“Is my book done yet?” Notes from the 2013 Chicago Writer’s Conference, Part 1

If you’ve been doing this writing thing long enough to have the confidence to actually tell people you meet for the first time that you’re a writer, I’ll bet that at least 50% of the time the next words out of their mouth will be “Cool! Who’s your [agent, publisher]?”

If you are still working on your first book, this response can completely shatter any confidence you may have had in yourself as a worthwhile person. It can also make you really anxious to start hunting down an agent.

But while non-fiction writers can approach agents (or publishers) with nothing more than a book proposal and a couple of sample chapters, we fiction writers have to finish writing (and rewriting) our entire manuscript first.

OK. I’ve got a complete draft. How do I know my manuscript is ready to send out?

At the Meet the Agents session of the recent Chicago Writer’s Conference, Marcy Posner of FolioLit advised us to put our finished manuscript in a drawer somewhere and not look at it for at least a month. “Work on something else,” Posner said. “Write something else.”

After at least a month has passed, pull your manuscript out again, and make sure you still think it’s completely done.

“The most nerve-wracking words for me are ‘I’m just going to send it out and see what happens’,” added Amanda Luedeke, literary agent at MacGregor Literary. “At some level that means you know it could be better. Don’t pitch it until you fix whatever that is.”

Ok. My novel’s perfect now. Really. I’ve done everything I can think of.

That must mean it’s time to ask someone else. (Not just your mom.) Join a writing critique group and have them sign off on your manuscript too.

Don’t have a critique group? Self-published new adult author Aubrey Rose has some interesting ideas for how you can use Goodreads to find beta readers.

If you can’t find either a critique group or a reliable set of beta readers and you have the means, you can pay a freelance editor $2,000-10,000 to critique your novel.

Once your critique group, beta readers, or freelance editor have signed off on it, your manuscript is ready to go.


At this point, I highly recommend that you pause for a moment and celebrate your own awesomeness. This is a tremendous achievement.

You totally rock!

Go ahead, have a few people not involved with this blog tell you so. Don’t be shy. Savor their admiration, because whether you decide to publish your manuscript yourself or to hunt down an agent or publisher, the next set of people you’ll work with are less likely to fawn over you.

Next week: My book is done. What next?

Related Links:

See my entire series of articles on the Chicago Writer’s Conference.


  1. Nice post, Shala! At another CWC panel, one writer asked about finding beta readers. I talked to him for a little bit and said he could try and seek out students who are finishing up an editing certificate program and wanting to break into the industry. They might offer a free sample critique or cheaper rates than an established editor. Thanks for the Goodreads tip and link!


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