At what point should we stop tweaking, plucking, and jabbing and just submit the dang thing?
I think this is a question that writers ask themselves all the time. I know I do. I have a goal to start querying by the end of August, but I keep asking myself if my book is really ready.
The truth is that the inner perfectionist in all of us is going to constantly scream our inadequacies at us. In fact, I’d say that an author who thinks their manuscript is perfect when they send it off to an agent is going to have a very harsh reality check. But there does come a point when you have to decide and say, “Ok, I’ve done what I can. I think it’s ready.”
Here’s what I have done that has made me feel like I’m ready:
Feedback from other Writers
The biggest thing that has helped my manuscript get to where it needed to be is having others read it. I had a cheat in the beginning–I was a college student at BYU and took a creative writing class from Carol Lynch Williams. In those early, very crappy drafts, I had feedback from her and other students. But since that time, I’ve kept a writers group. They are all writing YA/MG novels and have great suggestions for me and my writing. And they’re all writers that I respect and who are good at what they do. I know that I can trust their critique.
If you haven’t had feedback from other writers, then most likely your manuscript is not ready to be sent to an agent. We all need an extra pair of eyes to tell us where there are holes, problems, or even good things about our manuscripts. And while it’s great to get feedback from “average readers,” most likely they won’t give you the in-depth critique you need either. Agent Mary Kole has a great article about this: What a Great Critique Partner or Group Means.
I happen to be lucky. There are lots of Utah writers and therefore lots of writing events in my area. I’m not sure if this is the case for many people around the country. I’ve now attended Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers two years in a row, doing the full conference which includes a critique group headed by a published author. I also attended another mini-conference at a local university.
Conferences are extremely helpful. You are surrounded by published authors who have advice on everything writing. The speeches and classes can give you invaluable insight into your writing. Even if you think you’ve heard it all, you’ll inevitably learn something new.
This is yet another way to improve your writing. Particularly look for instances where they give critiques on their blogs. Don’t skip over those thinking those critiques only apply to the individual who wrote it! See what that writer did write or wrong and apply it to your own writing. Right now, my favorite agent blog is Mary Kole’s (if you haven’t guessed with the number of times I’ve quoted her). She is all about revision, revision, revision. Great stuff.
Multiple Drafts (and patience)
Once you’ve finally finished that first draft, it’s easy to want to rush into submitting it. I was SO proud of myself the day I completed my very first full manuscript. After sweating over it for so long, of course it’s difficult to not want to be done with it.
I just want to “submit the dang thing”!
This is where I’m starting to doubt myself the most. Am I just overly eager to submit? Here’s where Mary Kole’s words are so much better than mine:
I will say it once, I will say it a thousand times: patience is a virtue, my dears. You’ve got a list of agents. You’ve got a manuscript that represents your tears, blood and late-night tiramisu binges. That stack of words and paper better be your damn best piece of work before ever the twain shall meet. Dig?
(That’s from her article “Should I send a revision to agents looking at my work?” Another good one is “How long do I have to submit after a request?”)
Writing does take time and effort (as we all know). Few of us could write a good novel in a month, but we also shouldn’t draw it out too long. Yet another thing from Mary Kole’s blog (I told you it was good)…She attended a SCBWI agent panel and agent Scott Tremeil said that he is always worried when a writer says they’ve been working on a manuscript for 10 years. She goes on to talk about why it’s a problem, so I’ll let you read it.
Basically, there’s no set amount of time that we can set to say when our manuscripts are ready. Our WIPs are not cookies that we can bake at 350 for 15 mins and expect them to come out golden brown every time.
You do all you can to make your work its best. And then one day you’ll know. This is it. I’m ready to submit.