I’ve been working on this novel for almost two years now. I’ve finished the first draft. I’ve filled in the plot holes. I’ve added description, and fleshed out the characters. I’ve sent it to my critique group for feedback, edited based on that feedback, sent it back to them and edited it again. That should be enough, right? I keep reading it over and finding more things to fix. I know that it needs to be perfect before I send it to agents. It is never going to be perfect. I feel like maybe I should just start submitting it, but what if I missed something and that’s why it gets rejected? How much editing is enough? Is it ever enough?
A couple of things I’ve learned over the years is that there is no such thing as perfect, and that you will always find things to fix in a manuscript.
I am reminded of reading I attended. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the name of the author; it was 11 years ago. After the author finished reading, there was a time for questions. One of the audience members asked her a similar question about editing: when had the author felt it was enough? The author laughed and said (and I paraphrase), “It is never enough. Even though the book is published, there are still things I want to fix. There was a spot in the piece I just read, I think I shouldn’t have had the comma there. It’s really bugging me now.” We made her read the sentence again, with and without the comma. We all thought the comma should be there. It made her feel better about it.
The thing is, the more time you spend writing, the more you grow as a writer. As you grow as a writer, you see new places to improve what you’ve written. If you keep sending it out for feedback, your readers will always find places for improvement too.
How do you know if you should be sending your manuscript out for more feedback? When you feel like you’ve done everything you can, but you have a feeling that something isn’t quite right but you don’t know what it is. Send it to your beta readers, your critique group, or a developmental editor one more time.
When have you edited enough? There are a few markers I go by. The first is if I find myself debating over the placement of commas or other minor details, it is definitely time to stop. The second is this: if you find yourself frustrated with a sentence or even a scene that you change and change and change again, and you start to feel it is getting worse, return it to the version you had before the frustration started, and stop editing. When you have that kind of frustration, you run the risk of making the entire manuscript worse. The third marker is when I start to really loathe the manuscript. Most writers get to a point where they hate what they’re working on. By loathe, I mean that you cannot stand it, you want to hurl it across the room, you think it is the worst thing ever and no one could ever love it. When you get to that point, read it over one or two more times, then send it out.
Now, after two years of working on a manuscript, I am going to suggest that you have done enough editing, so send it out! By continuing to work on the same manuscript over and over again, you are stopping yourself from growing as a writer. Don’t let yourself stagnate. Send it out!
What if you’ve missed something and that’s the reason it is rejected? Unless the agent gives you detailed feedback in a personal rejection, you likely aren’t going to know what the deciding factor was for them. It may be because of something you missed and could have done better. You may also get rejected because of something you wrote that you absolutely love and think is perfect where it is. No two agents have the same opinion, so don’t try to read their minds. Write the best book you can, then send it out.
Creatively yours, Sherry
“Dear Sherry” is an opportunity to ask for advice on writer’s/creativity block, time management, the process of writing, and more. Sherry Peters is a Certified Life Coach who works with writers at all stages of their writing career looking to increase their productivity through pushing past the self-doubt holding them back. Her fiction has won the Writer’s Digest Self-Published e-book award, and been nominated for the Aurora Award, Canada’s top prize for Speculative fiction.
If you could ask a writing coach anything, here is your chance! Send her an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.