3 Tests That Can Help Determine Readiness for Publication

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

I think one of the most common questions writers have is: Am I really good enough? 

That question is related to these: How do I know if my writing skill is of publishable quality? And how can I tell if my story is something readers and publishers will like?

I remember after I'd finished writing The Preacher's Bride (my first published book), I sat back, stared at the screen, and said to myself, "Is this good enough? Or is it just a bunch of junk?"

I couldn't keep from agonizing. Was I good enough to pursue an agent and publication? Was I ready to get into a critique group and enter contests? What if I was terrible and nobody liked what I'd written?

It was at that point I had a conversation with my very wise mom. And I remember her saying, "What have you got to lose by sending it in?"

She was right. The first step all writers have to take at some point is swallowing that lump of fear and putting our work out there for others to look at.

Yes, that first time we let someone else read our writing, we're filled with embarrassment and anxiety. We can't keep from cringing, waiting for the blow of criticism but desperately hoping for an encouraging pat.

I eventually took that initial step with The Preacher's Bride, even though I was uncertain about letting go. I entered it into a couple of contests and paid for a critique.

And you know what? I survived the experience. I even learned a few things.

I learned that I wasn't God's gift of writing to the world. I still had quite a bit to learn, that in fact I would always need to learn new things.

But I also realized that I didn't totally stink and that I was finally getting close to readiness for publication. I eventually finaled in a national contest for unpublished writers, obtained an agent as a result, and then signed a three book contract.

But did I really have to leave my readiness up to chance? Is there a way for writers to have a modicum of confidence about their work before sending it out? What are some ways we can gauge our readiness for publication?

Obviously, there are no hard, fast rules about when a writer is ready for publication. Every writer has a unique time table, with varying amounts of talent and ability. But in hindsight, I can see that I was more ready for publication than I'd realized because of these three things:

1. Learning the craft of writing over a period of years. Before I wrote The Preacher's Bride, I'd been studying the craft of writing for over a decade. I'd accumulated shelves of reference books. I'd checked out every library book on writing I could get my hands on. And I'd kept notes on all I'd learned, continually reviewing everything.

Not only was I sponge soaking up information about writing, but I was also constantly challenging myself to practice those techniques as I wrote. In other words, I'd already laid a solid foundation well before I wrote The Preacher's Bride.

2. Writing and completing a number of books. I didn't wake up one morning, decide to write a book, and then type up The Preacher's Bride. It was in fact the fifth completed novel I'd written in addition to the few that I'd started but never finished.

I'd had plenty of practice taking a story from a grain of an idea and plotting it all the way to completion. I'd already learned how to shape a character's arc as the story unfolds. And I knew how to structure my book by scenes and sequels. That didn't mean the book was perfect. Far from it. But I'd already worked most of the amateur mistakes out of my system.

3. Keeping a humble and teachable attitude. The sign that we're concerned about our writing being up to par is a very good quality to have. Nowadays, I see far too many writers who are over-confident, who do think they're God's gift to the writing world, and who don't see the need to learn and hone their writing before attempting publication.

If I had to err in my readiness, I'd much rather be too cautious than rush into publication before I'm really ready. If we're impatient the whole world will eventually be able to see that we weren't ready, and we'll possibly do our career more harm than good.

My Summary: Don't rush. Establish a solid foundation of learning, writing, and continuing to grow. And when you've done the hard work of getting ready for publication, then do a test run first by entering contests, getting involved in a critique group, or hiring a freelance editor. Better to get the feedback that you still need to do more work on your book before publication rather than after!

What about you? If you've already published, how did you know you were ready? And if you're uncertain about your readiness for publication, how do you measure up to the three tests I've listed?


  1. When I finished writing Sanctuary for a Lady, I remember looking at my computer screen and thinking. "This is it. I've done the best job I can possibly do on this manuscript (including working with a critique group) and can't make this book any better."

    That was a watershed moment for me, because I knew that if the book DIDN'T attract editor and agent attention, then I'd have to be done writing. I'd been writing for several years and was putting a lot of time and energy into it. So when I finished Sanctuary for a Lady, I knew I would either sink or swim.

    Thankfully I swam. I finalled in four contests, had requests from two publishers, and got an agent just before a publisher mad an offer.

    But that's a really scary place to be in, when you stare at your computer screen and just aren't sure whether you're good enough. I think every writer remembers that, even the best selling ones.

  2. I think knowing whether you're ready and getting the feedback that you are in fact ready is the most difficult part of publishing. (And patience is not my spiritual gift.)

    With the manuscript I'm finishing up right now, I've decided it's time. One way or another...

  3. Excellent, Jody! This honestly spoke to me today.

    Grateful for how helpful your blog is.

    Have a lovely day, today and same to everyone else! :-)

  4. Novel number two is off with a critique partner as I type this. Thank you, thank you for giving me confidence in my slow and steady trail!

  5. These points can be tough to swallow when you're just starting out and eager to get your career going. But they're all true and should be seriously considered. Thanks for keeping it real here, Jody. :-)

  6. After all the hard work you've mentioned, the "what have I got to lose" attitude is it. There's huge freedom that comes from submitting and failing. When you can survive that, you can keep going. And this freedom and commitment bleed into other aspects of life.

    As hard as it is, the process is a gift.

  7. Thank you for the wonderful advice!

    I loved The Preacher's Bride and Unending Devotion.

    Bless you!!

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed my books, Cheryl! Thanks for letting me know! :-)

  8. I've written one book and am now working on my second, but I've been a writer for a number of years, studying least, the nonfiction side of it. I've got degrees in journalism and English, so I *think* (and have gratefully received feedback) that my writing itself is at the level it should be. BUT I know my weakness is writing fiction and all the craft elements it takes to shape a plot. So now that I know that, I'm focusing on it. I'm attending the My Book Therapy Storycrafters retreat this month and will read craft books specifically geared toward plot and structure. And thankfully, I have an amazing critique partner who is fabulous with plotting and brainstorming! All in all, I'm enjoying the journey and where I'm at. Thankfully, I love to learn.

  9. Jody,

    As always, your posts are pertinent and timely. When rejections, even the "kinder, gentler" ones, come in, they makes us want to rail. But if we can look at each day, each page, each letter as an opportunity to grow, it can only makes us better at what we do AND who we are.

    Good reminder today - thanks,

  10. Another great post, Jodi. Thank you for taking the time to share this valuable information. I have entered contests and used the judges' feedback as an opportunity to improve. I joined Scribes, which helps tremendously. I hired a freelance editor and that's a game changer for me. She is showing me the areas where I need to improve before publication. I haven't published anything yet and I still look at chunks of my WIP and think it isn't any good. But for me, I know the places where I need to work hard and put in the time to make it better. But I also know I can't agonize over every single scene in my re-writes. There will come a time when I have to stop agonizing and take a risk and submit my work as a finished product.

  11. Hi Everyone! Thank you all for sharing your thoughts today!! As Lydia said above, these points can be very hard for beginning writers to swallow. The excitement and buzz on the internet tend to put publishing right in our face and within our reach. That makes it even harder for us to be patient and wait until we're ready!

  12. You wrote this for me, didn't you? :) I'm on my fifth ms and still waffling. I'm convinced I'm better at writing non-fiction than fiction, but I love the novel-writing. At my stage in life putting off querying is self-indulgent, yet I do it anyway because of the self-doubt. One of these days.....

  13. Excellent post. It's so hard to know when the time is right. Putting in the time to really work on the craft is excellent advice!

  14. I think the people who are in a rush often care more about getting published than they do about writing. I mean, most of us want to get published, but we should also find joy in the writing process. To those people who "hurry", I'd like to say, "If writing isn't fun at all, then why bother doing it?"

  15. I think I'm at a point where I'm more ready to step out into a publication future than I was. I've studied my craft and grammar books, joined a fabulous critique group, and I'm currently readying my wip for submission next year. Things didn't happen as quick I'd wanted, but I've learned it's because I still had a ways to go. You're right, you never stop learning, growth becomes part of a writer's life.

  16. I'm inching closer to the edge. I want the timing to be right. I want to be really ready. I used to want it now, but I've learned that I want it to be good first. Excellent post, Jody.

  17. Thanks for taking time for sharing this article, it was excellent and very informative. Its really very useful of all of users. I found a lot of informative stuff in your article. Keep it up.
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  18. Thanks for writing this article. I am writing my third novel and I know I have a long way before I am ready to publish. You gave me insight on how you are learning the craft of fiction writing.

  19. I wrote my first book and sent it to OakTara Publishing. I was naive. I thought my story was ready.

    When did I know it was ready? When OakTara accepted it AND my well-read friend who is a professional editor read the first few chapters and eagerly asked for more.
    He went on to edit the book for me and OakTara published it in 2011and wants to contract me for 3 more books.

    God is good! I love to learn more about the craft. I thoroughly enjoy it. I have a long way to go but it's been a great journey so far!

  20. that first time we let someone else read our writing, we're filled with embarrassment and anxiety. We can't keep from cringing, waiting for the blow of criticism but desperately hoping for an encouraging pat.

    The 1st time, the 400th time... Do you ever get over that fear of sharing your work? I still cringe when I re-read my earliest published works. One of my favorite authors, a best-selling SciFi writer with dozens of books published, says he still has a tinge of dread when he sends something off to his editor.

    I don't think my work is ever good enough, but I'm counting on my critique partners and editors to point me in the right direction. I'm anxiously awaiting their edits and hoping to go into final revision mode on my 1st novel next month. I'm going to give it my best shot, and move on.

    1. Great point, Char! I still get nervous too whenever I send my drafts to my in-house editors. And I get nervous before I get those first online reviews too, wondering how the book will be received by readers. Is always nerve-wracking!

  21. Interesting article and a reminder to all of us to just keep going. It is a long road with many bumps along the way. I like your mother's comment: What do you have to lose? Beryl

  22. I'm so grateful for your advice, especially since it's both realistic and encouraging. I know I have a long, long way to go before my skill set is publication-worthy, but I'm heartened by the knowledge that everybody has to start out querying sometime. :)


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