Letting Go: When to Stop Editing & Start Querying
It occurred to me that I have ZERO posts in the Quills & Coffee archive on editing. Since I am currently in the thick of a rewrite, I figured that now would be a good time to break open that category and delve into the topic of revision. Since I am getting close to finishing this final WHAT LIES ABOVE edit (woohoo!), I want to talk today about how you can know that it’s time to stop editing and start sharing. For the sake of depth, I am going to really focus on the querying aspect. CPs should be involved throughout the process, and betas come when you feel you have a polished draft you’re proud of (which is another topic for another day). This post will really focus on when to let go editing and start querying.
Two significant factors play into this decision… how polished your manuscript is, and how ready YOU are. We constantly hear that we need to be patient and put our manuscript through several rounds of revisions before sending it out. You don’t want to be rash and shoot your novel out into the world before it’s ready. I can personally attest to the disappointment you’ll feel at having lost some chances --- chances you often don’t get back.
So… be patient until your manuscript is ready. But how do we know when that is? And can we sometimes continue to rehash over a book when it is time to finally let it go into the world? Where is that line? How do we know?
First off, the answer to my previous question “Can we rehash a book past its time?”, is yes. It is in the very nature of a writer to love our manuscripts. They are the product of hours and hours of plotting, sweat, stress, and tears. What it really comes down to is we are afraid. We are afraid to let go of our work, because what if it gets trampled? What if it is rejected? What if we fail?
To begin with, realize that the question is not, What if it is rejected?, but WHEN will it be rejected. Rejection is just a part of the writing journey. Nevertheless, this is a legitimate and sometimes crippling fear, and it can prevent us from letting go.
Here are some things to consider when questioning whether your manuscript is ready…
HAVE YOU RECEIVED FEEDBACK?
Who, besides you, has seen the manuscript and given you feedback? This can include friends or family, but it is really best if you get the feedback from CPs or betas. Now, you might be hesitant to do this, and trust me, I KNOW!! With my first book CONCEALED, I showed it to no one. With WHAT LIES ABOVE, I let my mom read the first few chapters, and then I started querying. Then I edited. Showed it to no one. And started re-querying. Then I stepped back and began this rewrite. I now have two fantastic CPs (love you guys!), and five betas ready to read when I am finished. This step was so scary, and I haven’t yet dealt with betas, but I know that having a CP is an incredible thing, and I am so glad I took the chance.
The thing about CPs and betas is that they are able to give you tailored feedback that (a) you can’t glean yourself, and (b) non-reader/non-writer family and friends can’t give you. I’ll do some posts on CPs and betas in the future, but just know that each of them can provide you with invaluable feedback. It allows you to get outside of your own head, where everything in your story makes perfect sense, and see it from another perspective.
I would really recommend that you don’t skip this step, even though I know you want to lock your manuscript in a chest, throw it to the bottom of the ocean, and never let another soul see it, because What if someone steals my work? What if they tear it to shreds? I got this on my own. I know how to edit.
Been there, done that. Take it from someone who’s walked that road… you may be the best editor in the whole universe, but feedback is still important.
Here are a few things to focus on when getting feedback… Are there plot holes? Do the characters have arcs which grow and develop through the story? How is the pacing? Does it make sense? Does it flow?
To you, the author, everything makes sense. To an agent, maybe not so much. Would you rather be told by your CP that a particular plot point doesn’t hold up, or do you want to wait until you hear it from an agent?
HAVE YOU LET YOUR MANUSCRIPT SIT?
This ties in to the before-mentioned issue that we as authors know everything. We know every detail of the story. We know what we mean in every scene, and what we are trying to say with every sentence. This is not necessarily the case for readers, however. Similarly, grammatical errors are easy to overlook when you’ve read something ten times. It is the principle that your mind often glazes over things, especially grammatically incorrect words or sentences. Take this sentence to the right for example…
Did you get it the first time? If not, that’s normal! The reason your brain doesn’t pick up on the second “the” is because, often, we fill in the blanks when we read. Our brain knows what is coming next. This is why we can skim and still understand. When we are reading, it is easy to overlook mistakes. However, when someone reads it who has never seen the text before, they can many times pick out mistakes you read over a dozen times.
In the same way, when you allow your manuscript to sit for several weeks after finishing or editing, you come back fresh, with new vision and clarity. That “familiarity” has faded some, and you recognize mistakes you consistently overlooked before… whether in grammar, plot, etc.
This tip can be especially hard for people who are really anxious to start querying. They are the opposite of those writers I first addressed above. I am usually this type. We are so enthusiastic about a manuscript, and we just KNOW it’s going to be “the one”. We can’t wait to hear agent feedback, so we return to our still fresh first draft, edit it in two weeks, and then immediately thrust it out into the slush pile and wait.
Now what happens next?
We return to that edited draft, realize all the mistakes and plot holes, and start panicking because now 40+ agents have it. We rushed.
I did this with WHAT LIES ABOVE, and I lost some opportunities. I don’t let them disappoint me now, because I am content with where my journey has led me, but I definitely wish I could have a few of those chances back.
Don’t put yourself in that position! Sometimes you only get one chance! Take your time to edit, and be ready with a draft you’re proud of and happy with.
Once you’ve edited, shared it with CPs/betas/people who have given you good feedback, and edited several more times, what next? Here is where people can often cling to a manuscript and remain hesitant to let it go.
THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PERFECT MANUSCRIPT!
Even after rounds of professional editing with a traditional publishing house, stories aren’t perfect. Their authors still have doubts and fears. There is never a time when someone says, there is not a single thing I could do to make this story better. We can always improve. The point is not to reach perfection. It is to reach the place where you have worked hard, dedicated the time to polish and shine, and received feedback. Once this is all said and done, it is TIME.
If you never let your manuscript go, you will never get any further than writing the book. You will never be able to release it to agents, much less the world. You will never learn how to place it in the hands of readers and then step away. You must have that ability to let go, and accept that some things are out of our control. Our words are in our control. Our characters, plot, and world-building. We control those things.
But publication? Representation? Good reviews?
We can work hard and persevere. We can put all our ducks in a row and prepare. We can educate ourselves, network, build a platform, and portray ourselves as professionals. But WE CANNOT. CONTROL. EVERYTHING.
Polishing is good, but if you polish passionately and continually and never stop, eventually you will wear it down until you ruin it. Our manuscripts can feel this ruin. Your goal in editing is to make your story shine, not wear it down to the core. Don’t strip them of everything beautiful and raw.
If you are clinging to your manuscript, consider all of the things I’ve said, and really evaluate WHY you are still editing. WHY haven’t you queried yet? Are you waiting for more feedback? Do you feel the writing is still too weak? Are you letting it sit before you edit deeper? Or are you afraid?
Get to the core of your hesitation, and then try to apply some of these steps. Fear is real, and there is nothing to be ashamed of if you’re scared. We all are. In fact, I’m already scared to begin querying WHAT LIES ABOVE again, and I’m still rewriting it! You aren’t alone. But I am telling you, because I believe in you, and because I know, you CAN overcome it. You can feel the fear, and do it anyways. You can let go.
If you ever want to share your fears, I would love to hear from you! Find me on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube!