I wrote about this topic in my latest President’s Address for the Ozarks Romance Authors newsletter and decided to open it up for discussion here. When is your manuscript good enough? It’s a question that’s been on my mind a lot lately as I wrap up revisions on THE AMULET OF ISIS.
At this month’s ORA meeting, speaker Jacquelynn Gagne lamented that so many manuscripts go out the door before they’re ready. With the wealth of publishing opportunities available today, it has become all too common for books to be released while still riddled with basic errors. There’s a deeper level of story editing that’s often missing as well.
Agents and editors often tell us we need to have that manuscript perfect before we submit. But perfection isn’t possible. We can hire professional editors and enlist the aid of critique partners, but even then, our literary creations will still have flaws. Even the professionally edited books released by the big publishers contain errors. So when is enough enough?
The answer will be different for each of us depending on our goals, writing styles and supply of patience. Some authors turn out a book each season, while others spend years perfecting a single masterpiece. What kind of writer do you want to be? How good is good enough for you? Tough questions for all of us.
Editing is wonderful. Discerning beta readers (but not too many) help immensely too. But leaving a good ms. on the table due to fear doesn’t work. Can’t wait for yours to be out and about.
Soon! I promise!
I have been worrying about this a great deal the last couple of days since my book is coming out. I feel my story is strong, but I have been feeling sick as I think of mistakes in the manuscript. I know there are some even though I’ve been through the editing process and others have gone through the book too. As a former English teacher, it’s even worse. I am trying to embrace the idea that publishing a book is a learning process and hope my readers will be as patient with me as I continue to do this as I was with my students when they were learning. But at some point, you just have to take that leap of faith and jump in the pool. I know it will feel good once I get in the swim, but it sure is a long way down! I’ve read some of your work and I would encourage you to take the risk soon. It’s good!
We’re good at worrying, aren’t we?
It is hard to let go of your books, and as an editor/author double threat, I approach this from two angles. The first angle being the one I have to stop myself from obsessively going through my manuscripts upwards of ten times after the editing process has finished before signing off on publication. I understand this neurosis as an author. As an editor, though, I understand that humans are imperfect creatures, and even if you have a team of beta readers, crit partners, and editors, working on your manuscript, you’re not guaranteed to catch everything. Yes, we strive for perfection, and multiple errors are inexcusable and a symptom of sloppy editing and/or writing. However, mistakes do happen. If you know you did your absolute best, short of making your eyes bleed by subjecting them to hours of reading, and your brain shut down because you’re trying to recall an obscure grammar rule, then you owe no apologies.
Editors, agents, and publishers do want polished work, but we also understand that authors are their own worst enemy, and some might not have the skills to turn a critical eye to their own work. This is not a criticism; your own work is incredibly personal. Awkward phrasing? You know what you meant. Plot-hole? You internally explained it away. Heroine produces life-saving knife from her purse? You know when she put it there. Some authors can’t put themselves in the shoes of a reader for their own work, and to a degree, we shouldn’t expect them to. A polished manuscript means something more than your rough draft. It doesn’t mean perfect. It means you read it a few times, checked for grammatical, structural, and continuity errors. It means you had people who aren’t illiterate praise-giving BFFs take a look and deliver constructive advice. It means you know it’s as good as you can possibly get it without reaching for your wallet. It means you took the time beyond writing “the end” to prepare the manuscript for submission. There will, of course, be errors. We want to see the shape the manuscript is in after you’ve tackled it solo, because if it’s in real sorry shape, we’ll draw conclusions, which can range from speculating that you need a lot of hand-holding, or that you didn’t care to present us with your best work. If the manuscript is polished but flawed, your odds of making it to the next round of consideration go up. “Perfect” in this sense means “send us your absolute best, and we’ll see what it needs to really shine.”
Of course, I only speak from my experience at my publisher, but in having discussed this with others in the industry, I believe this is fairly standard. Other publishers or agents might have an unrealistic bar set in terms of quality, but any publisher or agent worth their salt will know expecting absolute perfection is counterintuitive. Because, as you said, even published works aren’t perfect. We’re all prone to missing things. The thing is, if you’re an author, to know when you’ve done your best. Multiple rounds on a manuscript can yield results in terms of errors caught, but eventually, one’s eyes begin to glaze. Eventually we know the passages too well to capture everything. Eventually, we have to accept that we’ve done our best.
What a great answer! Thanks for bringing your perspective as an acquiring editor.
Good question. Does any author ever feel their book is perfect? Probably not. I do think that you need to go through and eliminate as many typos and unnecessary words as possible. After that you just have to go with your gut.
I always have to add in visceral responses after I finish the first draft. Those don’t come easy to me.
Me neither! I had to layer a lot of that in after the first draft.
If you, your loved ones, and everyone educated you’ve ever met have read it, you’re probably there. The problem comes when folks hold their work close or only ask for feedback from people who are going to puff up their ego. There’s no room for ego in revision. (I would say there’s no ‘I’ in revision, except then it would be revson, which makes no sense.)
And…I’m going back to bed.
I know LOTS of educated people. 😉
I feel that all the major flaws should be addressed in punctuation and spelling, then the grammatical ones. If major sentence structure-flaws are there fix them. After that I feel its not a good use of time to continue editing.
It’s definitely possible to spend too much time editing at the cost of productivity.
For me a combination of instinct, critique partners not giving it all thumbs down, and I am basically just tired of it. 🙂 And probably a good kick in the pants from someone else.
Sounds like good criteria to me. 🙂
Oh my gosh. I think we had the same thought! I was inspired by the ORA talk too, and wrote a blog in a similar vein.
I’m going to check out your post now!
What great replies! I don’t think I can add a thing, except to agree that it’s possible to tweak the manuscript to death–and to the death of individual voice.
That’s a good point. Too much editing can kill the distinctiveness of the writer’s voice.
This post is close to bone. I just published my first book THIS WEEK and despite many beta reads, professional editing (which included MANY rereads of the entire work by myself and my editor), copyediting and final rereads…there are TWELVE known errors in the final work. Four were conversion errors and completely beyond my control. But the others? At some point not only do you just have to send it out into the world but you also have to accept that there is no such thing as perfection and move along with your life. Like that’s an easy thing. It’s not.
So true, Lisa. I can’t remember the last time I read a book and didn’t catch at least a couple of errors.
I think people who write are by nature perfectionists. Who else would sit in front of a manuscript and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite? Perfection is impossible. Satisfaction only comes when we tell ourselves “Okay, it’s not perfect, but I’m satisfied.”
Good advice, Chuck.
Good post, Sharon. This are questions that every writer has to struggle with. My first novel, Uniquely Unwelcome, has been a beast for me. It’s been revised time and time again, but still to this day I worry about it. I recently had a publishing company tell me that they loved the story but that there was too much info dump in the beginning. So now I’m at a point on whether I should pull it & redo, or leave it alone. I’ve had several respected authors and beta readers who called it a new beast and loved the new edition. So should I take the advice of one publishing company and revise? Or do I move on? Personally, I felt that the first chapter was a necessity but it’s something that I will have to debate.
Love to all the awesome writers who struggle with these questions. They are tough ones.
That does sound like a tough call! Good luck working it out.
It’s like giving away a child when you think you are finished with a manuscript. Like a child that grows up to be strong, at some point you have to let it go. Thanks for the input.
I wish I could stop my children from growing up too, but my eldest keeps telling me he can’t stop growing. 🙂
I wish there was a computer program that would scan your work and say, “It’s time. Send it in.”
Ooh, that would be good. If only.
I found your great blog through the WLC Blog Follows on the World Literary Cafe! Great to connect! http://MAdibrown.com
Good to meet you, Madi!