Writer Q&As: When to Stop Revising

How do you know when to stop revising? I presume that if one does get picked up by an agent or publisher they will have their own editor who will ask you to revise again, so when do you know to leave it alone? I have thought I was done a couple of times but based on good feedback, I have revised my manuscript which has made it stronger but when do I stop? [Jane Mortifee]

There are a few certainties in answering this question but there are more uncertainties! Your question, Jane, is one writers struggle with no matter how much you have published. Another certainty is that you will say “I’ve finished it” several times before you have. Again, this happens throughout one’s entire writing life. So, it helps to just accept these two certainties.

More uncertainties have arisen in the last decade due to the enormous changes in the publishing industry. The majority of publishing houses (big and small) have had to reduce staff and consequently have less capacity to edit a manuscript thoroughly and thoughtfully. In light of this, some agents are editing the manuscripts they are seriously considering to represent. Some of these agents are skilled editors; some are not that skilled. The red flag here is that the editing done by some agents is based on whatever the current market trend is (they need to sell your manuscript). The problem here is that it often doesn’t jive with the kind of editing the manuscript needs on a literary level. In addition, I have heard stories from authors who have been told do major rewrites by their agent or their publisher (which took considerable time to do) only to be told “no go” in the end. The safest approach is to agree to test the water with the freelance editor, agent or publisher who is considering your manuscript. Revise 20 pages based on their editorial input then discuss together what you both think about the rewrite before you commit.

My strategy is to revise a great deal over a long period of time, then hire a professional editor I trust to do the final edit with me. There are two advantages with this approach:

  1. The manuscript is more likely to be bought by a publisher as they will not have to spend much time and money editing it.
  2. The publisher and I know exactly what we are agreeing to.

Posted by: Lindsay Glauser

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