As a creative writing teacher, I usually focus on the craft and art of writing. We talk in class about sentence structure, story, pacing, character development; we discuss word choice and mood. But students are always hungry for something else, too; they want to know, of course, about getting published. They want to know about getting famous, about seeing their names in print. Here at Writerly Life, I want to satisfy that need as well, and provide what information I have about the typical publishing trail, from stories to agents to novels to everything in between. It’s about time to devote a little time to that issue once again, the issue of knowing when your story is ready to go out.
Let me preface this conversation with two warnings: first, anyone trying to become rich and famous by writing has been misled. That’s not really why writers write, and it’s extremely unlikely to happen. Instead, we can think about finding an audience, of entering the world of words, and strive for that. And my second warning is that your story is never really, totally, one hundred percent ready. Something more can always be done. And in fact, even if it is accepted somewhere, it will pass through another round of edits, another gauntlet or two of changes. The only thing we can do is make it the absolute best that we can.
In that way, knowing when our work is ready to be sent out might be a bit like sending children out the door. There’s no one moment when the story is all grown up, but there might be a moment when you just can’t have it under your roof anymore, and it’s time for that story to sink or swim. Before that moment, though, you can give it every chance in life. Here are a few key tests your story should be able to pass before you send it out.
1. Is it polished?
The first and most obvious criteria for a story is whether it has been polished to a professional level. Are there any grammar mistakes? Is the punctuation correct? Any typos? Have you read through for homonym mistakes, or just used spell check? Are the page numbers there? Is your name on every page? These little things are the easiest way to prepare your story, but they’re no less crucial for that.
2. Have you closed plot holes?
Have you read through the story and found everything to be logically consistent? Are there any continuity errors, like saying the character’s eyes are brown on page 3 but green on page 5? And in a larger way, does the ending make sense? Does the story make sense? Is it believable, or are there moments you halfway doubt? If there is even a moment that you think might be a little hard to believe, consider changing it. You, after all, are the person on the planet with the most inside understanding of this story, and if even you doubt a portion of it, there’s no hope for others to believe it.