How do writers know when the revision process is over and it's time to submit their work to agents?
I know writers who spend years revising their manuscripts to within an inch of their lives. There's always something that needs tweaking, a subplot pulled or added, word counts chopped up or beefed up.
And I've also read books that seem poorly edited, like the author submitted a first draft and that first draft somehow made it through the agenting process, got sold to a publisher, and passed at least one editor's desk as-is.
So, how do I know when I'm done?
I'm almost through this round of revisions with Bloodsisters, and when I reach the end that will be it for me. It has to be. From this point forward there's nothing else I can do for the manuscript that won't either a)change the entire story around, or b)be so minor as to be unimportant -- a changed word here, a different sentence structure there.
Bloodsisters is, for me, the final product of over twelve years of work. Sure, some of those years were more dormant than anything else, but this novel really started back in 2000. The original idea was to open the story with Atya and Ochira's first meeting and chronicle their travels together before reaching this point in the story, but I figured that would get boring. Maybe some day I'll write prequels about their pre-Bloodsisters adventures together, but it took me a decade to realize the interesting story, the real story, opens with them already at Ochira's home of Dark Wind Palace. That's where the best action happens, and that's where the important storyline in the Prophesies trilogy is born.
The first version of the story was crap. I'm not too proud to say so. I wrote it in a hurry (...after ten years) mostly just to prove to myself that I could finally write this novel. And I did! Yay for me! But it was kinda terrible. Kinda really terrible. Out of that whole 72K-word draft I kept one chapter intact -- a conversation between Atya and my villain, Hatchi -- and ditched the rest. I made a mind map, reworked the plot in a way that made more sense from a storytelling perspective, invented a few new supporting characters (Michio and Masuko) and subplots, researched my brains out, and started over. It was painful, but I pushed through. On the way I found two excellent critique partners who kicked my ass with tough love and pushed me to make this puppy WORK.
And it does. It finally does!
This round of revisions will be the third round on the second version of a novel twelve years in the making. After countless false starts, starts and stops, and 72,000 words sent to the trash, this version is THE ONE. I feel in my heart it is. And after this round of revisions I will have weeded out about 99% of the problems, added some polish, and finally feel that this is the story I want to tell, in the way I want to tell it.
I don't know how other writers know, but this is how I know. I know I'm done. I know Bloodsisters is ready.