A “Good Enough” Manuscript

editing honing the craft publishing querying revising revision Apr 23, 2021

Post written by Katie Wall.

When writers have their sights set on traditional publishing, I often see two categories emerge. There’s the writers who read through their manuscript on their own, making small changes here and there, and then rush to query their manuscript without ever making major revisions or getting feedback from appropriate sources.

On the other hand, there’s the writers who are driven to make sure every single sentence of their manuscript is absolutely perfect. This drive for perfection means they never actually get around to querying at all. They polish and perfect until all of the joy they once had in their project is gone. Eventually, they’re so sick of their manuscript they abandon it, convinced that it will never be good enough to query.

Did you catch that? “Good enough to query.”

The first group is convinced that their story came out of their head and is on the page and already good enough without revising much. They allow their love for their manuscript to blind them to its potential faults. They don't keep in mind that readers have a different lens and so won't perceive the story exactly the way they do. They don’t worry too much about analyzing if their story is good enough, or even what that might mean.

The second group has defined “good enough” as “perfect.” All they see is faults and they easily lose sight of what made this story speak to them in the first place.

As a book coach and editor, I help writers recapture the spark of their story. And when I support writers as they prepare for and undergo the querying process, one of the things we talk about is how a manuscript needs to be “good enough” for querying, and how “good enough” doesn’t mean “perfect.”

But if it doesn't mean "perfect," what does “good enough” mean?

Before you query your manuscript you want to make sure your manuscript has:

  • A protagonist who wants something, has something standing in their way, and experiences consequences for their actions.
  • A cause-and-effect trajectory.
  • A world that is both credible and immersive.
  • A story guiding principle/theme/point that is the guardrail for everything that you include in the story.
  • Strong characters developed with consistent POV, characterization, and emotions on the page.
  • An easy-to-follow timeline of events in the story.
  • Dialogue that serves the story and furthers the reader’s understanding of the characters.

If you have these foundational elements in place, chances are your story is “good enough.”

However, your manuscript should also be free of issues that would jerk agents out of reading, such as major typos, info dumps, improperly formatted dialogue, etc.

The bottom line is that writers need to find a balance between rushing to query (which will almost certainly end in heartbreak) and obsessing over perfection. This balance almost always includes bringing in other people to partner with the writer in the revision process.

This is why, whenever I am asked what my top piece of advice for writers is, I reply, “I think writers need to understand how invaluable feedback can be from appropriate people”—whether that’s a book coach, editor, group of beta readers, or critique partner.

If you are finishing up your first draft or in your revision process, take a few minutes and read through my post “How to Revise A Manuscript”. This post is a comprehensive explanation of the revision process.

If you’re preparing to query, or you’ve been querying and are receiving rejections, please check out my pitch support services. I’d love to do a Pitch Readiness Assessment for you to help you evaluate if your manuscript is “good enough” now or if you need to do some additional revision on your own or with professional support. My passion is helping writers work toward their dreams, so I hope you’ll value your dreams enough to invest in getting support for your querying process!

P.S. I'm now offering a group coaching course specifically focused on how to make your first pages shine! You can join the waitlist here.

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