How Do Authors Know When Their Manuscripts are Ready?

On Monday I posted How Do Know Your Manuscript is Ready? As I was writing I wondered, how do other authors know when their manuscripts are ready? I asked a few author friends for their quick thoughts on the matter so that I could share them with you. Here is what they said:

The short answer is that I don’t EVER know. I do all the usual stuff to get it ready – crit partners, endless revisions, etc. – but the point when I send it to my agent or editor is usually when I feel like I just can’t think of anything else to do to make it better, and won’t until I get some feedback. At which point I send it out and await the response.

Mike Jung, author of Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities

At some point it becomes clear to me that my edits are no longer making the story better…just different. Also, I am a big proponent of listening to your gut. Sometimes I’ll be working on a story forever and my head says, “Surely after X number of rounds with my critique group and endless revisions, this manuscript is ready!” I may even be able to check off all the elements on the list you provided. But in my gut I have this squirmy feeling that something is not quite right. I have learned to listen to this feeling. Even when we can’t quite verbalize what it is that is off, chances are that the agent or editor I’m submitting to will have the same feeling. Better to set it aside for a while and come back to it later.

Amy Dixon, author of Marathon Mouse 

It’s not helpful at all, but I tend to just get to a point where I have a feeling it’s as ready as it’s ever going to be and I send it. Not every story gets there, though. Some stories never feel quite right, or quite good enough, and those are still sitting in my hard drive, waiting for the moment when I think up whatever it is they need to make their way in the world  I can usually just feel when a story isn’t quite working, and is therefore not ready to submit. Of course, sometimes I think they’re brilliant and ready to go, and my agent feels otherwise, or we both love it but can’t find an editor to get on board.

Susanna Leonard Hill, author of April Fool, Phyllis!, Can’t Sleep Without Sheep, and more! 

For me, it’s not science. It’s a gut instinct. I literally get goose bumps. It’s an undeniable feeling of confidence and I can remember every time I’ve had it.

Hilary Wagner, author of The Nightshade Chronicles: Nightshade CityThe White Assassin, and Lords of Trillium

When a manuscript is almost ready, I check it for unnecessary words. There is a sample list here http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/plague.htm. I also search on phrases I personally overuse (apparently I mention hands and stomachs a lot). Sometimes searching on random words (a color, for example) can help you tighten the wording further so that it’s ready for submission.

Yvonne Ventresca, author of Pandemic

I know my PB manuscript is ready to sub when it’s passed the Door Test. I post my manuscript on the back door, where I walk by it 137 times a day. Each time I do, I give my manuscript a glance. That’s when the You-Can-Make-This-Part-Better Part jumps out and pokes me in the eyeball. Then I take my manuscript down, tinker with it, and put it back up again. Once I can walk by it without getting a bruised eyeball, it’s ready!

-Ame Dyckman, author of Tea Party Rules and Boy + Bot

And last but certainly not least, a few tips from our very own Lisha Cauthen:

  • When you decide that “gloomy” should be replaced with “morose”. Then realize that it should have been “gloomy” all along. But then you think about it some more and realize “morose” is more exact. But the next day you think, heck. Kids won’t know that word, so it’s back to “gloomy”. OMG LET GO, BUCKO, AND SEND IT OUT.
  • When you decide to flesh-out the story with nonsensical, convoluted plot points that do nothing to advance the story. “I know! The witch who imprisons Rapunzel should have a side job. Maybe she owns a beauty parlor–yeah! That’s the ticket! And she’s obsessed with hair, that’s why she won’t cut Rapunzel’s.”  SWEET CARE-OH-LINE, BACK AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER AND PUT THE MANUSCRIPT IN AN ENVELOPE.
  • When you reformat your manuscript sixteen times. SRSLY, PETUNIA, YOU HAVE AN UNHEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH THIS STORY. GIVE IT WINGS.

Thank you to all of these great writers for sharing!

There’s a lot of wisdom here. I hope you find something that helps you when trying to decide whether or not your manuscript is ready. I am definitely going to try the door test!

7 thoughts on “How Do Authors Know When Their Manuscripts are Ready?

Add yours

  1. Great post! My answer would be along the lines of Amy’s and Susanna’s response. I think my ms is ready after it goes through tall three of these process: 1) Several rounds of critiques and revisions, 2) Revisions to the point where there is nothing else I can do to improve it (Ame’s back door test) 3) it has been put away to simmer for a few weeks and I and my critique group thinks it’s a great story. But you never really know. As Susanna said, WE think it’s ready, but the agent/editor doesn’t think so.

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  2. Don’t forget your beta readers. When you think it’s ready, if it isn’t, they will tell ya. Mine always catch at least one important detail that wasn’t even nearly on my radar. And I’m always grateful when they do! Great post. Thank you.

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