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So, I've been going through advice for aspiring writers, and naturally, that includes quotes from famous authors, interviews, their top tips etc.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of them say things along the line of 'Good writing is essentially rewriting' (quoted roughly from Roald Dahl), i.e. good writing is essentially writing that has been improved by countless edits and revisions.

My question:

How (and possibly when) do you know that your book is good enough to be published? When do you know that you've edited your text enough times and that you might as well publish it now rather than after some more editing?

Note:

  1. Ideally, answers will be about fictional writing but answers covering other types of writing will also be appreciated.
  2. I'm more interested in how to know when you're ready rather than an exact time (such as 'a year') as the time will naturally vary between writers (for example, J.K.Rowling published the first Harry Potter book after 5 years of revisions).
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It could be that "to edit" has acquired too many meanings. It's applied not just to the necessary passes of story improvement i.e. revisions, but also to line editing, fixes to formatting, proofreading, incorporating "suggestions" (demands) made by editors, etc.

One might assume that agents and editors are concerned with 1) the initial and sustained marketability and profitability of an author and her works, to the end of 2) gaining and maintaining their own standing in the industry.

My principal criterion for a work's "doneness" is that it end up page-turner immersive and satisfying/fulfilling to a reasonable sampling of the target demographic. It then becomes a matter of attending to any- and everything that interferes therewith.

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It depends what you want it to be good enough to accomplish. If you plan to self publish, it is good enough when you are happy with it. But if you want a certain number of sales, then you might need it to go through a few more iterations.

If you want to traditionally publish with a big publishing house, then it might need more than that. In this case, I believe the process is is not black and white. (1) You may think it's good enough, and (2) you may have beta readers that say it's good too. but (3) an agent may read it and say that it isn't and ask for more revision. Or they may think it is good enough and then look for a home for it, and (4) the publisher might want you to change things. Or you might be flatly rejected at these stages and need to figure out for yourself what the problem is.

It's also possible that a story could always be better - and in that case you need to at some point walk away because you've hit diminishing returns. But in brief, there are certain questions you should be able to say yes to. 'Am I satisfied?' 'Are other readers satisfied?' 'Does the storyline follow accepted guidelines for structure, pacing, and so on?'

When you feel like it's at that point, then your opinion takes a back seat and the opinion of other people matter more., particularly agents and publishers if you want to go that route. To complicate this further, any rejection on their part may be down to your story being a bad fit, not bad writing.

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There are two indicators for finishness:

  1. When your test readers tell you.

  2. When your experience tells you.

Usually professional writers have alpha and beta readers. The alpha readers (often the husband/wife and agent or editor) give the first and most fundamental feedback. After the first revision the novel goes out to the beta readers, who ideally represent the target audience. Once their feedback has been worked into the novel as well, it goes to the publisher. Sometimes the publisher requests some final revisions. The extent of revision decreases drastically from alpha to beta to publisher feedback.

After some years in the business, you will develop a feeling for when your story is done. You will make less mistakes, need less feedback, and need to revise less.

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