Tuesday, July 28, 2015

ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS: When Is My Manuscript "Good Enough" to Submit?

The lovely Bailey Knight recently asked me...

Q: When it comes to submissions, how thoroughly edited should the manuscript be?  My understanding is that most editors suggest pretty drastic changes and that many revisions and edits that have been previously made would simply be discarded. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

A: Apologies in advance for the brutal honesty, but I think this is really important question, and one that I want to help you make the best decision about:

There's no doubt that working with an editor is a lot of work--sometimes going so far as to restructure or rewrite whole portions of a manuscript. When you consider that fact it can sometimes feel like all that work revising and polishing your drafts is pointless. After all, if they're going to change it anyway, why bother?

Trust me, you need to bother. In fact, it's imperative you revise, rehash, take critique, revise again, and polish until that baby can be seen from space.

Why? Because whatever you put in front of an agent or editor will be perceived as your best work. And if that's the best you can do, and it's too far from sufficient, you won't get another chance for that work, with that individual.

Here's the thing: There are literally thousands (millions?) of aspiring authors out there on top of those writers already published and making their way in the industry. Agents and editors are getting new manuscripts daily from established writers, with proven track-records, and already drafted to a professional level. Don't get me wrong--those manuscripts still need work. A lot of work, usually.

But unfortunately, your revised and polished "best" probably isn't quite as good as an established author's first draft.

That sounds harsh, but it's true. And I speak from experience.

I can go through my back-up files and look at the manuscript I spent over two years working and reworking, having critiqued and reworking again. I thought it was good enough for readers, so I self-published. I thought I had the best book I was capable of writing.

I didn't.

Luckily for me it was good enough (barely) to catch an editor's eye. She acquired the book and then we got to work.

Four rounds of editing later, the manuscript was 20% lighter in word count, restructured, had a new ending, and was, overall, immensely better. In the process I had become a better writer. A dramatically better writer.

Being edited by someone who really  knows what they're doing in terms of story structure, pacing, character development, and word usage is like athletic training: The longer you do it, the stronger you get.

I wrote another book immediately after finishing that process, and it was noticeably better--the best writing I've ever done.

It still needs heavy editing.

Every book I write, every editing process I go through, I'll get stronger still. And I'll write better drafts--better manuscripts that I'll send to agents and editors. The same agents and editors to which you're submitting.

Don't get me wrong, I'm a nobody in publishing. I have one book out, more coming, but I'm not hitting any bestseller lists (yet! I said, yet!) or making any six-figure advances. I'm just a solid, mid-list author with some interesting ideas.

And you're competing with people like me for agents, for editors, for contracts, and to a certain degree, for readers.

To get in that door, you have to have written something that engages an agent and / or editor's heart and head enough that they're willing to go through the process of helping shape you into an immensely better writer. One who can do as well, or better, than the likes of me.

If they're choosing between my latest draft--when I've already proven I can get the goods done--and your unproven submission, yours has to be better than mine to win.

Don't misunderstand, they know this is your first, so they are definitely looking for the potential. But they also know it's going to be more work for them for that reason. So you need to carry as much of the weight of that initial revision as possible.

Otherwise they'll just say no.


Your Turn: Do you have any questions about revision, the submission process, or publishing in general? Comment here, or email me at aimee (at) aimeelsalter (dot) com!


  1. First drafts suck. Sometimes so does the fifth draft. Or the one after that. Revise with the help of beta readers/CP's who know what works. I've worked with editors too. The hardest part of writing is to know when to stop polishing. Great post!