I recently completed a series of blogs on querying agents, and as a result, I received a question from you guys on a big part of the journey – the biggest, in fact.
How do you know when your novel is finished and ready to submit?
The simple answer. You don’t. It’s never finished. Ten years from now you will look back and still find ways that the story could be improved, a comma that should be deleted or a character who needs some beefing up.
The gist of it is… Eventually you will have to make a judgment call on when your novel is “good enough” for submission. Because no one wants to be that guy who works on one novel for ten years, nitpicking until eventually he loses his mind and throws it out the window.
Agents, editors and publishers know that your submission will not be perfect. But you do need to ensure that you given it your all – for their sake and yours.
So what are some signs that your novel is nearing the finish line?
You’ve taken a break and returned refreshed.
I’ve said this before, but it is worth repeating! Set that manuscript aside for a few weeks – even a few months if you can stand it – and then come back for another pass. Trust me, any room for improvement will be glaringly obvious.
You read through and aren’t pausing to add things to your editing “to-do” list.
The best feeling in the world is getting so sucked into a story that time loses all meaning. It’s even better when it’s your book! When you aren’t constantly pausing to make changes and find yourself lost in the story, that’s a damn good sign.
Your characters are living, breathing people in your life.
That means they have everything they need to be a believable and motivated: a background, a flaw, a desire, a contradiction and a roadblock. Yes, I have had make believe conversations with my characters outside of the story. If they don’t feel like real people you could see at happy hour or in the gym, they need some work.
Struggling with character development? These thesauruses have changed my life.
Your darlings are in their graves.
You know those parts of the story that you love but don’t really add much? Killing them is often the hardest part of editing but can be the most useful. Get an idea of where your darlings may be hiding here. Once the tombstones are inscribed and the dirt is packed, your story is one step closer.
Your story has all the necessary plot points.
The easiest way to spot any missing stages is when writing your synopsis. By using the hero’s journey to summarize your novel, you will soon find out if your story is lacking a specific plot point. If you can write a line or two for each step of the journey, you are headed in the right direction!
You’ve stopped adding words and have focused on removing.
As a writer, you will always be able to spot places where some description, character development or setting details can be added. And that’s great for your first, second or even third draft! But ultimately, your final draft should be as concise as possible. It’s said that professional writers can say in 10 words what amateurs need 100 to say. If your sentences are crisp and repetitive words are hard to find, you’ve got it!
Your tweaks and changes aren’t adding anything meaningful – or are making it worse!
We all get here. Editing becomes nitpicking, and eventually your story is going to start to lose something. Save time by refusing to engage in insignificant changes and stop yourself before your novel starts to dull.
Your betas have signed off!
If you have never used beta readers before, find one now. Outside perspective is so important, and if you are getting consistently good feedback, agents are more likely to see the promise, too.
Your first ten pages invite others to keep reading
Now my beta readers typically read my entire novel, but often agents will only want to see the first ten pages at first. If they aren’t polished and intriguing, it’s over. So have a few people – who haven’t read the whole thing – read those pages and tell you how enthralled they were. Earlier this year, I posted the first chapter of 700 Main here and the great comments I received were a great sign that my submission package was almost ready!
You are no longer obsessing over at all moments of the day.
When story inspiration first hits, it’s all you can think about. When you are writing that first draft, it’s running on a loop in the back of your head. When you are editing, you are constantly beleaguered with jolts of how you can make it better. But when that starts to fade… You may be done!
You aren’t feeling rushed.
But what if the market changes? But what if my dream agent closes to queries? But what if someone else has the same idea too?
Every author is plagued with these “what if’s” but this column from Kim Liggett really struck a chord with me on the importance of slowing down and taking your time. Your story will be better for it.
In conclusion, it’s really about trusting your gut. I know that’s hard and subjective and scary. Gut feelings can be wrong. But in the end, as long as you’ve put your heart on the line and your best work out there, it’s enough. And even if it leads to rejection, you will still get some great insight into how your next draft can be improved!
So what do you think? Is your story ready? Then let’s get to querying!