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Is Your Writing Good Enough to Publish?

My first book was completed: a 155,000-word fantasy taking two years to first draft. It had been, for the most part, a wonderful experience, and a lot of fun. I’d had no training and it looked pretty good to me. Just to be sure, I sent it off to an editor for a report:

Paraphrasing his words, his said:

“You clearly have a thorough grasp of this genre, but you don’t know how to write fiction. It’s 45,000 words too long!”

It seemed an absurd reduction – surely the story couldn’t hold together. But he was a book editor for the New York Times, how I couldn’t ignore him? I took two years out to learn to write fiction. I re-edited my book and surprisingly it ended up 43,000 words shortly with no loss of story content and a far better read. The result was a book people said they couldn’t put down. He was right.

— It was a wake-up call –

So how do you tell if your writing is ready for publishing?

Well, I can tell you this: don’t believe a word you hear from friends, family and colleagues. They can’t give you an honest opinion. In fact, the worse your writing is, the harder it is for them to feed that back to you. You have to use independent readers. These you can pay for, or find authors you can swap with; or you can commission an editor’s report, as I did.

But is there a quick and easy check to do yourself, to give you some idea where you stand?

To do a thorough job is lengthy, involved, requires training and years of experience, and much of it is subjective. But here are five easy and tangible measurements you can perform on your writing, that if you pass, is a reasonable indication you’re ready. Several of these are ones that leap out to editors and end up with busy publishers binning manuscript submissions as early as the first page.

Five Indicators that You’re Not Ready to be Published

1. Rookie writing check A

  1. Get your word processor to count the number of times you use the word ‘that’ in your book.
  2. Now divide the total book word count [again from your word processor] by the number of that
  3. If the result is less than 140, you have some work to do.


word count = 100,000 words

Number of ‘that’s = 800

100,000 / 800 = 125 — Work to be done!

2. Rookie writing check B

Do you start sentences often with ‘He’ or ‘She’. Such writing resembles a set of stage directions. Restructure 8 out of 10 of these sentences to avoid this.

3. Lazy writing check

Count the number of adverbs and adjectives ending in ‘ly’ over say 20 pages. If the count on average is greater than two per page, you have work to do. And you can’t just delete them – they’re an indication of lazy writing where you haven’t tried to build a picture in the reader’s head of what they should be seeing (google Show vs Tell. You’ll find plenty to read about it).

4. Erratic POV check

Do you stick to one character’s view point per scene. This is called Point of View (POV). Flitting between different character’s thoughts and observations is a serious absorption killer. Also, is your POV mostly the LEAD character for the book overall – it should be. If you do need to go to another character, then use a new chapter, or add a blank line within a chapter, indicating a scene or perspective change.

5. Unnecessary Scenes

Do you have scenes or chapters that aren’t helpful to the reader? Rookie writers often feel they have to fill a story with a lot of content to create a thicker book. It creates dull, uneventful reading and kills absorption and tension (see my article Spotting Unnecessary Scenes for more information).

How did you fare?

This is far from the complete list, and if you failed on one or more of the above, you can feel pretty confident you’re not ready for publishing.

But don’t feel bad, unlike our imagination, we’re not born with natural writing skills, and we have to learn them. Sure, you can get by and write what appears to be a good book to you. But without training, it’s never going to be more than a silhouette of its full potential.

You spend so much mental energy and time writing something as large as a novel. Why then skimp at the end, and taint something of which you can be truly proud…

So did you pass? Let me know below in the comments section at the end of the page.

Want a comprehensive insight into writing, publishing and selling your books? This guide covers the questions you need answering.

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Miles Allen Author picture

About Miles Allen

Miles changed careers in 2008 from Senior Systems Designer in aviation to be a fantasy author. His first book hit No 1 on Amazon for Epic Fantasy and knocked The Hunger Games from the top slot in Waterstones. In 2010 he started a self-publishing business, and began bi-weekly creative writing meet-ups in Kent called NAGS.

He continues to write, run NAGS and teach creative writing courses to all levels. He’s delivered 5-star-rated courses for  Canterbury Christchurch University and North Kent College.

“It was great having Miles teaching to us today.
It’s given me some fantastic things to
think about – a very inspiring speaker,
thank you for a brilliant session.”

Emily Dorsett Beard

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