When is a MS Ready?

Having just submitted a new draft MS to my agent, I recently found myself facing the perennial dilemma of deciding whether the draft was actually, really, well and truly, ‘ready’ to be sent…The answer being (of course) that a MS is never ready! But, even though that may be true – a story can never be perfect – such a glib answer doesn’t help anyone, least of all a beginning/aspiring writer embarking on their first few tentative steps towards being published. So how do you know when your MS is ‘ready’ to be sent off?

For me, the answer depends in part on who I’m sending it to…some of my beta readers get my drafts in chunks and stages, depending on the feedback I need. Other beta readers get the MS only when it has been revised and polished to the point where I would send it to my agent – and even then, the MS is still, in my mind, in the ‘draft’ stages. At that point, my story is not even close to being publication ready – It’s just at the stage where I can’t revise it any further without someone else’s input…or maybe when I am so close to the story that I can no longer see its flaws:)

This really is a gut feeling for me – a sense deep inside that the draft is finally done and ready to be sent off (for better or worse) to receive criticism and feedback.  It’s taken me a long time to understand this gut feeling or to have much confidence in it – though I am also lucky that my agent is happy to play the role of first editor so I don’t have the pressure to be totally perfect (at the same time though, I am also mindful of her time and would never want to send her something that wasn’t in my mind ‘ready’).

I’ve also (finally!) begun to accept my own writing process – realizing that time and time again I follow the same pathway when it comes to getting the MS ‘ready’. Although I’ve outlined my own process a few times before in previous blog posts, I thought it might be useful to show how I get to the point where I feel comfortable that my MS is indeed ‘ready’ to be sent into the world.

First comes the proposal – a brief summary/synopsis of my idea that I send to my agent before I start writing the MS. Then, after I receive feedback and (hopefully) her blessing, I proceed with putting together an outline and then writing the first 100 pages of the MS. I spend a lot of time at this stage, focusing on POV/voice, character, and setting. I send these pages to my agent for feedback as a kind of litmus test for the book. At this point, I often get beta reader feedback as well – but not always. For me, these foundational pages have to be virtually perfect before I can write the rest of the book (weird, I know!). When I do get around to writing the rest of the book, I use and revise the outline as I go. I rarely complete a ‘crappy first draft’ of any MS – each major section of the novel gets drafted and revised before I can move on. Once I do have a complete draft in place, however, I will go back through the entire MS for multiple revisions but this rarely involves major plot changes (I’m an outliner after all!). The whole drafting process usually takes me a year to a year and a half…and then of course I make further revisions once I get my agent’s feedback and we proceed with (hopefully) putting the MS out on submission.

I still find that at each step in the process I worry about whether the synopsis/pages/MS are truly ‘ready’ to be sent off. The fear never goes away – fear that my writing is crap, fear that I’m a fraud for even trying, fear even that I’m wasting everyone’s time by making them read what I’ve written…Perhaps, nothing is ever truly ‘ready’ to go out, you just have to be brave enough to do it anyway:)

So TKZers, how do you determine when your work is ‘ready’ to be sent out? How does your writing process help you get to the point where you know (or at least are brave enough) to send out your MS?

12 thoughts on “When is a MS Ready?

  1. Having just sent my wip to my editor, I know where all these doubts arise. Since I’m indie published all the way now, I use my critique partners as my first readers and incorporate their feedback chapter by chapter. Then I run the manuscript through the SmartEdit program, print it out and read it again, checking for unnecessary plot threads (because I’m an “organic” writer, not a plotter and I tend to write long), and deal with those changes trying to make sure I’m not losing continuity.
    Sometimes I give the finished work to a group of volunteer beta readers for overall story, pacing, characters, but not always.
    What a conference speaker once said in a session on final edits holds true. “It’s done when you’re not making it better, only different.”
    And, I trust my editor will bring fresh eyes to the project, and it can only get better still after she gives me her feedback.

  2. Thanks Terry and good luck with your WIP!
    I like that final edit quote – seems spot on to me – and I certainly feel that about the current draft MS as I’d reached the point at which all I was doing was changing things for the sake of changing things and it wasn’t improving the book! I haven’t used the SmartEdit program – is this basically a spelling and grammar check??

  3. I could pick at a MS forever, so I can relate to your worries. Are we ever 100% satisfied? Or could we, if given the chance, find something minor to change for the umpteenth time in every manuscript, at every stage in the publishing process? I am my own worse critic. Even so, as a fellow planner and edit-as-you-goer, I end up with a decent first draft. After pouring my heart, blood, sweat, and soul into a story, I’d be devastated to wind up with a crappy first draft.

    May the submission gods bless you with an amazing deal, Clare!!!

    • Thanks Sue! I’m glad I’m not the only one who can’t power through a crappy first draft – that doesn’t mean I don’t agonize over the end result just the same though!

  4. I start every writing session by rewriting what I wrote the previous session. As I fo along, if I make a decision in, say, Chapter 20 that impacts choices I made in previous chapters, I go back right then and rewrite the affected parts of the story. So, when I reach the end, everything leading up to it is pretty solid. I give the ms a final read-through and then send it off.

    I don’t stress about it at that point because I know I’ll have multiple opportunities downstream to tweak everything. In fact, our new tradition is to set off on a two-week vacation on every September 16–the day after my September 15 deadline. That puts a lot of pressure on July and August, but then the vacation is that much more welcome!

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