Am I Ready To Publish?

January 29, 2013


A new author recently asked me what steps she should take to publish the book she’d just finished writing. My first reaction was to wonder what draft number she’d completed. How much editing had she done? Then, how many independent readers had she found?      Terry AbroseBio

It was more than 25 years ago when I wrote my first book. I thought it was really good…my wife thought it was good…at least, that’s what she said…and, yes, we are still married. Then, I joined my first critique group, a small band of seasoned writers who’d been writing and traditionally publishing mysteries for many years. Did they dislike it? No, they hated it. Adverbs, adjectives, too much exposition, not enough action…I thought the list would never end. Undaunted, I went back and rewrote again and again because there were no other options. At one point, I became desperate to better understand their critiques and used three colored highlighters to mark my draft. Blue was for exposition, yellow for dialog, and pink for action. Imagine my surprise when my page turned into a sea of blue with smatterings of yellow and pink. It was time to rewrite—again.

Over the years the need for those highlighters gradually faded, however, my need for solid critiques from tough readers hasn’t lessened. One of the best things writers can do is to join a critique group. But, assuming you’ve already done that, how do you get that completed manuscript read and edited?

Pay for an editor

There are thousands of “editors” out there who will tailor their services to what you’re looking for. A good editor is worth every penny; a bad one, a waste of money. One option for checking out a prospective editor is Preditors and Editors ( Another option is to just ask other writers, get a name, then call or email the editor and conduct an interview. After all, this is a job and you’re the boss. If the editor tells you that she worked with someone on a particular book, go find a copy and look for an acknowledgement.

Manuscript swap                                 Terry Ambrose

If you don’t have the money for a professional editor, or if you want others’ opinions before you start spending money, think about a manuscript swap. The easiest way to find people who would be willing to swap manuscripts is to go where they hang out. Today, that can be as simple as joining a writing organization such as Sisters in Crime or Romance Writers of America. Recognize, however, that a swap is a swap. It means you’ll be doing a lot of editing of other people’s work, which is good because seeing other people’s mistakes makes it easier to spot our own.

Find beta readers

The most difficult challenge of all will be to build a network of people who will read your work and critique it before it goes to publication. This network doesn’t include your mom; she’s going to love what you wrote. It doesn’t include your best friend because only one of two things can happen: you’ll lose a friend or you’ll just get a “nice job” for feedback. I’m not sure there is a best way to find beta readers. It seems to be one part pure luck and one part perseverance. However, I recently discovered a friend who has read both of my books and considers herself an excellent proofreader and critic of crime fiction. Guess what? She’s getting the next manuscript to review before publication and a signed copy of the book afterwards as a thank you for helping me out.

One of my favorite questions lately to ask writers is, how do you want readers to remember you? Do you want to be remembered as a writer who put out lots of mediocre books or a few good ones? I’d rather be in the latter group. In the end, I think the extra time is worth it.

How do you feel about the quality of books being published? Is it going down? Do you have tips about how to get a manuscript reviewed that I haven’t covered here?

About Terry Ambrose

Terry started out skip tracing and collecting money from deadbeats and quickly learned that liars come from all walks of life. He never actually stole a car, but sometimes hired big guys with tow trucks and a penchant for working in the dark when “negotiations” failed.

In Terry’s new release, License to Lie, a criminologist and a con artist learn that with $5 million and their lives on the line, you can never trust a soul…even your own. T. Jefferson Parker, author of The Jaguar and The Border Lords said, “License to Lie is fast and well written, almost sure to satisfy discerning readers of thrillers.”
Learn more about Terry on his website at or on his Facebook author page at

• Posted in Blog • Tags: , , , , , , , , |  Comments Off on Am I Ready To Publish?

0 thoughts on “Am I Ready To Publish?

  1. Carla, that’s a great attitude and one that will serve you well as you move forward. The other great quote I heard recently that applies here is, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” I applaud you for being cautious!

  2. It’s important to be able to accept constructive criticism as a writer. None of our words are written in stone. But as you say, when you feel you’ve done your best, that is a good time to reach out for input. Also, if what you write isn’t something folks might enjoy reading, are you writing for your own pleasure or for the market? And how would you know until you send it out for feedback?

  3. I had my second book read & critiqued by my best friend, who happens to be my target audience…and did I mention brutally honest? Her input was invaluable and I made several (small to moderate) changes, and added segues that made for a much more cohesive novel. Great tips, Terry. As always, Nancy’s blog is the one I read!

    1. Hi Carol, those critiques by good friends can be pretty tough. But, the good news is that you saw the value and acted on it. I hope that the experience deepened the friendship rather than causing problems!

  4. Nice article, Terry, and timely for me. I’m at that stage with my novel, Rim to Rim–Death in the Grand Canyon. I interviewed an editor, one who put on a good program for our writers’ group. He specialized in story arcs which was a good thing because the spelling and typos on his website were bad. I contacted his reference. She really liked him, but didn’t like that he directed her to a “publisher” who required her to buy 500 books !!! He’s out.
    Yesterday, I signed up with an editor used by a woman in my critique group. Her books are well edited. It pays to check out perspective editors.
    Thanks, Nancy, for including Terry on your blog.

    1. Thanks Jeanne. You are correct in that not checking out references can be a very costly mistake. You can also check Preditors and Editors for info on editors. I’m glad you found someone who will work out for you. One thing to make sure of is that you and the editor agree on the range of compensation. That way, you won’t get surprised later on! I know some that have been! Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Well said, Terry. I’ve relied on critique groups since I first started writing and I don’t feel confident about anything until they’ve sliced and diced it. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right writing partners, but they’re pure gold once you do.

  6. I totally rely on my critique partners and then my editors to scour my work. Occasionally I’ve used a beta reader, too. If I were self-publishing, I’d definitely hire an editor. No matter what stage your writing, you still need an objective evaluation of your work.

    1. I really like beta readers for after everything has been edited, reworked, and is, supposedly letter perfect. But good beta readers will then turn around and tell you that you, the editor, the critique group, and everyone else who looked at the manuscript missed a typo on pages 84, 97, etc., etc. It’s amazing how those little details get missed, but also how they detract from the final quality.

  7. i think so Occasionally I’ve used a beta reader, too. If I were self-publishing, I’d definitely hire an editor. No matter what stage your writing, you still need an objective evaluation of your work

  8. Your retrospective post is a lesson in patience and determination. Some writers publish before they are ready and sink themselves before they’ve learned to swim. Good advice.

  9. Terrific advice!
    I’m reading a book now that was, sadly, not ready to publish. It’s a terrific story, but the rookie mistakes make it difficult to enjoy.

    1. Hi Cheryl, for me, that makes it much harder to want to go back and pick up that author’s next book. There are so many authors to choose from, why select those that don’t get the basics right? Is the story good enough that you’d try this author again? Or will you be putting them on a “don’t bother” list?

      1. Because I know her, I will try her again. I don’t want to hurt her feelings, yet how do you give helpful feedback when the book is out and it’s too late? She got in a hurry to get a book published and rushed the manuscript IMO.

        1. Unfortunately, no matter how gentle you are, her reaction depends on how serious she is about being a good writer. If you approach her and ask if she’s interested in feedback about the book, you may get a sense of whether she’s looking for constructive criticism or will ignore it. If she says she’s interested, I’d start slow. Bring up one thing, get her reaction, then either move on to more items on your list or (if she becomes defensive or isn’t listening) just tell her you were glad to have a chance to read her book.
          You might even offer to read a prerelease version of her next book so she could get feedback before it’s in print. And, if she self-published the book, she can always make corrections now.