I am this close to sending my manuscript to my agent, and if she agrees, having her send it out to publishers. Can I get an OMG?
It took about a year for me to write my novel. It took another year for me to edit it. So how in the world did I know I was done?
A manuscript ready to send to agents is not the same as one ready for publication. An agent may ask for edits. Then an interested editor may ask for more. Once a book is signed up, there are certain to be even more edits, both in broader terms and in the little stuff. Even after a book is published, changes are sometimes made in reprints (usually typos that slipped through the cracks, not content). This perspective—that a book is never totally “done”—is critical to understanding when a manuscript is ready to see the next stage of the publication process.
This is not to say that an author can expect someone else to solve the problems she already knows exist in the manuscript. Nor does this exempt an author from doing everything in her power to identify the issues she can’t see herself. Rather, the humility (remember how important that is?) it takes to receive critical feedback over and over and over again is what’s going to make a writer able to see when a manuscript is as solid as it should be to be submitted.
So what’s the secret? When do you know?
You know you—and your manuscript—are ready for submission when you can edit your own work effectively.
More cryptic than you were hoping for, I know, but run with me here. I made three editorial passes that I thought were pretty thorough, each after getting feedback from a different reader or having my own revelation. I made changes as dramatic as I could manage, knowing that a “big” change in the artist’s eyes is often not as significant as it seems. If I thought something felt off, I pursued it. I didn’t want feedback from an editor later, asking to fix something even I knew needed work. After each pass I thought I’d done it. Maybe.
This time through, I reorganized the first ten chapters almost completely. In the last third, I’ve been cutting sections of extraneous exposition on every other page. I’m starting to get the same feeling I did in high school and college when a research paper was almost complete. The pieces are clicking into place. The image of the “finished” product is getting clearer with every editing session. With time and effort, trial and error, I’ve been able to get enough distance, enough perspective to know exactly what I want each line to do and to identify which lines aren’t doing it. I’m detached from the scenes and bits of dialogue I thought were funny or endearing and I’m concerned with what will get my story told.
This time, I know it’s not perfect—it never will be—but it’s tight, strong, and true to what I’ve been trying to create all along.