Should you submit before your manuscript is finished?

Below is a question that was posted on my previous-albeit boring entry…

The last aspect I am scratching my head over regards timing. I am anxious to start the wheels turning on the evaluation process of my manuscript’s worthiness for publication. At the same time, I still have about half of the manuscript to edit and revise. Taking into consideration that there will be an evaluation period before any additional chapters are requested, would you think it advisable to send off the submissions packet even though editing and revisions of the later chapters of the manuscript are not complete?

The answer to this question is a double-edged sword.

Most editors and houses would automatically say “do not submit until you have a final, polished manuscript ready to send out at the drop of a hat…” Well, yes, in an ideal world. Just like in an ideal world a writer would send off their manuscript to a few houses and in three months get a positive response back.

In a realistic world, neither of those really happen–at least that often. Wait, I take that back. There are many writers out there that will polish their manuscript for months on end, then send it off to multiple (though in some cases, one) publishers and sit on their hands waiting for the mail to come. Then there are those that polish their manuscript and send it off, and sometime in the six months they are waiting for a response from a big house they pull out the red pen, change a few things in the middle and end, maybe kill off a minor character, and change a love scene–all without the publisher knowing the difference.

So, where does the double edge come in?

One side:
It’s understandable for someone to edit their manuscript the best they think they can and send it off, knowing that they will do more edits, rewrites, and tightening up while waiting for a response. Sometimes the response time for a large house can be anywhere from three months to nearly a year, and most people want to at least get the process started. Like filling out a check while waiting in line at the store…instead of waiting for your turn to write out the entire thing, you’re trying to get a bit of a jump start so all you have to do is fill in the amount. It’s the same for a book. A writer wants to send it out and polish the grammar while waiting for their book to even hit the editor’s desk. It’s completely understandable.

Side two:
It’s annoying as hell, and is an immediate turn off for an editor when we request to see the rest of the manuscript, and either the plot has changed significantly from the earlier-submitted synopsis (the synopsis, by the way, that we LIKED and caught our attention), or the author makes excuses about mailing in their manuscript and saying they need a few weeks to get to it (…this is 2008, it’s not like you need to chop down your own freaking tree to make the paper to print your manuscript. Go to Kinko’s and have it done in a little over an hour). Few weeks = “I’m either in the middle of editing, or I never finished my manuscript so I’m going to whip something out for you to send in.” Thus, few weeks = REJECTED.

So, the answer?

It’s really up to you.

If you’re just talking tightening up the text to make it an even shinier polish, then there’s nothing wrong with sending in the manuscript and tweaking it a bit later. This way, you’re comfortable enough with your manuscript that if an editor were to come back two weeks later asking for the entire thing, you can just stop what you’re doing and have it in the mail (or email) by the next day or so.

Though if you’re talking a lot of basic editing (in the above mentioned question, half the manuscript), you’re talking about a lot more necessary changes and time. Time is the big thing here–you want to be able to just stop and send off the manuscript if asked. If you don’t think you’d be able to do that, then I would suggest NOT submitting until you are. Otherwise, that glimmer of hope you got from an editor’s “request full” may wither up pretty quickly when that editor’s temper is stirred.

A good timeline: less than three weeks. I would say as a general rule that you could be pretty safe submitting a manuscript that needs just minor editing if you believe that you can successfully complete the edits in less than three weeks. Of course, this may be less if it is a small press and their response times range from 1-4 weeks; as they might read and respond within two. But for larger houses, or presses that have more than a six week response lag, then you should be fine.

Though of course, mind you, that you must at least have the first three chapters (the ones you are submitting) completely and perfectly editing before sending them off. You DO NOT want to edit those again after an editor has already seen and liked them–because then it’s obvious that you went back and edited, and made changes, which brings up a lot of red flags.

And, please, just as clarification I want to reiterate that I’m talking about minor edits here. You should not even consider sending off a manuscript until you are done and satisfied with your writing–satisfied that an editor would like it AS IS (or, at least hope they’ll like it). The last-minute changes after submitting should only be done for those perfectionists out there, who, left alone with an endless supply of caffeine and New York style bagels (with strawberry cream cheese, mmmmm…) would stay at their desk for years and still not be completely and utterly satisfied with each word choice and placement.

So again, it is a personal choice, and a choice that has many variables depending on the response times of the markets and the amount of editing needing to be done. But, in the end, it is a choice that each person will have to make and ultimately, live with the results should they not have their edits done on time if their manuscript is requested. It’s a chance.

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3 Responses

  1. As a final note–

    Please remember that this is MY opinion, and not necessarily the opinion of every other editor at other publishing houses. So do not assume that my opinions stated in the above post are the rule across the board. They are not.

    If unsure, you could always be safe to query and ask the house their policies on submitting, and maybe mention that you are doing a final edit on the last few chapters to tune up grammar, and should be done by….etc., and see where it goes from there.

    Again, it is a personal choice, and a chance that each individual must be willing to or not willing to take.

  2. Thank you for the lengthy and thorough answer to my question. It seemed pretty apparent to me that once I sent off the opening three chapters that, as far as the receiving editor is concerned, those chapters would be set in stone–at least until the project was accepted or declined. In the course of editing/revising so far, the gist of the story has not changed. I have simply omitted less crucial plot points and emphasized others that are more illuminating.

    It sounds like practicing the virtue of patience here is the safest route to take. I’d hate to blow my chances by being impatient. Its hard to not get excited though… I’m anxious to get professional appraisals and find out if my story is as good as I think it is. That said, I recognise the danger of submitting too early, and will err on the side of caution.

    The world can wait another couple months to behold my brilliance! ;)

    Thanks again for your insights. As always, they are much appreciated.

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