Polish Your Manuscript Ready for Submission

I hope 2018 is off to a great start for you! From the beginning, straight to the end, following on from the last post on motivation, here’s my advice on getting your manuscript ready for submission. This article was originally written for Writers & Artists, but it received such a good response, I thought I’d share it with readers here…

BookofRevengecoverPublishing is one of the most competitive industries in the world, so when you send your manuscript out on submission, you need to make sure it is as polished as possible. You also need to provide an insight into you as an author. A publisher or agent will be looking for talent, but they also need to know that you are professional, that you are dedicated to your writing, and that you will be agreeable to work with. Although the manuscript is ultimately yours, a published book requires collaborative effort and so when an agent or publisher reads your submission, they will be considering all of these aspects. Here are a few practical things to look for before you send out your manuscript, to give it the best possible chance of success.


You’ve redrafted and redrafted your manuscript and are too close to see any glaring mistakes; here are some common editorial issues to look out for, so you can really polish your manuscript before you hit send.

One Line Pitch

Reducing your manuscript into one line is challenging, but it gives you focus. It also functions in two useful ways; it provides you with a succinct description of your book for your cover letter, and it also serves as a reference point for your own writing. When you reread your manuscript, does it match your one liner? If not, something is wrong – it could be a simple fix or another rewrite, but if alarm bells are ringing, give your manuscript more time.

Read Out Your Dialogue

This sounds obvious but there is no better way to know whether your dialogue is working than to read it aloud. If any dialogue is tricky to say or sounds out of place, it needs more work. This is slow and time consuming, but essential: flabby or unconvincing dialogue pops off the page and can really let a good story down.


Look out for sections that slow the action down or cause distraction, such as unnecessary descriptions or information dumping. Are your chapters fluid and do they end in a way that makes you want to read on? The middle section of a manuscript is typically where pace suffers before editorial input – see if you can tighten and prune before hitting send.

Capitalise on Emotion

Every story takes a reader on an emotional journey – so what do you want your readers to feel? Do you want them to be blubbing, splitting their sides laughing or too scared to read on but too hooked not to? Once you have your story, your characters, your redrafted manuscript, reread to see whether you have managed to evoke the desired emotions. If it’s not working for you, it won’t work for your reader either.


When you submit your book, it’s not just about your manuscript – you also need to make sure that you are sending desirable material to the right people, in the right way.

Choose Wisely

Is the agent or publisher you are approaching even interested in your genre or the age group you are writing for? This may sound like an obvious question, but despite the wealth of information available online, publishers and agents are constantly bombarded with manuscripts that don’t fit their criteria. It may seem time consuming to check every detail, but submitting work that is not relevant to an agent or publisher will result in instant rejection. Save embarrassment and unnecessary heartache by doing your research.

Presentation is Important

Have you studied and adhered to the submission guidelines requested by the publisher or agent you are approaching? Each will have their own way of working and their own requirements and it is important you follow these exactly. Agents and editors are extremely busy, so they expect to receive manuscripts in the format requested; submissions that do not meet the requirements may go unread. Make sure that you double-check everything on the submissions page of the website before you hit send.

Be Patient

Although it might be tempting to send your manuscript on submission because you’re hungry to get published, sending it out too early will be detrimental to your chances of success. You only have one opportunity to submit your book to a publisher or agent, so don’t send it anywhere until you are completely sure that you have made every improvements possible.


Literature is subjective and so not every agent or publisher is going to like what you send – they have to be behind it 100% to be able to take you on. So if someone takes time to give you feedback, read their suggestions objectively and see what you can learn. Everyone experiences rejection in the publishing industry, so try not to let it dampen your spirits. I’d love to hear all about your progress – and I guarantee, if you dedicate your time, if you strive to become better at your craft, if you write your stories with heart and keep going, you will make progress.

Keep writing, keep improving and never give up! 


Some favourite Wordsparks so far…

Last week, I posted about the Wordspark writing prompts blog on writing.ie. This week, I’d like to share a few of my favourite responses from the readers so far…


“Breathes life, takes life, one of life’s pleasures, dead, alive.”

by C. J. Black

(In response to Description:  Describe the sea in just ten words, for someone who has never seen it.)

“Clouds fall, pluming to the wave’s tumbled height
Rolling, reflected, on the salt-damp bight”

by Guy le jeune

“Away in the distance is where I stand
My forgotten pieces strewn on the sand”

by Sean Marshall

(Both in response to a photo-inspired rhyming couplet Wordspark)


“Those pesky giant walking broccoli plants were pushing at the kitchen window again, AND Sara was down to her last bottle of Sancerre.”

by irishherault

(The Prompt: to write an opening line based on a photo)


We’d run down the Mill Lane, up the stairs and onto the bridge for the mail train from Strabane. We’d stand right over the line as the train hurled underneath and it was all smoke and steam and fury. Our faces would be black and when we got home me mother would give out stink. This one day we went down to catch the smoke and Eddie was there beside the tracks. Me mother said Eddie wasn’t all right—you’d see him standing on the lane, laughing at the sky. We climbed up to the bridge and we could still see Eddie just standing there, talking to nobody. In the distance we heard the clatter and saw the trail of smoke. Eddie jumped up on to the rails with his hands held above his head. We all shouted for him to get out of the way but he just stood there, yelling all sorts. The train screamed and whistled and squealed. We couldn’t look, but we couldn’t look away. There must have been the length of sweeping brush between the front of the engine and Eddie. That was the day when Eddie McCrae stopped the mail train from Strabane

by Guy le jeune

At the back of our house, across the fields, ran the train line. When Da passed on his way to Cork or Limerick he would beep the horn and we’d flash the light on and off to let him know we heard him. On his way home, he’d beep again to let Ma know he was on the way. Da didn’t drive a car, only a train.
We weren’t allowed near the railway line. Ma and Da would go mad when they found out we were up there. We went to pick blackberries, and the best ones were always along the railway. One day, Da passed on the train and saw us. He beeped the horn and put his fist up at us. We knew he was going to kill us when we got home so we stayed out for ages ’til we thought he’d be gone to bed. He always went to bed when he came home if he’d been driving through the night. He was still up when we got home and there was murder. When Da went to bed for a few hours, Mam still made jam with the blackberries we collected. My Ma made deadly jam.

by Patricia Nugent

(In response to: write a piece of flash fiction of less than 200 words, inspired by the postcard shown.)


Last, but certainly not least, I’m including the opening paragraph of our festive-themed Wordspark of a short story under 1000 words. There’s a link at the end to the rest of the story, which I highly recommend: this piece received the most responses from other readers/writers.

Away in a Manger by Sinead O’Hart

I knew better than to turn on the main bathroom light – the noise of the fan alone would be enough to wake Simon up, and that was the last thing I wanted. I just wished I’d had the foresight to unwrap the thing beforehand, but I took it slowly and kept the rustling to a minimum. As I worked to open the packet, I kept the bathroom door open, just a crack, enough to hear him if he moved, but there wasn’t a sound from the bedroom besides my husband’s gentle breathing. Once I’d freed it from the wrapping, I closed the door to our ensuite as gently as I could, and just got on with it. I wondered, as I sat down, whether it was a marketable skill, this ability I had to pee accurately in the pitch darkness – I guessed it really was true about practice making perfect. How often had I done this, now? I’d long ago lost count. Read more…

(Please note: these favourites were originally posted on writing.ie)

Anyone need a writing prompt?

Australia, Blue Mountains

I remember sun. I think I quite liked it!

I’m back! I’ve reached the finish line and my book is now with my agent – phew! I’ve also managed to squeeze in a few writing competitions along the way.

Luckily, just like the lovely Hazel Gaynor, I’m brimming with new ideas. But I realise that isn’t always the case…Which is partly why I write the Wordspark blog for writing.ie

If you haven’t yet heard of writing.ie, it’s a wonderful site set up by Vanessa O’Loughlin for writers at all stages of their career. Although Ireland-based, it’s suitable for writers anywhere in the world. If you haven’t already, take a peek. There’s so much info on there from some of the world’s top best-selling authors, it’s an invaluable resource.

But back to ideas for your writing…

The idea behind Wordspark is to get creativity flowing. The prompts can be used to fire up the imagination as a pre-writing/editing exercise or to spark off a piece that can be sculpted into a competition or journal submission further down the line.

It’s a little extra help, when needed.

Here are a few of the #wordsparks already posted – take your pick and join in!

Description – ten words describing the sea

Postcard Prompts x3 – Trains, Art and Balloon Sellers

Rhyming Couplet – using a photo as inspiration.

There’ll be plenty more coming. If you find them useful, stay tuned!