This is a question that was asked on the Go Teen Writers Facebook group, and it's a tricky one to answer. Especially when you're still early in your writing journey and it seems you learn more about writing and storytelling everyday. How do you know when to stop fussing with your manuscript, take the plunge, and send out queries to agents?
I would start by asking yourself if you've done your best. Your book isn't perfect, of course, but did you do your best with the knowledge and skills you have? Or were you being lazy with character development? Is that plot twist at the end really more of a plot pivot? Did you have an idea for how to improve it ... but you're not in the mood for yet another rewrite?
If you've written and rewritten and revised and edited and rewritten and revised again, and you feel this is the best story you can produce at this point in your journey, I say go for it. Send out the queries. See what happens.
I honestly didn't know if my writing was "there" or not, until an agent said, "I'm so excited about this project. Can you send me the rest right now?"
And I didn't dare say it out loud, but I had this moment of, "Really? I did it? It's good enough now?"
While I had been pitching projects for a few years at that point, I never really knew. I always just did my best with where my skill level was, put it out there, and braced myself for the feedback.
This is a rather uncomfortable way to determine the quality of your writing abilities, but it's about the truest mirror you'll find. Not to say that agents and editors don't make judgments in error or guess wrongly about what will sell and what the public wants (all big authors and books have received at least a handful of rejections) but typically I knew in my gut if they were right or not.
Like on the first book I sent out. Hardly any editors bothered to read it (no surprise, since I printed out all 90 pages of it and mailed it to anyone who accepted unsolicited manuscripts) but one did and they told me my ending lacked oomph. And you know ... that sounded right. Now that I considered it, I didn't have much of an ending, did I?
By now, I have a definite procedure I follow before I declare myself done with a book. Even then I still get feedback from my agent or an editor on things that need to be changed. But before it lands on their desk, I always:
- Write a bare bones first draft
- Let my draft sit for 6 weeks
- Read through and edit the big problems (plot problems, character flatness, etc.)
- Read through and edit smaller stuff (raising tension in scenes, correcting passive sentences, etc.)
- Do a final edit in which I get really super fussy about word choice and sentence structure.
- Send to my critique partner and wait for her thoughts.
- Make her changes. Send to agent or editor, whoever is waiting for it.
And to be honest, even now when weeks go by and I haven't heard back from my agent, I slide into a pit of thoughts like, "She hates it. She's wondering why she ever took me on as a client." Every time the phone rings, I'm thinking, "It's her. She's calling to say she hates it."
And most my writer friends do the same thing. Those who don't ... I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure they're lying.
While I've gained confidence in my ability to know if my story is a good idea or not, and while I'm mostly confident in my writing style and voice, I still tremble a bit before I send my stuff out. For whatever's that worth.
What about you? Is there anything you always do or always check for before someone looks at your work?