Litgirl01 asked: How many edits does one usually go through before querying an agent? When do/did you know that your book was ready to send to an agent? I can't imagine ever feeling like I am finished and ready to submit. :-)
Frustratingly, I think the answer to this question is as impossible to know as is the answer to “How many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?” Some people submit before the manuscript is ready, and for those who wait successfully, describing the right moment requires complex calculations that take into consideration tongue surface area and wetness.
But, I wanted to discuss this topic anyway, since I’m currently on the brink of making such a decision. Back in January I initially thought my book was ready to go. I submitted it to three agents, got turned down by three agents, and after discussing it with a new friend, I decided to revise it one more time. Now, once again, I’m preparing to submit soon, and my emotional state is different from what it was back in the beginning of the year.
Put simply, I think I’ve outgrown my novel.
When you’re a beginning writer, as I consider myself to be, the slope of your learning curve is steep. Your brain is picking up new tips and tricks by the minute. Somehow, though, that knowledge doesn’t properly transmit down your neck and arms to the tips of your fingers. Try as you might, you probably have much more trouble creating your own masterpiece than recognizing quality or lack of quality in other people’s writing. So, you revise. You manage to make your manuscript far better than it was. Meanwhile, that clever brain of yours has dared to learn even more. While your book may reflect your best ability from two months ago, it again feels mediocre compared to what your brain actually thinks it can do. So, you revise again, but you’re starting to sense a pattern. If you’re like me, you might even sketch out a graph, and sure enough, it doesn’t seem like the improvement rate of the manuscript will EVER catch up to that brilliant bowl of noodles balanced on the tip of your spine.
While I believe that revision is immensely powerful*, I also believe that some unfixable problems can be introduced to your book early on. By unfixable, I don’t actually mean unfixable, but perhaps the fixing of the problem would make the book so unrecognizable that it is basically a different book. This sort of makes sense, doesn’t it? I mean, you came up with the idea back when your brain was just a fledgling, and now your advanced brain is having to deal with the mess. Ever try to fix a cake that a five-year-old started to make?
At some point, you have fixed your book A LOT, but it’s probably not as good as your brain could make it if it could start from scratch. This point probably coincides with the time when you are making changes in your manuscript and then changing it right back again. You know your book could be better, but at the same time, you can’t fix it without making it into a different book. I think that’s when you stop. Your project reflects who you were, and your next book will reflect who you are.
If you want actual numbers, you may have to start licking the Tootsie Pop, because everyone works differently. I think Scott was on draft 4 or 5 when he landed his agent. Michelle caught an agent’s attention in a contest after just a few months of working on her novel. As for me, my book is over five years old and is on draft 43. But, what I call a draft, Scott might call a sneeze. And, while Michelle’s current book is coming into focus in less than a year, her first book is at least a few years older than mine.