When I talk to aspiring writers who have never published a novel, I often hear, “how do I know when my book is done?”
The true answer is that to an extent, a book is never “done.” Sometimes I look at a published book and think, “we should have done this one last thing to it.” Or a writer looks at a published book and thinks, “I could have written this scene better.”
But there is a point where a writer has done the work to the best of their ability, when there’s nothing left to do but pick nits. The manuscript is finished. What next?
The first thing I recommend is that you set the manuscript aside for at least a couple of months. If you can’t resist looking/picking at it, copy it to an external drive and delete it from your computer, to reduce temptation. Then, write something else, start researching something else, read something for pleasure, work on your social media engagement, research agents and publishers, whatever appeals to you. But leave the finished manuscript alone.
After the book has been out of sight for a while and you’ve focused your creative energy elsewhere, it’s time to go back and take a fresh look. Read the manuscript while trying to stay in the mindset of a reader, not a writer.
If you can’t get through the book without feeling like you have to fix something major, the manuscript isn’t ready. Go ahead and edit or rewrite. Then repeat the cooling-off period.
But if you can read through the whole book without having problems shriek at you, it’s done. It’s ready to submit.
I know that many unpublished writers feel that a book must be perfect before it’s submitted. That’s just not true. It has to be the best a writer can make it. Striving for perfection can hamstring a writer, can make a writer labor over a manuscript until it’s been worked to death and the original spark has vanished.
I know it can be scary to submit, and most of the time, submission leads to rejection. But if you really want to be published, at some point, you have to do it!