I had a conversation recently with a mentee about when you know your manuscript is ready to be sent off to either beta readers or to be queried to editors.
I’ve always had a simple rule of thumb about this: when I’m fiddling with commas, then it’s time to get some other eyes on the manuscript.
Yes, sometimes I AM literally fiddling with commas. But this is a rule of thumb, and I mean it more broadly. If you are looking carefully at your manuscript, sentence by sentence, wondering if you should move this sentence up there or move it down there. If you are wondering if you should change your character’s name to one that’s more modern, or more ancient. If you find yourself deleting and then undeleting sentences because you can’t decide if you want them there or not–
It’s time to get new eyes on the manuscript.
Now, note that I am not saying your manuscript is finished with editing. I’m not saying it’s ready for publication. I’m not saying it’s perfect.
I’m just saying that you don’t have the perspective anymore to be doing useful work on it. So send it off to friends. Or if you don’t have writing friends or a group, let it sit for a while and work on something else. Come back in three or four months, when you can look at it fresh again.
Many writers have the whole idea of revision wrong, and think it’s something akin to copyediting. It’s not about typos or pretty phrases. Real editing is rethinking the entire manuscript, the characters, the plot, every single scene. And that’s why I don’t think fiddling is useful at this stage. You’re still doing big picture revisions–or you should be.
There will be a time for fiddling. It is during copyediting, or just after copyediting, when you have your final pass pages. But it isn’t at any time before that, certainly not before you have a contract.