Monday, August 20, 2012

When To Stop Fine Tuning

Jemi Fraser asked when to stop fine tuning and send the manuscript out! What a great question. If it's too soon you risk looking unprofessional and putting off the agent or editor before they realize what a wonderful book they're holding. If you're like most of us and you're paralyzed by the fear that's exactly what will happen... Well, that can be bad too! How about a checklist to make you feel more comfortable? Because the truth is, no book is ever perfect. Most authors will tell you they can re-read their own work on the shelf a year later and cringe wanting to change something. So if you're waiting for perfection, you better get comfy!

Now for that checklist:

  • Have you thoroughly revised? Meaning not just read it over again, but gone through your own revision checklist and done passes for character, plot, pacing, extraneous scenes, adverbs and other extra words, sentence structure, etc.? Sound like a lot? Yep it is. That's what makes the difference though.
  • Have you had other eyes than yours on it? And not just the opening pages. I mean the whole darned thing. Yes that opening is vital, but I've seen books that start off AMAZING only to fall flat. If you're too nervous to have a beta reader look at it, how do you expect an editor to want to sell it to the general public? Be open to criticism. Ask yourself what was catching the reader and revise.
  • Have you put it away for a while and re-read? The impatient person's nightmare, but guess what? It's soooooo important. Take it from someone who learned that the hard way! Work on something new while you wait.
  • Do you find yourself changing tiny words here and there? That's usually a sign to me that I've about had it. Especially if the tiny tweaks really convey nothing different. :D
  • Do you have a query letter ready? That can be tougher than writing the novel!
  • Are you terrified? 
If you answered YES to most of these questions (or all) you are probably ready to send out a first batch of queries. My advice is to thoroughly research agents/editors who represent your type of manuscript and target those. I would send between five and ten queries at once and wait for feedback. No bites? take another look at the letter and or sample pages and see if you've been lucky enough to get any feedback. Then tweak and try again. It's tough out there, even when you do it right. So hang in there and remember to commiserate with your fellow writers while you wait (only nice words please - no negative talk about particular people EVER). Perseverance is key. Don't give up if you truly love it! Keep trying. 


  1. This is a good checklist--particularly the points about having other folks read it. One isn't enough, especially not if it's your mom. Letting the ms sit is also essential, but man. That's the hardest one of all for me. However, I AM one of those authors who wishes she could go back and tinker with mss that have already been edited and copyedited, so you'd think I'd have my lesson!

  2. I am pretty good at letting manuscripts sit. But I revise ad nauseum... for years and years.

    I've had several readers for most of my manuscripts, but I still don't feel ready. I've even sent out queries before... but no bites. Perhaps something more fundamental is wrong.

  3. Thanks Lisa! I love your checklist! I'm always so nervous about taking the next step and sending out those queries is a biggie! Letting the story sit for a bit is so important for me. Thanks again, Lisa!! :)

  4. Such a great list! The very hardest part is letting the story sit...sometimes even several times during various revisions.

    1. Well, I should clarify...the hardest part in the writing process. Drafting a query and then sending it is pretty terrifying...

  5. Perseverance is the key for sure! We don't fail until we give up. Thanks for the excellent advice!

  6. Hey, mama! Why are you blogging, hmmm?

    I'm actually at the tweaking and fretting stage. Not sure if it's all crap, or if I've lost all my marbles. Gah!

  7. I'm with Julie. If I tweak one more thing I think I'll pop a gasket. Can you pop gaskets?

  8. Great tips, Lisa! My problem with this is that I think too many writers keep tweaking accordingly. Of course, then we hear about the authors who sign with an agent within 2 days after writing a first draft in 2 weeks. That just shows that it's way more about concept.

    Recently on Chuck's site, the author of Struck shared that she wrote the second half of her story in a week for an agent. Soooo. we can learn from that what we may.

    That said, I do think revising, getting a few betas, and reading in your genre should all be used! :) Rewriting, editing, polishing and then knowing when to stop.

  9. I agree with Julie and Lee that over tweakage can lead to popped gaskets.

  10. What a great question from Jemi! I can see how a checklist would help. And putting a manuscript away for a while is very helpful, but hard! : )

  11. Oh I need this. I'm in revision land and will be there for quite some time.
    Thanks. :)

  12. This is the best post EVER on POV. Definitely bookmarking this. I never realized the advantages of being able to zoom in and out with 3rd person.