Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Question: how good is good enough?

If a manuscript is mostly well-written (with a believable premise and good spelling/grammar), but might still need work, would that usually be considered close enough for an agent to want to send a contract, then have the author fix it up after? 


In other words, how perfect must a manuscript be before an agent will consider signing an author?

My goal is to get a manuscript  I can send to an editor that very minute.   I also root for the Cubs, so I have a long standing ability to deal with failed hopes and dreams.

I STRONGLY encourage you to not send a manuscript out before you think it's absolutely ready to be published, because I can assure you that what you think is publishable and what I think is publishable are probably different.

That said, I've worked with authors to edit their work before it's gone out.  Everything from developmental editing to copy editing.

Now though, I don't have a lot of time to do that for potential new clients. I have old clients who keep me very busy with that sort of stuff.  Younger agents who don't have a big list are more likely to have the time to do that kind of developmental work.

Don't count on it though.  "Good enough" is not the standard you want to aspire to.  Almost every single one of my clients has to have the manuscript pried out of their twitching fingers as they mutter "wait, should it be like or that for that clause on page 303!?"  In other words, writers who have sweated every single word, sentence, paragraph and page.  


french sojourn said...

The first m/s I wrote resembled a snake eating its own tail. My writing improved so much that by the time I “finished” the m/s….I had to start all over.
Now on m/s four it flows….such an exciting process.
I feel this one could be submitted…once you pry it out of my cold….

Unknown said...

Of course I agree that an author should submit their very best work, however sometimes, especially in the beginning when delusion is part of the daily ritual of an aspiring writer, it’s difficult to know what is good, great, or even what is ready
My first effort, a historical-dark fantasy trilogy, was, to put it mildly, the blind leading the blind. Even though it got requests, they didn’t lead to final offers. I set it aside.

My second and third attempts (worked on dually) and an Adult and NA respectfully, are a far cry from the dribble, the verbal diarrhea and the over use of verbs of my trilogy. I also learnt to be more selective with my agents and not submit without (really and serious) consideration. Both those MS’s have fulls out.

As for the trilogy, it’ll become a WIP at some point and perhaps rise from the ashes.

My point here is that sometimes writers don’t know their work isn’t ready and send what they believe is the very best they can do. It’s part of the apprenticeship of becoming an established and published author.

Chro said...

This is something I've really struggled with. Even if I think something is ready to send out, that is no guarantee that agents or publishers will agree.

To make matters worse, I've had readers convinced that the book is destined to be published, and say I should start sending it out right away, only to have agents disagree with them as well.

And on top of that, this is a subjective business, so one agent might salivate for something another agent won't touch. And with most rejections being form rejections, getting a straight answer about what's wrong with your novel is difficult to say the least.

It's no wonder that so many aspiring writers give up on a process fueled only by determination, stubbornness, and hope.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

Who was it (Wilde?) who said something along the lines of, "A novel is never finished. At some point it's bundled off to a publisher, but it's never finished."

Anonymous said...

Here's what I know..., no matter how many times you slice and dice (shark words) your work, no matter how many times you read your ms, change it, improve it, flip it, twist it, shake it up, what you think is finished/good enough, probably isn't.

The best thing a writer can do is pay a freelance editor to help them fine tune their work. A fresh pair of eyes on your work can make a huge different. And of course, research, research, research an editor before you use them. (Preditors & Editors is one site to use)

DK said...

Honestly, if the author describes his/her own work as "mostly well written" and/or "might still need work," the answer about whether it's ready to be submitted should be crystal clear.

Speaking of favorite Oscar Wilde quotes, mine is: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon, I put it back in again."

To me, that's the litmus test. When I reach what I call the "Oscar Wilde stage" is when I feel ready to submit. And even then, more often or not, a certain shark sends it right back to me for a rewrite.

Anonymous said...

Ahem, A fresh pair of eyes on your work can make a huge difference. See? If someone else had read my comment, they would have caught that.

Elissa M said...

Submitting something you think is "good enough" seems like a cushion against rejection. If you know it isn't the best you can do, it doesn't hurt so much when it gets snubbed.

But, of course, this strategy is self-defeating. Better to not submit at all than to submit "good enough" work and discover "good enough" never is.

Also, though I hate to say it, "good enough" is another way to say "lazy".

Black Cat said...

What Chro said, many times over!

My nagging self-doubt keeps me wondering if my manscript is ready for publication, in spite of my betas telling me how awesome a read it was.

But even good betas can't know what an agent or publisher would be willing to take a chance on, or what strict requirements they might have.

The best most unpublished writers can hope for is a personalized rejection, giving them some idea where the suckage occurs. Without that, they have little hope of publication.

Dr. Cheryl Carvajal said...

I'm at that horrible/wonderful stage in my writing (and my piano playing, oddly enough) when I can see what good writing is, and I know I'm not there yet.

Just not there yet. And I'm not sending anything out until it's ready.


You are something else.

Jenna said...

For most of us, "good enough" means something different. It's that moment when you've sweated and bled and turned "like" to "that" and back to "like" again a half dozen times, and you realize you could be tinkering with the manuscript for another year if you're not careful, and you just have to tell yourself it's good enough and let it go because if you don't, you won't ever start the next one.

oxyborb said...

This is a question that has been on my mind recently. I've done line-by-line editing a million times over. People tell me, "It's ready" and "Just submit it already!" but I keep telling them that it has to be absolutely perfect before I want to take a shot with an agency. Novice mistakes are what I dread more than anything.