Posted On November 10, 2014 by Print This Post

Manuscript Readiness with Heather Webb

 Heather Webb joins us today to give us the crucial clues to know when our manuscript is ready to go.

Heather Webb Smiling
Manuscript Readiness: Time to Bust out the Checklist
By Heather Webb

Deciding when your manuscript is ready is one of the most difficult things of being a new writer…or even an experienced writer sometimes. (We’ve talked about this a bit in another post HERE about when to hire an editor.) But what about BEFORE the editor? A good place to start is to look at weak verb constructions and adverbs, abundant dialog tags, “telling verses showing”, etc. We’ve all heard this a million times. Though these pieces are important, don’t be fooled into thinking strong mechanics are enough for your book to be “ready” for submission. They’re nothing but superficial elements. If you want your book to grab that agent, or wow your readers—change their lives and keep them coming back for more of your books, you need to hit your manuscript HARD first, with a series of questions.

The list begins with:

(Because, let’s face it. Without a character we can love and a voice we can buy into, we close the book.) Questions to get us started are…
• What are your main character’s dreams? Their fears?
• Does your protagonist YEARN to attain their goals, to overcome these fears? Without yearning you have nothing.
• How does your character change over the course of their journey? Is there a shift from external to internal goals and if so, how?
• What unforeseen growth (or lack of it) happened IN SPITE of the protag’s ignorance of this need to grow?
• Did you properly portray the protag’s likeable qualities? Their weaknesses? Complexities are key!
• How do your protagonist’s weaknesses cause obstacles for them before they achieve their goal(s)?
• What noble (or horror-inducing) actions display the protagonist’s inner sensibilities?


• Can you discern a proper beginning, middle, and end?
• Why should the reader continue to read your 250+ paged novel? What is the lesson or moral your book reveals?
• How has the plot propelled forward? Is there a series of events that continue to escalate until the big CLIMAX?

• Are your characters’ actions anchored in description and sensory details? Have you made the reader hear the metallic clang of a chain fence, feel the rustle of silk on skin, or smell the fatty richness of bacon?
• Is the setting its own character? Is it lively, believable, vivid?
• Have you reflected the character’s emotions by their view of their surroundings? How has this aided in creating a mood or tone for your novel? Can you pinpoint specific examples?

• Does your book display the theme(s) you’re trying to communicate? Can you discern them in different parts of your novel?
• How do these themes shape your protagonist’s world view?
• Which additional themes can you weave into the story to enrich the messages in your novel?

• Have you made each chapter a mini novel within itself– beginning, middle, climax, and end?
• Are action-packed scenes filled with short, punchy sentences that move the narrative forward?
• Does each chapter finish leaving the reader wanting to turn the page?

• Have you developed the novel’s themes through the use of symbols? How so?
• Do your symbols reflect characteristics of your protag or antag?
• Is there a sense of foreshadowing illustrated through the use of these symbols?
So we have all of these great questions, but how do we know if we’ve REALLY answered them?
1. Give your ms a critical read with these questions in mind. Let it rest awhile if you need extra distance.
2. Get a critique partner or writing group on par with your level of craft or above your level.
3. Hire an editor if you need more help.

When you can answer all of these questions without hesitating only THEN is it polished to perfection and ready for submission.


Where are you at in your editing process? How can you tell when your manuscript is ready to go out the door?

On Wednesday join us for Multi-Author Collaborations with Eliza Knight and Stephanie Dray.


Bio: As a freelance editor, Heather spends oodles of time helping writers find their voice and hone their skills–something she adores. She may often be found twittering helpful links, sharing writing advice and author interviews on her blog Between the Sheets, or teaching novel writing in her community. Her favorite haunts are right here at the fabulous Romance and the award-winning

Her first women’s historical, BECOMING JOSEPHINE released to much acclaim in Jan 2014 and her second, RODIN’S LOVER, releases from Plume/Penguin as a lead title in 2015.

Visit her website: or find her on Twitter @msheatherwebb

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14 Responses to “Manuscript Readiness with Heather Webb”

  1. Hi, Heather. Great post! I’m printing it for my keeper file.

    Would you be able to expand a bit on the question about shifting from external to internal goals and how it’s done?

    As a romance writer I always try to have the external conflict somehow weave with the internal conflict throughout the story so I’m not sure what you mean by it shifting from one to the other.

    Thanks for a great post!

    Posted by Adrienne Giordano | November 10, 2014, 11:52 am
    • Hi Adrienne,

      Yes! Well, internal and external goals are often intertwined, especially in the case of romance novels. In high action or suspense novels, or highly plot-driven narratives, however, it’s easy to lose sight of the internal evolution a character should make, yet this is truly the most important element of the story–the piece that gives the reader a sense of resolution and satisfaction. I see this happen quite a bit in the works I edit that fit in these categories. But it sounds like you have it locked down! 🙂

      Posted by Heather Webb | November 10, 2014, 4:29 pm
  2. Hi Heather.

    Quite a comprehensive list. Gives me a lot to think about. Thanks!

    Posted by Maria Michaels | November 10, 2014, 1:02 pm
  3. Hi Heather,

    Great checklist. For me, establishing symbolism doesn’t happen right away. It takes time for the story to evolve in my head and on the page before it takes shape.

    Whether it’s a chapter or an entire ms, leaving it alone for a few days really helps and makes the editing process smoother. The first (and second) draft read like I’m trying to do too much. I refer to it as the kitchen sink draft.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | November 10, 2014, 4:24 pm
  4. Great article, Heather! I have nothing to add. Well done!

    Posted by Karen R. Sanderson | November 10, 2014, 5:26 pm
  5. Evening Heather!

    Oh questions! =) If the protag is yearning to overcome her fears, to get to the goal, is this something that starts a bit later in her arc? Does she not fight at the beginning against being pulled in to a situation, but has no recourse but to go ahead? Or is the yearning a secret yearning, that she doesn’t even admit to herself until she gets closer to attaining her goal!

    Help me understand oh wise one! =)


    Posted by Carrie Spencer | November 10, 2014, 9:15 pm
    • Hi Carrie!

      The yearning is essential from the beginning, though whether or not your protag knows what they’re yearning for depends on the character and the type of arc you’re aiming for. Sometimes a protag yearns for something that isn’t good for them and their goals change over the course of the story. Sometimes they don’t really know what they want or it’s something they can’t have. For example, say the main character loses a sibling they’re close to and the grief destroys her parents’ relationship. What the MC yearns for is healing, for her sibling to come back to life, for her family to be together again. This can’t happen so a big part of her arc is discovering what she DOES want in terms of goals. Yet, as the reader we must understand that what she really aches for is relief from her heartache and the ability to move on.

      The key to understanding which best fits your story is to write up a character map with your MC’s goals, motivations, biggest fear, and both the starting point in their understanding of self and where you would like for them to end up.

      Good question!

      Posted by Heather Webb | November 11, 2014, 6:14 am
  6. Bookmarking this won’t be enough. I need to print it and make copies to plaster all over my house. Seriously, I should wallpaper my office with it. I soooo need to remember all these things. And then comes the hard part, actually DOING everything you mentioned. It sounds so simple when you list everything. *sigh*

    Thank you!!!

    Posted by Becke Martin Davis | November 10, 2014, 10:24 pm


  1. […] Manuscript Readiness. From Romance University. By Heather Webb. Read more… […]

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