When Do You Know When Your Manuscript is Ready?

March 22nd, 2007

There are many many things I’m not good at, and one of them is a certain kind of analysis.  I often tend to go more with, you know, “intuition” – a risky thing to rely on, in my opinion.

So I was struck by this question by Lizza in “Writing My First Novel,” and I wanted to throw it open to the rest of the party because I think it merits discussion.

When do you know when your manuscript is ready to be sent in to a publisher?

So my first and flippant answer is:  when I can’t possibly bear to do any more work on it.

13 Responses to “When Do You Know When Your Manuscript is Ready?”

  1. glenda larkeon 22 Mar 2007 at 6:51 pm

    Probably a different answer for a published author and a never-been published writer.

    For the never-been published I would say:

    1. when you have put it away without looking at it for at least 3 months and then corrected it yet again.

    2. when you’ve read it aloud and made corrections accordingly.

    3. when you’ve finally read through it and can’t find a single mistake i.e. typo, clumsy phrasing etc – in a printed out copy. Repeat after me: In a printed out copy. The same copy that you are going to send.

    4. when nothing niggles you when you read it, no nebulous something that you can’t put your finger on when you read certain passages. If you do get this feeling, then something is wrong.

    5. when you have done a final spellcheck after your last correction.

    For a published author:

    When your deadline can no longer be ignored and you keep getting gentle emails about your progress from your agent…

  2. LauraJMixonon 22 Mar 2007 at 7:50 pm

    Good answer, Kate.

    I’m in deep kimchee. My current work isn’t done yet, and I’m already there. Hah!

  3. Carol Bergon 23 Mar 2007 at 10:00 am

    When yet another pass of on-paper editing produces 20 good, reasonable changes, 60 word tweaks of which a quarter are switching back to the word that you took out last week, and 10 sentence ordering changes of which a quarter are swapping things back like they were on the previous pass.

    But I like your list, Glenda. Excellent points all – especially about both reading the work aloud (yes, every word) – and reading it on paper. It can even be helpful to print out the work in “book form,” ie. single spaced and fully justified, for a last read, just because the eye catches different things when the words sit differently. But always put it back to correct manuscript form before submitting!!!!


  4. Madeleine Robinson 23 Mar 2007 at 1:18 pm

    Asked how long a man’s legs should be, Abraham Lincoln replied, “Long enough to reach the ground.”

    Or so they say.

    If I waited until nothing, absolutely nothing, niggled at me, I would never turn something in. If my first readers seem comfortable with it; if nothing they say makes my hair turn gray; if I can’t look at the thing without a sense of helplessness, then I figure it’s time for professional help: I turn it in to an editor and see what he/she says.

  5. Katharine Kerron 23 Mar 2007 at 4:40 pm

    There are times when only someone else can spot what’s wrong with a manuscript, and it’s best if that someone else is a professional like an editor. If you’re writing under contract, you have the luxury of sending the book off with a note asking for help.

    If you’re not, if you’re a first-timer, then I second or is that third Glenda’s and Carol’s advice. Carol makes an excellent point. A writer can keep going over and over a ms. in order to avoid the potential embarassment and despair of trying to sell it.

  6. Leon Staufferon 23 Mar 2007 at 8:29 pm

    I’m afraid I can’t answer the question, because none of my manuscripts have ever really reached that point. I’m certainly the sort who will always and forever find something wrong with what I’ve written, I assume I am not unique in that. Even the few small articles I’ve had published were, from my point of view, not really ready, but I sent them off anyway, hoping to get some feedback. Getting a neutral opinion on your writing is, in my experience, the only way to really know if it’s good enough.

  7. glenda larkeon 23 Mar 2007 at 8:50 pm

    Reading back over what I wrote and the other replies…yes, I think I should have said that you have to be careful that a few minor errors or a mild discontent with your writing (and I suspect even the most successful writers all have that!) should not stop you from saying, “Right, today’s the day!”

    After all, there is no such thing as a perfect manuscript.

  8. Kate Elliotton 23 Mar 2007 at 9:33 pm

    Glenda, I meant to mention some weeks ago that I am a total fangirl after reading your Aware trilogy, which I read last month. It’s fabulous. I loved it. Is the new series/trilogy being pubbed in the USA?

  9. glenda larkeon 24 Mar 2007 at 10:49 am

    Oh, wow. Kate – thank you. Having admired your writing for so long, to have YOU say that – well, I’m speechless. Which is unusual for me.

    Unfortunately no – haven’t managed to sell “The Mirage Makers” to USA yet, but they are coming out in UK (Orbit) starting with “Heart of the Mirage” in July. And the first two are already out in Australia (Voyager).

  10. Katharine Kerron 24 Mar 2007 at 3:27 pm

    What really bothers me is when I look something up in one of the published Deverry books and find MISTAKES!!!. Not just typos or small wording problems, but MISTAKES!!! Probably everyone here knows the difference twixt the two. :-)

  11. KarenMilleron 24 Mar 2007 at 7:44 pm

    First of all: Glenda Larke’s fantastic. And her new series, The Mirage Makers, is a terrific read. Plus she’s a class act in and of herself. So it’s a win-win scenario all round. Read her stuff!

    Answering the question … I’d have to say, generally speaking, it’s never ready when you think it is. Particularly if you’re still on the journey towards publication. It’s absolutely fatal to send out the work while you’re in the white-hot throes of triumph on completing your first draft, or because you’ve just received glowing accolades from your Mum.

    But people do it. I did it myself and, being a slow learner, more than once.

    The short, smartarse answer is: when it’s good enough to be published. The trick is, knowing when you’ve reached that point.

    I strongly believe that no writer can produce a contract-worthy piece of work without having first developed very very keen self-editing skills. And you don’t get those without putting in a lot of hours critting other people’s mss, or before you’ve reached the point where you can assess your own work objectively. Until you’ve found a way to depersonalise the ms, to look at it as a piece of work and not as a measure of your own self-worth, you’ll never be able to knock it into a publishable state. And every piece of critical feedback you receive will feel like a stab in the heart, not a useful tool to help you improve the work.

    I think developing writers should involve themselves in a reputable online critting group like OWW or Critmonsters. There you can really hone your editorial skills on work in which you have no emotional investment. But the payoff comes because as you improve your editorial eye for other people’s work, inevitably its spills over into your own work, and you’re able to see your own flaws more clearly.

    While everything that’s already been said is true and vital, I think that a writer who isn’t consistently able to assess their own work to a high level of competence is never going to produce a ms worthy of submitting to an editor or agent.

    When you hand a ms over to someone for beta-reading, they shouldn’t have to be teaching you the nuts and bolts of how to write. You should have done that work already. And part of that work is developing your critical/analytical faculty in assessing your ms. You’re going to run out of beta-readers if you’re giving them substandard work with an expectation that they’ll ‘fix it’ for you.

    Basically, you know a ms is ready to send out when your beta readers come back with a handful of comments that are concerned with fairly cosmetic issues.

  12. Constance Ashon 30 Mar 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Deadline. Final deadline. Plus 2 more weeks wangled from editor.

    For Vaquero though, never, ever, ever, ever. Until it is forcibly sent to screaming, weeping, gnashing editor.

    Love, C.

  13. Ariaon 31 Mar 2007 at 6:13 pm

    I just had to note, since I just refound this quote from Christopher Paolini (from his website, under about the author and on writing).

    He said that “The real torture with Eragon came in the editing. I discovered that editing is really another word for someone ruthlessly tearing apart your work with a big smile, all the while telling you that it will make the book so much better. And it did, though it felt like splinters of hot bamboo being driven into my tender eyeballs.”

    Gotta love the way he put it.

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