Yesterday morning I opened an email from a publisher I’d queried about The Seventh Crow. To my delight, they were requesting a look at the full manuscript.
Now, this manuscript has been pretty thoroughly edited, revised, redrafted, read by three trusted readers, run through the trusty Cliche Cleaner, etc. I made sure it was ready before I even thought about sending out queries.
Or so I thought. To make the submission, I had to convert the file to MS Word, so I thought, “might as well run it through Word’s spell/grammar check, too.” Two days later, I have just now sent the file out.
Now, much of this is due to the fact that Word’s grammar checker is…weird. I know, I know, this is one of the most difficult things to program because of context issues, style issues, usage variations–but still. Of everything it flagged, I would guess I changed less than one-eighth. Don’t get me wrong–I am not saying I know better than the program when it comes to strict right-or-wrong questions. It was useful to me in pointing out a number of things I’d missed along the way. But the vast majority of issues it flagged were non-issues. Hence the two days it took to go through 324 pages (and not counting kids, puppies, husband, laundry, meals, and sundry assorted other distractions, of course).
At any rate, the real point of this post is in the title…how does a writer know when a piece of writing is ready? Really ready to go out into the world and stand on its own?
Two answers spring to mind for me: feedback and critiquing. I think it’s extremely important to have some trusted readers (or at least one!) who will provide honest feedback on a story at various stages, and who have some facility with the technical end of writing–who can tell you that you’re using too many passive sentences, or semicolons, or that you’ve used the word “recalibration” three times in two paragraphs. And of course, you have to be willing to listen to them.
Conversely, you need to develop your own critiquing skills by reading and commenting on the work of other developing writers. It’s the best way I know to become a good self-editor, which is one of the most difficult skills to master; and in today’s publishing world, one of the most important. It is crucial to be able to bring your own work to a highly polished level before submitting it. By critiquing stories for other writers, you learn to view the work with a detached eye, and in time will be able to apply a similar level of detachment (although never quite the same) to your own stories.
But still…when is it ready?
Honestly–I don’t know. Some say, if you’re changing less than 10% of the words, send it out. Some say, when you feel like you can’t improve it any more on your own, send it out. Some say, when you can’t stand to read the damn thing one more time, send it out.
All good advice. I think the main thing to take away from this post is that you make the work the best you can, and then you send it out. And then…you cross your fingers and wait.