It’s Done When It’s Done: How to Know When Your Manuscript is Ready
Determining when your manuscript is done is almost as much of an art as writing it. We writers often are in danger of releasing our book to our list of desirable agents too early. Our friends and family read a draft of it and exclaim, "It’s wonderful!" They press us, "Come on, it’s done. Send it out to agents."
You can take their eagerness as a sign of support and interest, but don’t let them rush you. (Their standards might be lower than yours.)
Reviewers of my early drafts have been a professional writer, several friends and relatives, and an editor who called herself professional. However, she failed to spot inconsistencies and redundancies in my work. Instead she pointed out each instance where a period accidentally appeared in bold. (In my book, that’s proofreading, not editing.)
You might want to pass on reviewers who don’t appreciate your genre, and readers who are not in your target audience. Why? Well, a thriller aficionado, for example, is likely looking for action, explosions, and car chases. If those aren’t appropriate for your book, feedback from those reviewers might not be all that useful to you.
I’ve considered interviewing potential reviewers:
- What are your favourite books?
If their preferred reading consists of apocalyptic fantasy epics full dragons, swords, fiery steeds, and characters wearing flowing robes, I’d better pass on their offers to review my manuscript. Mine’s a memoir, which, though suspenseful, not surprisingly lacks the above trappings.
- How’s your vocabulary?
- Have you read a book in the past 2 years?
On the other hand, be careful not to overwrite your book. You know what I mean—tweaking and tinkering to the point where you’re questioning every word, every comma. Adding and deleting sentences, paragraphs, and sections ad nauseam, is a surefire way to wreck the larger integrity of your book. And, all that editing, revising, and rewriting takes ages. At that rate, you might never get your work out of your hands and into an agent’s.
As you near the last round of revisions of your manuscript, don’t give in to all the late-to-the-party people who will now offer to review it for you. That’ll only slow down the process further, since you’ll need to incorporate their feedback. And, again that could threaten the integrity of your book.
I just completed the 5th draft of my memoir, My Mother’s Money. But I’ve got an excuse (however lame) for editing it so many times. I teach creative writing, so my manuscript has to be as close to perfect as possible, right? I mean, I can’t let my writing students catch me out in an error or weakness I’ve cautioned them against.
To know when your manuscripts are ready to face the world, don’t trust your exasperated “I-gotta-get-this-piece-of-crap-off-my-desk” feelings. Fatigue isn’t a valid reason for deciding when a manuscript is done. If you just can’t stand to look at it another minute, it’s best to leave it alone till you can face it with fresh eyes and a positive or at least neutral attitude. As my creative writing seminar leader used to say, “Put it in a drawer and give it time to turn good.”
Then, retrieve it and let it go when you truly feel that what you’ve produced is a fine piece of work. That’s what’s worked for me with getting my shorter pieces published; I’m convinced it’s the surest path to publishing a book.
Lynette Benton is a published writer and writing instructor. Her work has appeared in Skirt Magazine, More Magazine Online, the Arlington Advocate, Lexington Minuteman, Purpleclover.com, and numerous other online and paper publications. Get more writing advice from her website, Tools and Tactics for Writers.