The truth is: you never do. Not 100% anyway. But your gut and your heart and some writerly know how can tell you if what you have is a diamond ready for fitting into a ring, or just a shiny stone only you like. Luckily, there are ways to gauge your submissions before they disappear into the clouds of submission land and give yourself a reality check to know if your work is ready for submissions.
- Have you given the story more than one revision? A majority of my stories have been read and tweaked upwards of 15 to 20 times, and that's being conservative. If you gain nothing else from this entire post, hell this entire website, hear this: your first draft is crap, revise it. Yes, there will be some good things coming out of your work, but the first, second, or even third draft is NOT ready to be submitted anywhere.
- Have you let others (who aren't your relatives) read and critique the work? The people you have read your work represent your potential readers and what they think can tell you what a potential publisher or agent thinks. Don't brush off strong negative reactions to your work, they may be the red light you need to revise the story more before sending it out.
- What is your gut telling you? Seriously, your "gut feeling" is a strong signal to telling you whether that story is ready. If you're sick to your stomach over the idea of submission, then it's time to revise again. If you're nervous to click "Send," then revise. If you're so excited to submit your work you're coming unglued, then submit with reckless abandon.
- Have you read and reread the guidelines, submission instructions, and formatting requirements from the publisher/agent? Have you followed them? If you think your submission doesn't need to conform to the agent or publisher's rules because it's "too good," then you have serious problems. Writing involves passion and storytelling, but there is also a series of hoops to jump through when it comes to publishing. If you aren't a good listener, if you don't work well with others, if you can't follow the rules, then the publishing machine has no use for you.
- Do you like the work you've created? Are you happy after you read the piece and feel positively about it? If your heart is not in it, and you don't particularly care for or about the story, then why would you expect anyone else to? Only submit work you feel confident in and that you, yourself would want to read.
- What have previous submission places said about that piece? If you've submitted the story somewhere else in the past, then their level of rejection can push you in a new direction. Rejections which say, "A little too over the top," or, "Not enough tension to publish at this time," are clues to tell you exactly where the deficiencies lie in your tale. Work from these comments (if you're lucky enough to get them) to strengthen your work before sending it out again.
Are there other ways you use to determine if your work is ready? Leave comments below and tell me about your submission experiences.