Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Readiness Test

Hi all! Today I welcome Maria Zannini as part of The Indie Roadshow.

The Readiness Test

Writers are the WORST judges for deciding when a manuscript is ready for publication. We wear industrial grade blinders, often missing the obvious faults in a manuscript. Our hearing’s not so good either since we’re likely to dismiss our critique partners when they fail to laud us with rose petals and applause.

It takes time, both to gain experience in craft and to hone the instinct that tells you which way to guide your story.  It also takes a great deal of reading across many genres.

Not to say that writing ever becomes easy, but it does become more intuitive. And part of that instinct is knowing when you’ve gone as far as you could. When it reaches that point, it’s time for the next tier: professional editing.

In traditional and small press, this comes automatically after you’ve signed a contract. You’re given an editor who will address issues you didn’t even know existed. If your work is sub par or for whatever reason doesn’t ring any bells for the submissions editor, then you’re left with either subbing it elsewhere or reworking the story.

But when you’re self-published, the onus of that decision is all yours. You have to decide (shrewdly) if the story is good enough to be published. Only then can you hire an editor and polish the story to its finished state.

I feel this is where many indie authors split ranks. There are books being published that are just plain bad. Many of these have never seen an editor, let alone a critique partner. I know editing is expensive. But it’s a requisite of publishing. No small or large press would ever publish work without editing, why would you do any less for yourself?

How do you know your manuscript is ready for publication?

• The story has a beginning, middle and end with full arcs for each character.

• You’ve proofed it backwards and forwards.

• It’s been in the hands of at least one other qualified reader; someone who is not your mother, your friend, or that eye-candy who wants to get into your pants.

• When you get back your critiques for the story, most of the comments center on tiny grammar nits rather than whopping plot holes.

• You’re certain there is nothing more you can do for the story. It’s as finished as you can make it.

At this point you either submit it to a regular publisher, self-publish, or store it on your hard drive in a folder marked: ‘Chicken!’.

How do you know it’s NOT ready for publication?

• Your critique partners say things like:  I really like the font you used. 

• You tried submitting it to regular publishing channels and your email is blocked as spam.

• You know in your heart it has problems.

Sometimes we love our stories so much we refuse to see them for what they really are. Recognizing mediocrity is part of growing as a writer.

True Believers which received such wide praise and got on two “Best of” lists for 2010 started out as crap. It was self-stroking and naive. I rewrote that story from the ground up—twice, until it became the tale it is today. It also had countless critiques and two editors. Believe me, it shows.

Just because your story isn’t ready today doesn’t it mean it won’t be ready tomorrow. Don’t rush. Write the best story you can. Be open to critiques, and rewrite with an objective.

When you self-publish there is no one you can hide behind. Good or bad, you get what you put out. Publish with that in mind.

I hope you’ll follow along with the rest of the Indie Roadshow as I share the things I learned on my road to self-publishing.
The Devil To Pay is available at Amazon and Smashwords for only $2.99. It is the first book of the series, Second Chances.
Synopsis: The road to Hell is paved with good intentions and bad tequila. Shannon McKee finds herself at the end of her rope, and she bargains her soul in a fit of despair.

Shannon’s plea is answered immediately by two men who couldn’t be more different from one another. Yet they share a bond and an affection for the stubborn Miss McKee that even they don’t understand.

When Heaven and Hell demand their payment, Shannon has no choice but to submit. No matter who gets her soul, she’s not getting out of this alive.
Bio: Maria Zannini used to save the world from bad advertising, but now she spends her time wrangling chickens, and fighting for a piece of the bed against dogs of epic proportions. Occasionally, she writes novels. 
Follow me on Facebook or my blog.


  1. Thanks, Beth.

    And thank you, Misha for putting up with me one more time. LOL! Thanks for inviting me!

  2. You know in your heart it has problems.

    That's such a great line, so honest and really a barometer of readiness, I think.

    Very interesting!

  3. Great atricle Maria. I probably would never be able to self publish. I have a very low opinion of my writing. The books I have published, I'm convinsed the publisher made a mistake and said yes by accident and once the contract was signed they were stuck with me. I guess I still can't tell which of my plot ideas and writings are good and which are bad. Once I learn to tell the difference I'm sure then self publishing will be an option.

    That's great about True Believers being on two "best of" lists. It's one of my favorite books. I loved so many of the characters, especially the supporting cast. Bubba was my favorite. You gave him a personality and feelings, and I just wanted to hug him through the whole book.

  4. Sarita: I'm often reminded of when I've given something to my CPs and they come back with the exact same issues I was afraid to tackle. We know. We just don't always want to admit it.

  5. Angelina: Bubba was a crowd favorite. (I'm still trying to figure out how to give him a meatier role in the sequel.)

    Ref: doubt
    I stared at the first acceptance letter I ever got from a publisher like it was in a foreign language. LOL. I was sure they had sent it to the wrong person. :)

  6. Great advice. I think it' impossible for an author to know when the manuscript is ready. It's why I need my writer buds honesty

  7. I can understand what you mean. I self pubbed Secret Lilies without really running it through real editing...and the end product showed it. Since then, I've tried to be honest with myself and open-minded to crits I've gotten, especially from experienced writers I know have my best interest at heart...and those were usually the hardest ones to swallow. They were also the most helpful to me in improving my storyline.

    Thank you so much for the information. As usual, Maria, you provide nuggets to keep for present and future use.

  8. This is so great, Maria. Honest in a way that makes me nervous about my writing.

  9. If I had self-pubbed my current book two years ago, back when I really seriously thought it was done, I doubt I'd have any readers left. And again last year. I think the line 'You know in your heart it has problems' is really true - a little voice that speaks the truth. Great advice, Maria! (And hello Misha!)

  10. This is great advice, Maria. For those of us who want to be traditionally published, maybe a question we could ask ourselves is whether we think our manuscript would be ready for self-publication. If the answer is "yes," then we'll know we stand a much greater chance of catching an agent or editor's eye. Thank you, Misha, for hosting Maria today!

  11. The part of your advice that struck me the most was when you emphasized the amount of time it takes to get a quality piece of writing ready for submission. The pressure from the constant exposure on my blog, Facebook and Twitter, and keeping up with other writers' social media makes me feel inadequate. I haven't queried or submitted my writing, but I also know my gut is telling me I'm not ready. My focus now is to avoid jumping the gun and really improve my writing. Thanks for sharing your experience!

  12. Michelle said everything I was thinking :)

    Excellent advice, Maria. Indie pubbed or small press or one of the Big 6 (or however many there are), the main thing is to produce a compelling story where any mechanical or plot issues are small to nonexistant. The only way to do that is through editing and honest appraisal by your self or a trusted colleague.

  13. Excellent points Maria!

    "I really like the font you used." :snort: If I was getting that kind of feedback I'd wonder if it was the right group! On a scrapbook page that would be an awesome remark, not so much on a MS.

    "You know in your heart it has problems." Yep, that's why it's not ready for others to see it yet :)

    Another post to bookmark.

  14. I'm the same way Maria. I run my stories through tough self-revision before even sending to my crit partners - at least three, sometimes double or more that number. By the time I'm finished revising, I'm sick of the story, lol. But I could revise forever, so at some point, I have to cut it off. Most of my stories take at least a year before I do, and the longest was about four years (still unpublished, but I haven't given up on it yet!) The best advice I've ever heard is to set the story aside for awhile so you as the author can see it in a new perspective.
    I'm lucky, too, that my crit partners are honest and would never beat around the bush - it's why my skin's nice and thick now. :)

  15. En-Musing: You start to get a feel for what's good and what isn't. But for me there's always a sense of doubt.

    Angela Brown: Every day I thank God for helping me find some awesome crit partners who have never spared the rod. LOL.

    Angela Felsted: Look at this--two Angelas back to back. :o) AF: You have nothing to worry about. I read your poetry and weep at the power your words hold.

    Jayne: I think pride keeps us from listening to that little voice. But it's there if we care to listen. (Nice to see you out and about, Jayne!)

  16. Michelle: Maybe it's just me, but self-publishing was a whole lot scarier than going with traditional publishing. I felt better after the editors got through with it, but I never lost those butterflies.

    Ref: My focus now is to avoid jumping the gun and really improve my writing.

    That is an amazingly shrewd and well thought out game plan. Most of us tend to jump in first and then flounder when we realize we can't swim. Kudos, Laura.

    Cathy: There really are only six big publishers. All the myriad names you see belong to one of the Big 6. That's why it's considered so scary. They own so much and stand to lose a great deal.

    Raelyn: I guess in scrapbooking the font remark would be welcomed. LOL.

    Cate: Excellent point. I'm a firm believer in giving my brain time to forget the story so I'm not influenced by my intimacy with it.

  17. Caustic as usual and thoroughly enjoyable. Mind you as compensations go, I'd settle for that eye-candy who wants to get into your pants. - whilst waiting for the big break of course

  18. A good reminder that there is nothing more important than kind, but honest crit partners!

  19. Mike: Caustic? Moi? Says my #1 CP who has stuck with me through bad copy and good, and invested a considerable amount of red ink on me over the years.

    Connie: See comment above. LOL. I love my CPs (even tough-love Mike). Without them I'd have wallowed in mediocrity the rest of my days.

  20. Great advice, Maria. Don't rush and let your craft grow is the best thing we can do ... and hire an editor. All success to Maria.

  21. eye-candy is also a really good reader!!!! ^_^

  22. Sounds like you have been blessed by not only raw talent but the editing and critiquing partnerships you have as well Maria, enjoyed the post and even though not a writer it made perfect sense to me... May I say that with "True Believers" 3rd time was the charm and kudos on the 2 best of in 2010, here is looking forward to those best of's in 2011 for "The Devil To Pay"!

  23. MPax: Thank you! I think it's a fair guess that we're all in a hurry to get published--at least until the first reviews come in. :)

    Ref: eye candy
    Steady, girl. Steady. You can have your eye candy and eat it too. Oh, wait. That didn't come out right.

    Jackie: From your lips to God's ear. LOL. I'll be happy if people like the story enough to continue with the series.

  24. Good editors are also hard to find in my opinion but yes...they can do wonders for your manuscript.

  25. Really great advice. I think you're right, you do know in your heart if its not ready and as you say, if may not be ready today but that doesn't mean it won't be tomorrow. I love those points especially. ;-)

  26. Great advice. I snorted at "At this point you either submit it to a regular publisher, self-publish, or store it on your hard drive in a folder marked: ‘Chicken!’." I'm a bit of a perfectionist and I'm leaning toward the chicken folder. hahahaha.

  27. Michael: I used my editor from Carina Press for The Devil To Pay because I already knew her and respected her work.

    On a previous Indie Roadshow guest post I also discussed editors.

    Talei: Part of being a writer is never to stop learning or stretching ourselves. It's not a race. It's a journey.

    Lynda: LOL. I think we all have a Chicken! file somewhere on our hard drives.

  28. Excellent advice, Maria. When it comes to self-publishing having a team of critique partners etc behind you makes all the diference. I think this will become even more important in the future as the number of self-published books increases.

  29. This is some quality advice. Honest critique partners are the best. I'd rather receive adulation after I'm published that gushing praise that shows to be false when my book gets rejected because of how bad it is.

    Tossing It Out

  30. Ah, that's some really good advice. I can't wait until all I see from a crit is "you missed a period here." or something dumb like that! Thanks for the post.

  31. Great post.

    It is absolutely true self publishers have to take all the blame.

    Get it checked before you publish.

  32. A great post and reminder of the hard work that goes into writing a publishable novel.

    I love the synopsis!

  33. Shelley: CPs are essential. And if you find yourself in the company of great ones, consider yourself blessed.

    Arlee: Spare the rod, spoil the author. :)

    Devin: I remember the first time it happened to me and I said: Wait. What? That's all you found? LOL.

    Al: Very true. And the reverse is true too. If it's great, you get all the glory.

    Rebecca: Thank you!


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