The other day, I stumbled across a forum writer who wanted to know how to tell when his book is good enough to submit to an agent or a publisher. Despite some solid, thoughtful responses, he received a lot of misinformation. Here's how I handled the situation.
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You have received some pretty good responses here, except for the nonsense the Queen of Wrong sent you. The truth is you can revise the heck out of your book, have it edited and critiqued, and revise it some more. That still doesn't mean it's as "ready as it's ever going to be" for publication. No. Sometimes waiting a few days, weeks, or months between editing sessions can help you approach your work with a fresh set of eyes and turn it from a turn-down into an acceptance.
Also, if you hire an editor or critic and happen to hire the wrong ones (much easier to do than finding the right ones, sadly), they'll be absolutely no help to you at all and may actually harm you in your quest for publication. Surprise, surprise.
And, sending out queries is not the only way to find out if your book is ready for the "Show." In fact, it's the poorest and least reliable way. Editors and agents often turn down books that are, in fact, fully "ready" but simply not to their liking or not something the recipients believe is marketable. They may also feel the book is too short or too long or written in a genre or even a point-of-view that the publishers/agents aren't looking to acquire. If you submit your book for publication, assuming the proof is in the pudding, you're likely to be discouraged for all the wrong reasons.
So, how do you know when your work is good enough to shop around? You feel it. You see it. You read it. You know it. If you're not sure or if you can't say definitively that it's the best book you can possibly create, it's not ready, and you shouldn't let it out of your hands until you're sure it is.
If and when you've gone over your baby as many times as possible, and you've set it aside for a while before returning to work on it again and still can't find anything wrong with it, you'll know it's ready. Whether or not you receive a bunch of rejection slips, you'll know it's ready. Only if some rejections come back accompanied by some serious suggestions on how to improve the book ("The main character isn't likable enough" or "The story wanders all over the place and could use some strengthening") will you know it's not ready. In that case, you'll have some decisions to make. Sans that, you can't assume that no good news means you don't have a finished work of art on your hands. It only means that you haven't placed it in front of the right set of eyes at the proper time.
Oh, and when you do get around to pitching your work, make sure you follow the appropriate submission guidelines. Not for the reason Queenie gives—that doing so is somehow passing some kind of mythical test. Editors and agents don't waste time "testing" would-be clients and authors. But they do appreciate having you submit your work in a format and manner that they're comfortable in receiving. Every business has its parameters for operating successfully. Publishing houses and literary agencies are no exception.
However, with that said, even if you send in your manuscript, typed on a continuous roll of paper, single-spaced and complete with cross-outs and overwritten corrections, if it grabs the reader by the throat, you'll be well on your way to publication.
Do you doubt me? That's exactly what Jack Kerouac did with his autobiographical novel, On the Road. With exactly those same results.
So, get to work! And be cautious of taking advice from people who make a habit of shooting from the mouth without knowing what they're talking about. They'll only misinform and harm you in the end. Each and every time.
If you need any additional information or suggestions, feel free to contact me through my Website, and I'll be happy to help however I can. No charge.
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D. J. Herda is author of the new eBook series of writing advice, About Writing Right, available at Amazon and at fine booksellers everywhere. You can check out his weekly column, "The Author-Ethicist," at Substack.com.