When to Share Your Manuscript

I tend to get excited about my stories while I’m writing them. I fall in love with the idea and the characters and I want to share that excitement with other people even as I’m working on the story. But when should you share your manuscript with loved ones, friends, or your writing group?

There are two ends of this spectrum. I’ve seen writers share what they’re working on as soon as they have words on a page, and I’ve seen writers guard their manuscript and not share it with anyone except literary agents or publishers when they begin to submit their work.

I think the answer will be different for each writer, but today I have some things to consider regarding when to share your manuscript.

Let’s start with the hazards of sharing a manuscript too soon. Although as writers we’re excited about our work in progress, the truth is, we’re working on the first draft, so there will be errors. As a result, when we share our work, those listening to or reading the manuscript will want to provide feedback.

Let me run you through how my mind tends to work at this stage. I’m ecstatic about the story, so my initial assumption is that whoever I share it with will be just as enamored with the story, and they’ll tell me how great and wonderful the story is so far. There’s only one problem with this. I’m basing my excitement off the entire story that’s unfolding in my head, not on what’s made it onto paper at this point, which I’ll be honest, is probably riddled with errors.

The resulting feedback can be harmful in a couple of ways. One, the feedback can unintentionally manipulate the direction of the story. For example, if in introducing your characters, there’s a bit of flirting that goes on between the characters and that plays a big role in the section you’ve shared, the impression is that this love interest is a huge part of the story. The feedback you receive revolves around how integral this relationship will be to the plot of the story. And now you’re directing the story to make that relationship more significant than it was intended.

Perhaps that same scene shared as part of a 350-page manuscript would not have been as significant, or perhaps there was a minor error in adding too much weight to that scene, and it would have eventually been cut down. The problem is, if you’re influenced by feedback too soon, you may end up writing a different story than you wanted.

The second danger is hearing about major issues with the story, whether you have plot holes or an issue with a character, or any number of other things. These are things that may have worked themselves out as the manuscript developed. They may be things that are not even an issue in the context of an entire novel where pieces of the story are later revealed. There are lots of points in a story that my brain is working on and that are revealed later in the story. Things I’m not even aware of when I write a particular scene. But regardless of how your piece may have naturally developed, you now know that your first readers have a problem with something, and you may not have any idea how to resolve it. It can be such a huge problem that it squashes all the excitement you had and causes you to stop writing the story.

Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. Not sharing the story with anyone except the places where you’re submitting the manuscript. I understand the fear writers have of receiving criticism. As my friends, family, and writing group can all attest, I am a sensitive person. Therefore, criticism on my writing is hard for me to hear. But I also tell them, I want to hear about everything that is wrong. There’s no use holding back, because I want my story to be as strong as it can be before I send it out. And when I review the comments afterward, I can see the problems too, and it’s a lot easier to fix a problem when you know it’s there.

The thing is, you don’t want to have the first words of criticism you hear about your story to come from some stranger you’ve never met. You don’t have a chance to improve your work before you send it to an agent or publisher, if you’ve never let anyone else read it. I’d much rather hear about a problem in my story from someone I trust than have it pointed out to me by someone I’m trying to get to publish my story. And that’s only if you’re lucky. Most places will reject a story without providing reasons. That’s not to say they won’t have a lot of changes they want you to make to your manuscript, but catching as many errors as possible before submitting a piece could be the difference between a rejection and an acceptance. One of the most important observations you may have already noticed, is that writers are blind to certain errors in their own stories. They can find the same errors with ease in someone else’s story, but they can’t spot it in their own. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re a perfectionist, if you’re the only one reading your story, you’ll be missing errors.

I’m acutely aware of this in my own writing. I’m a perfectionist, spotting grammar errors is something I enjoy, and I am blind to all sorts of problems in my own writing. Sometimes I have to see the same error in several stories by other authors before it dawns on me that I have the same problem in my own work.

So when is the right time to share? Again, I think the answer will be different for everyone, but a good starting point is to wait until you’re done with the first draft of a story. A round of proofreading to clean up obvious errors, and making the manuscript coherent is also helpful.

There’s probably a difference for people who outline their stories versus those writers like myself who have an idea of the structure and direction a story is going, but who let the story unfold as they write it. In fact, I’d be most interested to hear from those who outline on whether that makes a difference on when they are comfortable with sharing their work.

In the end, it’s not a rule to follow. It’s about not impeding on your progress, not creating roadblocks, and allowing yourself the benefit of feedback from people you trust.

 

When do you find is the best time to share your manuscript? Do you outline, and does that make a difference to when you share your work? Tell me a story about when you shared a piece you were working on at the wrong time?

15 Comments


  1. // Reply

    I’m a big fan of iteration, and multiple phases of story rectification (as I’m sure you know 😉 ). I would say that most of the time, like 95-98%, I won’t show an incomplete story to anyone. I might talk about the concept with friends in person, but nobody sees anything till the first draft is done, at a minimum.

    That said, I did send the first chapter of my current “horror” novel to a couple friends while doing the first set of revisions, just to see if it was attention grabbing. Basically, I wanted to hear from true horror fans if my intro was working for them or not, and why.

    If I could, I would pass off my stories to “batches” of readers at different intervals as I continue to refine and distill. If I give something rough, I’ll emphasize that they should ignore typos and only look for story things (some of my “reader” friends who don’t write are really good at this). Other times, I’m looking for someone to help me hunt pesky typos, that as you put it “I can’t see.” I’m a visual reader, I can a line of text at a time and let my brain do the decoding, so typos are difficult for me to spot, though reading out loud helps. My eyes only seem to catch big issues.

    I would say, the more feedback you can get, especially from readers of the genre for your story, the better you can make it. Ideally, if I could fine 1000 dedicated fans willing to be guinea pigs for every story, then that would be a hell of a sample size, and I wouldn’t have to wonder if my story fits the market, I’d know that it does before I even finished the final rounds of editing.

    The big downside I think for writers at that point isn’t the fear of criticism, it would shift to the fear of stolen manuscript.

    Sorry this was so long, but I think about this topic a LOT, in terms of marketing, story strength, catching typos, etc. etc. etc. You could fill a book with this topic.


    1. // Reply

      You don’t have to apologize to me for long comments. I’ve left people comments that were longer than their original post. It’s always good when a post gets a person thinking about their own experiences, and even better when they share it with us!
      It’s unfortunate that there’s a need to be protective over your work to prevent it from being stolen. I’m not as concerned about it as I was when I first started, but I’ve recently heard a couple of stories about other authors having issues or suspecting another writer of trying to steal an idea, so it’s something that is on my radar.
      Like you, I can’t help myself from discussing my story ideas before the story is written. I haven’t had a bad experience from doing that yet, but I don’t yet know any writers in my immediate circle who write in the same genres as I do, and I don’t share the ideas in a public forum.
      Thanks for stopping by and sharing. I enjoyed reading your comment.


  2. // Reply

    Great post, Mandie! I have a confession: although I love writing and can probably see myself doing it for the rest of my life, I’ve never thought about publishing my work, so I can’t really think of a good time to submit manuscripts.


    1. // Reply

      If you don’t have any plans to publish your work in book form, maybe you could consider sharing it on your website. You could put them under a different section, or even post them in sections or by chapter. The one warning would be that once it is on your website it is considered published and you may have a harder time getting it published later if you decide to go through a publishing company.


      1. // Reply

        I already made some plans to publish that way as you mentioned. I already did so with a football fiction a few years ago. Also, I’ve decided to put my work on Wattpad. I have no actual plans to publish at the moment (I shouldn’t say never), but I want to be able to share my work even if its for free. ^.^


        1. // Reply

          That’s wonderful, EM! It can be a bit scary to share your stories sometimes, but it’s really rewarding.


          1. //

            Absolutely! And I appreciate critics even if they’re unusually harsh. 🙂


  3. // Reply

    Mandie, another thought provoking post. I do agree that having beta readers who read your genre is important and could be very helpful, but anyone who loves to read can recognize a good story. It’s probably best not to share a long story too soon if it is very rough. Better to let it rest a bit and then edit it. I can see where if you just share an outline then your reading group might end up steering the work somewhere that you hadn’t intended. That is something I hadn’t considered before.

    I guess over time I have come to believe in strong outlines. That way you are sure to tackle all the points and ways stories are meant to unfold and you are also sure you have a complete protagonist and antagonist and whatever else your genre requires. False clues, red herrings or something scary enough.

    That being said, as writers, I think out biggest learning curve is knowing what we want our readers to know, and when we want them to know it, and actually delivering that. What others will understand of my written words often escapes me and I often fail miserably with the spoken word. Communication is a complex two way process.

    By writing a complete outline, in long paragraphs, the writer will have addressed the complete story arc also. By doing all this jotting down and thinking you get to know all the characters very well and then when you do sit down to write you can let the creativity flow, but not all over the place.

    It is a disciplined way to write and I’m not there yet, but plan to be for the next book.

    Books are huge and complicated and I think we often don’t give ourselves enough credit just for trying. They are far more complex than a short story or a thesis. Both of the previous are huge undertakings and impressive, but the sheer size of a book makes it so much more to keep track of. Perhaps because paperbacks are fairly inexpensive and people just throw them away we don’t value them like we should.

    Thanks.


    1. // Reply

      A lot of great points to consider, Christy. I’m not an outliner, but I can see the value in it. I may try to see if I can do it for the next book I write, but I’m not sure if my creativity wants to be harnessed like that or not. I guess I won’t know until I give it a try.
      I rarely give myself much credit for what I accomplish, so I agree that as writers we should give ourselves more credit for even taking on the task of writing a novel.


  4. // Reply

    I read practically all of the Idiot story 5 pages at a time at our writers group. Generally, they point out things that would trip them up as a reader and offer suggestions for improving certain scenes, but rarely touch on anything that would change the concept or direction of the story.

    I also have a beta reader, JB Hogan, who is also an author. He has provided a lot of insightful comments that have improved my writing. We are also cousins, so I know he doesn’t hold anything back. I usually don’t share the story with JB until the first draft is completed.

    This is an interesting topic, Mandie. I enjoyed reading the two perspectives.


    1. // Reply

      Thank you.
      I think different genres might not be as influenced by early comments either. Non-fiction and memoirs probably have pretty fixed destinations and purposes, so they may not be easily influenced.
      There’s a local writing group who recently mentioned sharing their work a chapter at a time as they write them. There are certainly different perspectives on what works.
      I think I’m constantly shifting how I tackle different aspects of writing as I grow as a writer.
      For me, when I edit for other writers, it’s hard for me to take in only one chapter at a time. I like the context of the surrounding chapters, which influence my comments and edits. I might make a remark and find the answer in the next chapter, and go back and delete or revise the remark. So I have a bit of a preference as a reader of manuscripts of what works best for me too, but I try to work with whatever is most comfortable for the author.
      Thanks for contributing to the conversation! I’m enjoying reading how different authors like to share their work.


  5. // Reply

    Mandie, this was such an insightful post, and there are so many truths in your words. I often thought about that when I posted my stories online. Sometimes, I don’t think it’s worth it anymore. Many times it turns into a competition or getting unhelpful feedback from inexperienced writers. Like you said, it depends on how the writer feels, but I think it’s best to keep a manuscript to oneself and their few beta readers.

    For my next projects, I won’t be posting them online at all. If I do post them, they’ll just be for my review group. Great post!


    1. // Reply

      It’s true, Aka. I think that some writers think they are being helpful by pointing out errors, but some of them have a false sense of what a helpful criticism is, and mistaken a harsh criticism as indicating they are an expert.
      Not all critiques are equal, and I find that I need to trust the person’s judgment who is critiquing my work, and I feel I have to earn their trust when offering them advice too.
      As writers, we’ll all be faced with negative reviews and harsh feedback. But what value do we give them when they come from people we don’t know?


  6. // Reply

    When we wrote our last collaborative work (it will soon be out as an ebook as well) we made it very clear for each stage of the editing process what the expectation was.

    First we had made it clear that we wanted the book be separate story that connected in a main theme. Basically the death of a couple in a traffic accident and their stories told through the eyes of other people (including ghosts and dogs) around them. Basically it was about all the secrets that can only be told afterwards.

    When making that clear this was basically the process.

    1. Everybody wrote a brief synopsis. This had the main purpose to make sure that each idea was unique.

    2. Everybody wrote the first draft and we divided ourselves into 4 groups around the different themes (family, supernatural etc…)

    3. Everyone gave feedback about the story for consistency, overlap, general impression of the story etc.

    4. Second draft.

    5. We reviewed the same way but instead from time-order that they would appear in the book. The time-order was set both in the time they were set and what kind of flashback memories were brought up. Basically they followed the time-line of the couple.

    6. Third and fourth draft was basically on language.

    Why I think this is important is that before sharing a story with someone else you have to make clear about what your expectations of the feedback. Maybe even attaching a questionnaire… I think as authors we want questions not to be questioned.

    So if I would like to share a chapter of a book with someone I would not do it without context. I would give some background on how the chapter fits into a larger context. To me that would be a courtesy to the reader not to put them into the awkward position of giving answers to questions I do not ask.

    Sorry for being so long.


    1. // Reply

      I love that everyone has long comments this week! Don’t feel like you have to apologize. 🙂
      One of the first points you made about expectations is really important to the process. We’ve implemented that in our group on a number of occasions. Someone on a final read through to catch any remaining minor errors does not want huge structural changes, for instance.
      It’s intriguing to hear about how you tackled a project with several authors. I’ve often wondered how co-authors work together to form a book, and I’ve recently spoken with a few authors who have taken those types of projects on. I don’t know if I would want to do it myself, but if I ever do, your comments on how to set expectations and goals is very helpful. Having specific areas within the book for the different authors to work is also interesting, and I would imagine makes the process run more smoothly.
      Thanks for sharing, Björn!

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