Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Knowing When a Manuscript Is Done

As you type the final sentence of your novel, a feeling of pride overwhelms you. You did it. You finished your manuscript.

Well, the first draft of it, anyway. 

After your initial excitement wears off, you realize you have a lot more work to do. For many authors, revisions can be just as hard if not harder than the first draft. They can go on forever, too, if you let them. Eventually you'll have to call it a day, but knowing when to that is never easy.

Until your book is actually published, you can't really say that it's done. There are always more tweaks to be made. At the same time, you have to decide whether you're ready to move onto the next step. Here are some things to think about as make these decisions. 

Are You Ready to Send Your Manuscript to Beta Readers?

Don't make the mistake of sending a really rough draft to beta readers. If they're distracted by glaring inconsistencies and typos, they won't be able to dig deeper to give you the feedback you need.

Fix everything you can fix on your own before asking someone else to help. Before you send it off to beta readers, ask yourself:

  • Have you done at least a couple of rounds of revisions?
  • Have you checked for big picture issues, like plot, pacing, and character development? If you haven't done so already, create plot and character outlines to identify any weaknesses. 
  • Have you checked for small picture issues, like word choice, sentence structure, and dialogue? Try reading your work aloud. 
  • Have you made sure every chapter, scene and character is actually needed? Eliminate anything that's boring or doesn't add to the novel. 
  • Have you checked for typos?

Are You Ready to Send Your Manuscript to Agents or Publishers?

You only get one chance with each agent or publisher. Don't ruin your chance by sending off a manuscript before it's ready. 

This means going through multiple rounds of revision that focus on big and small issues. It also means getting feedback and doing more revisions based on the feedback.

Before you submit your manuscript anywhere, ask yourself:

  • Have you gotten feedback from beta readers and made revisions as needed?
  • Have you set your manuscript aside for a while? This can be hard if you're impatient (like me) and want to get it out there ASAP, but stepping away from the manuscript for a while really does give you clarity that you don't have when you've been living and breathing the manuscript non-stop. Take a break (or start a new project) before reading through it again.
  • Are you satisfied with the manuscript? If you keep thinking about things you want to change, this is a sign that you're not done yet. 
Note that constantly tweaking your manuscript is not the same as
improving it. If you keep going back and forth on minor changes, or if you're making it different but not better, stop. Put those creative energies into a new project. You're ready to send this manuscript out!

Are You Ready to Put Your Manuscript Aside?

If you submit your manuscript and get nothing but rejections, you might decide to revise it. This can be smart, especially if a lot of the rejections point out the same problems, or if an agent asks you to do a revision and you like the suggestions. 

It can also be a mistake. It's possible your manuscript has major flaws that can't be fixed with revisions. It's possible your writing just isn't where it needs to be yet. It's possible your manuscript is great but the market for it just doesn't exist right now. 

If you don't know why you're getting rejected or what you need to improve, your revisions probably won't be effective. Each revision should have a goal -- otherwise, you're just playing with the words, endlessly tweaking but never finishing. 

If your manuscript is getting rejected, you have three main options:

  • Keep trying. It's possible you just haven't sent out enough queries yet. You can also try approaching small publishers on your own, and you could consider self-publishing.
  • Do more revisions. If you think you can improve the manuscript, this can be a good idea.
  • Set the manuscript aside and focus on a new project.

If you decide to set a manuscript aside, don't think of the time you spent of the first manuscript as wasted. Think of it as a learning experience.

Remember that you can always return to a manuscript. Maybe you'll figure out what it needs. Maybe you'll realize your writing skills have improved and decide to do a complete rewrite. Maybe the market will change. The manuscript will always be there, waiting for you. You wrote it, and no one can take that accomplishment away from you. Don't be afraid to put it on the back burner for a while.

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