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So, Erm, Is This Any Good?

Question of the day: I think my manuscript is ready to be sent to agents, but I've read your advice here about being 100% sure that it is in tip-top shape, and my question is: how can I really know? My critique group likes it but I don't want to send it out until it is truly ready for publication.

Ah. To quote Whitney Houston - how do you know? That is a great question, but the answer, like it or not, is somewhat slippery. For me, now, four books later (and one and a half unpublished books later), I can tell simply based on experience: when I'm working on something, I have an inate sense of if it's working or not - there is something about the energy and the momentum and the complexity of the plot lines/characters - that either flows easily or does not. 

But that, I realize, is not a particularly helpful answer. One thing that I've learned is that you have to use a heavy editorial hand before submission. Go through and cut out unnecessary exposition (even if you think we HAVE to know what the character is thinking), find a way to turn it into action, cut scenes that don't forward the plot/action, ensure that there is enough CONFLICT and that it's not just a meandering 300 pages where your characters don't get from Y to Z. Ask others to read it - in your case, it sounds like you have - and listen carefully (not defensively) to their suggestions for improvement. I can't articulate how important all of these steps are. Too often, it's not that a manuscript doesn't have promise, it's that the good idea and the good writing is buried underneath SO MUCH CRAP that the ms becomes unreadable. (Trust me, this was my very first ms in a nutshell.)

If you've done all of these things, then the only thing left to do is send it out into the world. But before you do that, take a few weeks (some would say months, but I'll say weeks because I know that aspiring writers are anxious to get the ms out), and step away from it. THEN go back and reread one more time, keeping in mind that editing is JUST AS IMPORTANT as writing. If, then, you still think that it's good to go, send it out. If you don't get the kind of positive feedback that you're hoping for, remember that this is a learning experience, and I promise, promise, promise that your next ms will be even better. If you DO get the kind of feedback you're hoping for, congrats! Your agent will likely work with you to make the ms even sharper. And when you look back on your initial drafts, you'll be amazed at how far you've come (and relieved that you didn't send out that initial draft in the first place).

Good luck! Writers, how do YOU tell if your work is any good? Do you have critique partners or like me, do you trust your gut?

Reader Comments (6)

Great advice. Revise revise revise. That's the best medicine.

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCandyland

Time is the best editor for me. If you can be patient and take a couple of months away from your manuscript (work on something else in the meantime) then go back and reread, it will be easier to "see" the parts of the story that need editing. The hard part is being patient enough to do it! But remember, you usually only get one shot with a manuscript with each agent/editor!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMaria Geraci

I have readers I use AND I employ the "put it away for a few weeks" technique. Both work well for me. If your readers aren't seeing major problems with the manuscript, and if you put it away for a week or two and it still reads well without major issues, go for it!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

Great post Allison! I have some great beta readers who help me. The waiting part to find out if there are things you need to revise is hard though!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSteena

The hard part is being patient enough to do it! But remember, you usually only get one shot with a manuscript with each agent/editor!

November 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterspelen poker

I'm in the same boat as the person who asked this question, so whoever you are, thanks for asking it. And thanks for your thoughtful response, Allison. So far, I've gone with my instincts AND listened to great feedback from beta readers. Revisions are coming along slowly, but surely. One of these days, hopefully soon, I'll finally be ready to launch this baby into the world (and birth another one).

November 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStaceyW

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