ten tests to help you find out if you are ready for prime time.

1. Stop “Looking” — Voice

  • Looking reveals passive voice and generic narratives. I.E. smile, frown, face (as verb), glance, nod. Replace these reactions/actions in between bits of dialogue with dynamic action and body language.

Fix These Issues by:

  • Using dynamic language.
  • Inject more personality into your characters.
  • Change the character’s behavior
  • Change the entire scene – move the character around.

YA’s Most Used Words:

  • Look
  • Stare
  • Gaze
  • Turn to smile
  • Frown
  • Laugh
  • Great
  • Very
  • Wearing
  • Seem
  • Really
  • Just
  • Feel (show it instead)

2.  Twist & Drop — Characterization

  • Take the main character from your final chapter and drop him/her into the first scene (write or imagine). When he/she lands there, he/she should behave differently. Otherwise, reveals flat character
  • In MG and YA readers are looking for growth.
  • Tells – did I give an arc?

Ways to Fix These Issues:

  • Put larger obstacles in his/her path. Force the issue and be extreme.
  • Put more at stake, and make the loss more important. This adds emotional depth and will force epiphany
  • Stop playing it safe. Add flaws! You can still have a character that is likable and sympathetic.
  • Your character needs a core center – purity

3.  CIP Challenge — Cataloging the Concept (in the front of the book).

  • This reveals how focused you are, and the book’s place in the marketplace.
  • Hook: If you have a universal issue, have you provided a fresh approach. If not, it lacks focus and uniqueness.
  • Understand how to distinguish your book. Editors look for this right away.
  • TEST: Write one statement about your book include character(s), main theme and problem.

How to Fix This Issue:

  • Examine your theme.
  • Make your problems more defined, articulate your goal.

4. Read With Your Fingers  — Plot and Characterization

  • Read only the 1st paragraph of each of your chapters
  • i.e. The Golden Compass – there is NO stuttering, no time lost.
  • Look for escalation of plot, movement, things must be progressing.
  • Don’t meander.

How to Fix This Issue:

  • Scene Switch – cut of change “kill your darlings.”

5. “Blah, Blah” Bleck! — Dialogue

  • With a highlighter, highlight statement of plot facts.
  • You want dialogue to reveal personality and illuminate character.
  • Reveal emotion with dialogue. One character leading/influencing, awareness or behavior.
  • DO NOT state plot facts in dialogue.

How to Fix This:

  • Use broken statements, fragments in dialogue to reveal plot facts, and are more active and organic.
  • Show characters reacting to each other. You want back and forth dialogue.

6. Check For “As” — Voice

  • Reveals passive voice, distances narrative, less immediate voice
  • Search for “as”. If you have too many this is a red flag!

How to Fix This:

  • Make your voice more active.
  • Use direct sentences as they are more immediate.
  • Use sentence variety and length. Don’t describe how someone said something.
  • Use beats to add action. Do something!

7.  Scratch & Sniff — Setting

  • Do you have Ambiance? A sense of place ads depth.
  • Highlight sensual references. Anytime a passages engages one of the five senses in a tactile way is good.
  • Look for three highlights per chapter

How to Fix This:

  • Show your character interacting with the setting.

8.  The Italics Detector — Voice

  • Keep italics for internal thought.
  • Search for italics.
  • Really there is no reason for italics when used for emphasis. It creates a melodramatic feeling

How to Fix This:

  • Delete them.
  • Replace with dialogue.

9. Check Your Sleeve — Emotional Resonance and Narrative Sensibility

  • Beware of an adult sensibility. This comes from telling instead of showing.
  • Teens see judge, act, react, deal with consequences.
  • Scan for statements of feeling – telling, being adult.

How to Fix This:

  • Judge it youthfully and deal with consequences.

10.  The Eagle Eyes of Igor – Mechanics

  • Proofread! Look for errors/typos.
  • Ask someone objective – ideally someone you don’t know.
  • Not your critique group.

If you’ve passed all these tests then you are ready for submission! Good luck!

Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth (Delacorte/Random House). She edited picture books and teen novels for Harcourt Books for ten years before leaving to write books full-time.

14 thoughts on “10 Tests to Prove Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission

  1. What a great post! I’m in the final edits of my MG fantasy and will go back through again with these points in mind. This post will definitely be going in my favorites! Thanks, Ingrid! 🙂

  2. Some very good info here, but I felt like it could have been written more clearly. I didn’t understand all of the advice (and I have read _many_ writing books, so I do know what the words mean, still went “huh?” a few times).

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