• Manuscript Preparation: How to Do It Right

    Posted Posted by Guest Writer in Strategies     Comments 7 comments

    Workplace frustrationPicture this.

    You have a great idea for a story. You spend weeks, months, or years writing it, devoting countless hours and immeasurable energy to the project. Finally, you reach those magical words: The End. Now what?

    You know you’re in need of some manuscript preparation, but you’re so exhausted that the prospect feels like cruel torture. The thought of waiting even one more day to share your story with the world is equally unappealing. You want it done and you want it done now. So you tell yourself that your first draft is good enough (you hate revising anyway), and you send your book to print. Or you Google “editor” and hire the first result, crossing your fingers that she’ll perfect the manuscript for you. Or you send out for a proof, thinking grammar is all that needs attention.

    On the day you hold your finished work in your hands, you’re disappointed instead of elated. Your story has plot holes you hadn’t noticed, your main character is flat, and the text is riddled with typos. What happened to the high-quality piece of writing you envisioned? You think, This is what I bent over backwards for?!

    Not a pretty picture. Unfortunately, this sort of thing happens all the time. I know because I talk to these writers every day: disappointed writers, frustrated writers, regretful writers who wish they could travel back in time and do it all differently.

    Rather than lamenting the impossible, let’s learn from our mistakes and talk about how to do it right.

    [Tweet “”Finally, you reach those magical words: The End. Now what?””]

    Doing it right means having patience with the process. It means not rushing, not skipping steps or seeking shortcuts. The consequence of bypassing even one necessary step is a subpar manuscript, period. No exceptions. As Flannery O’Connor said, “You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.

    Whether you’re writing a book, a short story, or an essay, whether you’re working in fiction or nonfiction, whether this is your first piece of writing or your hundredth, there is a proper process for manuscript preparation that ensures quality. To end up with a manuscript you can be proud of, follow these steps:


    Content review

    Once you’ve drafted your piece and taken it as far as you can on your own, get objective professional eyes on it so you understand how it can be improved. When you know the piece can be better but aren’t sure how, it’s time for a manuscript critique.



    Based upon the feedback you’ve received in your critique, revise, revise, revise. Do it until the piece feels strong and successful; do it until you can’t possibly make it any better than it already is.

    As part of the rewriting process, you might opt for another critique or verbal feedback to ensure that the original issues have been addressed and that no additional issues have been created.



    Because it’s natural to edit as we write, some editing will have already been accomplished during the first two steps. Now is the time to finish the job.

    There are different kinds of editing (line editing, content editing, developmental editing, etc.), and not all will be appropriate or necessary. Every manuscript is different, with its own unique needs. That said, all manuscripts need editing in one form or another to smooth the prose and make the piece as effective as possible.



    A proof is the final step in the preparation of your manuscript. Simply put, a proof catches and corrects mistakes, of which there will be many. This step is often skipped (“Mistakes? I don’t make mistakes!”), then seriously regretted.


    At this point — and not a moment sooner — your piece will be ready for readers’ eyes. Whether you plan to publish or intend to share your writing with only your closest confidants, you’ll want to follow this tried-and-true manuscript preparation process in order to put your best foot forward and show your readers what you can really do.

    “Sometimes the whole writing process is like a maze,” a WBN client recently told me. “Good advice on how to find your way through to the end is sparse and often dotted with pitfalls.”

    Enter the labyrinth, but do so with eyes wide open. Enter armed with our good advice. Avoid pitfalls with this map to show you the way.

    [Tweet ““Sometimes the whole writing process is like a maze. Good advice … is sparse.””]


    Justine Tal Goldberg, ownerWriteByNight owner Justine Duhr is an award-winning writer and editor of both fiction and nonfiction. Her work has appeared in Anomalous Press, Whiskey Island, Fringe Magazine, The Review Review, and other publications. She holds an MFA in creative writing and has provided writing instruction at Vassar College and Emerson College.

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    This is an excellent piece. Some of us (in the 50+ age bracket) remember the publishing industry before the advent of desktop publishing. Back then, age-old habits of publishing companies (developed from 1501 through the 1890s) dictated the process of writing, rewriting, revision, editing, and proofreading before a story went to publication. The new technology is great, but the loss of the old process (and the professionals a writer worked with in that process) is hard. Writers, as you say, are lost and confused. We largely don’t know the process to follow, and how each step improves the quality of… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    You are so welcome, Sid. A post about different kinds of editing is a fantastic idea. I’m on it!

    Glynis Jolly

    I know there are writers who get sucked into believing their work is ready for the masses when it isn’t. Yet, somehow, I’m always shocked by this. I’m sure this is due to my perspective of the writing life, which isn’t shared by everyone. I’m closer to being finished with my first draft now. I don’t have any illusions as to how much more work it needs. I know that the entire story needs to be flushed out and then it needs to be more concise. The descriptions need to be more vivid and the characters need to be rounded… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    Thanks for sharing, Glynis. By simply being aware of the work that’s ahead, you’re preparing for it, and that will make the work itself both easier and more enjoyable. (Revision enjoyable? Yes, it is possible!)

    Please don’t dread the editing. Believe it or not, you want those oodles of changes because that’s how the piece will get better. As for the timeline, try not to focus on how long the process will take; just take it day by day.


    Hi Justine, I am very new at becoming an author and I’m just starting writing my first novel. I’m nowhere close to being done, but I’ve had some practice writing and editing on a fanfiction website. I used to get quite tired of editing, but have found how useful and fun it can be. Rereading my work has made me think of new ideas that will flesh out the story. I’ve also started entering contests on the website that have writing prompts that have given me ideas for the rest of the story. Editing is a crucial part of writing… Read more »

    Justine Tal Goldberg

    How right you are, Heather! There’s no such thing as enough practice when it comes to editing, revising, and writing in general. We are forever practicing and learning along the way.

    […] what kind? In our recent post on manuscript preparation, WriteByNighter Sid K. made the following request: “I hope you will follow up on this post by […]

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