Is my work ready for primetime? How do you tell?


In another thread, I was asked to start a new topic on this subject so I am. Here are a few things I can say on the subject.

#1 - You have to catch the readers attention and provide them with incentives to keep reading. This is known in the industry as “being compelling.” If you feel you need to do a bunch of “setup” work you probably aren’t starting your book at the right place. Readers (whether they be agents, publishers, or readers) will give you scant little of their time early on, so make that time count. In particular. If you can’t get them “hooked” within 5 pages, your work probably isn’t ready for prime time. If you want an example of this read the opening of my short “The Thieves” When you get to the line that reads: If they say to avoid them, there’s a good reason.” You are at the end of the 5-page mark (when using standard submission formatting (double spaced, 12 pt, Times New Roman, with 1" margins).

#2 - Don’t be wordy! Your writing needs to be “tight.” Again, in those first five pages (in particular) every word should play a part, and if it doesn’t get rid of it. Be ruthless with your line edits. Let me give an example…

  • He sighed, his shoulders slumped as he considered the possibility that he had to talk to a stranger.

Do you see all the extra words? I can easily pair it down to:

  • He sighed, his shoulders slumped as he considered talking to a stranger.

Both say the same thing but the second does so with six fewer words – words that provide NO VALUE.

#3 Does your piece meet the length requirements of the target? YA tends to run shorter, fantasy, longer. But if you have written a 48,000 “novel” and think it’s ready to submit to a fantasy publisher – you’re wrong. It has to be at least 80,000 (the sweet spot probably being 90,000).

#4 Does your story continuously give your readers a reason to keep going? I make the analogy that it’s like the movie ET when Elliot is trying to get ET out of the shed and does so by placing Reeses pieces on the ground at regular intervals. You have to entice your reader. Get them to the bottom of the page, the end of the chapter, and on to the next. Look at what Dan Brown did with The Da Vinci Code.

#5 Get the opinions of others – and hopefully people who don’t know you personally. This means beta readers and critique partners. If you ask them if they feel it is “ready” and they all come back to “not yet” then you have more work to do.

I may think of more but those are the "big things for now.

Here's A Dash Of Cold Reality For All Of Us As Writers
Research Question: What constitutes a GOOD book cover versus an AMAZING cover?
ADVICE NEEDED // how to make a compelling first chapter

THANK YOU for posting this!!!

This rule of thumb never occurred to me, but now that you say it, it’s obvious. And mentally, I’m connecting it to this advice from Orson Scott Card.

I think I could better internalize every point of your post, but that jumped out at me.


I think it’s really difficult to describe how to tell if something is ready for primetime. In addition to Michael’s wonderful list, I would add a few of my own:

  • Grammar and punctuation. The grammar and punctuation need to be perfect. I’m not talking about a typo here or there. I mean, if you need an editor to correct grammar or punctuation in your story, the manuscript isn’t ready for primetime. Grammar and punctuation are part of writing, like it or not. They are as important as the actual words, because they tell the reader how to read those words.

  • Structure. The structure needs to be right for the story. If you don’t understand how structure works in your story – or how the structure is being used to enhance the story – then chances are your story isn’t ready for primetime.

  • Pacing. Do you know how to pace your manuscript as a whole? Do your plots and subplots resolve in the right order at the right time? Is your middle compelling? Do key story events fall at the right time? If you’re not sure, chances are your manuscript isn’t ready for primetime.

  • POV. Is your story written in the right POV for the STORY, or did you make a certain POV fit because you find it easier to write? Is the story being told through the eyes of the right character?

  • Commercial elements. Does your story have a protagonist who is driving the action? Does he or she have skin in the game? Is there a clear goal with consequences for failure? Common reasons for rejection include low stakes, passive protagonists, and lack of a compelling goal.

  • Filler. There is none. Everything in the book serves a purpose.

  • Pro-level writing. This one is just hard to describe, and unfortunately, it’s the one that plagues a large percentage of aspiring writers. Just being able to put together a sentence or a paragraph or a story doesn’t mean a person is able to write prose that someone is willing to pay for. Professional-level writing has a certain flow to it, and without that, the manuscript just isn’t ready for primetime.


Thank you so much for all of this information!

I agree that one of the biggest skills a writer can develop is how to cut their darlings and be ruthless with editing their own work. I’ve gotten a lot better at it and my story has been much more successful because of it. You have to be able to tell what a reader wants to read, not just what you want to write.

Definitely going to bookmark this!


You are very welcome.


If you possibly can, attend a writing workshop run by a good writing organisation. A lot of conventions have workshops, often run by pro writers with visiting pro editors. They will tell you very clearly where you are on the learning curve. It may cost but you are investing in your career.


Good tip