But when is enough enough?
I hear this question a lot: how do I know when my manuscript is ready for submission? Or, I sit across from a writer at a conference who tells me he/she has been working on his/her novel...for three years.
It's hard to put a definitive time frame on revisions; some masterpieces DO take years to write! But, at some point...you do have to start getting it out there into the world, because you won't learn half as much from a revision as you will from writing a new book.
Starting something new isn't giving up. It's unlikely you're going to forget about that old manuscript - you can always go back later and give it a face-lift! But why spend time going over and over one when you could be out the door faster with another?
Which brings us back to the question: when IS enough enough?
While I can't tell you for sure, here are a few guidelines:
1. You've been revising the manuscript for over two years, sending it back and forth to the same people over and over again who keep suggesting things to tweak
- Red flag! You may be too close to the manuscript. Sure, you could send it to some fresh eyes, but the best thing to do is likely going to be starting a new book and coming back to this one later.
2. You've been out on submission/shopping the same manuscript for several years in a row with no takers. Maybe some great critiques and R&Rs, but no bites.
- Red flag! It could really just not be working. Maybe the hook isn't good enough, or the timing is all wrong for the genre. Whatever the reason...don't just keep on tweaking the SAME manuscript to send back out there. Start something new and come back to that one later if you love it!
3. You've been alternating pulling out several old manuscripts which you run through again and re-submit
- Red flag! You have to be career-smart; even if you get a contract for a book...you have to keep writing to make a career out of it! So regardless of whether or not you love a book...you're going to HAVE to keep writing and love another! You can't fall back on the same book or books for an entire career.
4. You've been sending the manuscript around to critique partners and friends for fresh reads for months now, and each time, they have something new and different to fix
- Red flag! Writing is subjective. There's always going to be ONE THING you would or could have done differently in a manuscript. But part of your craft as a writer is figuring out what the BEST vision is for the manuscript. You don't have to please or listen to everyone.
You may have noticed that I made a point here not to say "give up on the manuscript." That's because it is still possible for an older manuscript to sell. But you're doing your career a disservice to only focus on one work over and over again; even if you do come back to a manuscript, keep writing and growing.
Of course, when you do start something new, do pay attention to the edits you received from your last book.
I can tell you, as an editorial agent, if I take on a client with potential who needs some work, I'm willing to put in the effort to revise the heck out of your manuscript...but after three books in, if that client is still at the same level, I'm going to get tired. I want to see you learning from edits and growing as a writer.
I'm not saying one more book in you'll be Pulitzer-Prize-winning level. But the more you write, the more you learn...so cure your revisionitis and get to brainstorming!