Does any writer really, really ever feel like a book is “practically perfect in every way?”
I know authors that refuse to reread their books after publication because they don’t want to see what they might change now (or what they wished they’d changed one, five, or ten years before.)
I cringe sometimes at the idea of reading mine as well, though I love them to pieces. But I know that I could spend the rest of my life rewriting the same book, or I could continue to write more books. So, with the exception of series — where I feel it’s necessary to reread the previous works to ensure continuity — I try to let the ‘publish’ button be the end of it. By then it’s been revised and reworked to the point where it’s the best I can possibly make it at the time. Other than cosmetic changes, I try not to touch it again.
But what about if you’re thinking about when it’s time to submit for traditional publication? When is it time to stop revising and start putting it out there?
Let’s start with when it’s absolutely, definitely not ready:
- When nobody else has ever read it.
- When only a non-writer friend has read it. (Read: Anybody that would lie to spare your feelings is not a good beta reader.)
- When you can’t answer the following questions:
- Who is the protagonist? What do they want? How are they going to try and get it?
- Who is the antagonist? What do they want? How are they going to try and get it?
- How are the protagonist and antagonist’s goals in direct opposition to each other? How is their moral code reflected in this juxtaposition?
- What would happen if the protagonist just walked away from the challenge? (Hint: If nothing drastic changes, then there is a serious plot problem.)
- What role does each secondary character play in my novel? Do they have their own problem/story as well, or are they just there for the protagonist to talk to?
- Is your protagonist someone that the target audience can relate to? Do even the bullies/antagonists have a soft spot that make them more than one dimensional characters?
- So what? In other words, how has the reader changed by reading this manuscript?
Ways to know it might be time to submit:
- A few beta readers/trusted critique partners/publishing professionals have critiqued it and you have worked with their feedback to address issues.
- You find that you’re revising in circles — perhaps changing the same minutia. And then ask yourself: Is it that I’m afraid to put the book out there? Is it that I don’t have a new idea yet and I’m afraid that if I submit and have to start something new, then I just won’t write anything at all? Is it that I’m worried that somebody might actually say yes? If deep in your gut, these are the fears, then put it out there. Knowing when to stop revising is just as important as knowing when to revise. (And hell, an agent/editor is only going to make you revise again anyway, so take comfort in that!)
- You’re confident that you’ve written the best book you can, and that the only way to progress it to take the next step.