As a writer myself, I understand the struggle of trying to figure out when a story is “finished.” Is it ready to submit? Or does it just need a few more months of tinkering before it’s ready to be extracted from the bowels of my laptop? The truth is, it’s easy to make little adjustments to a manuscript forever and never send it out. There’s a fine line between putting thoughtful, thorough revision into your manuscript and completely overworking it. So how is one to decide when it’s time to stop tinkering and start querying?
One of my best tips is to take a step back for perspective. It’s easy to get so close to a manuscript that objectivity is impossible; if you’ll excuse the cliché, you can’t see the forest for the trees. So put the manuscript away and work on something else. Try not to even think about it for several weeks. Then, when you come back to it, it should feel fresher and you may be able to see it in a way you couldn’t before. Maybe you’ll realize it needs more revision after all. Or maybe, after being away from it, you’ll see that it’s stronger and more polished than you remembered.
Picture books are a unique and special form in literature in that they are often read aloud. I always suggest that authors read their work out loud before finalizing it. This will help you see numerous things: Is the language colorful and engaging? In a rhyming text, do the rhyme, rhythm, and meter flow naturally? Does the pacing move along quickly enough to keep a child’s attention, while allowing time for the plot to develop? If all of these things feel good during read aloud, it’s a positive sign that the manuscript is polished.
Another helpful tool to gauge readiness for submission can be input from a trusted critique partner or group. It’s one thing to have a non-writer family member or friend read your work; you’ll often be met with sincere, but vague feedback like, “this is really great!” Peers who are familiar with the world of writing for children specifically will be able to give targeted, constructive feedback on your work. Your critique partners can give their honest opinions about the readiness of the manuscript for submission and, if they think it still needs work, their thoughts on how it can be revised.
The possible pitfall, of course, is taking so much feedback from so many critique partners that you lose your own voice or intention. Maybe you’ve followed several different suggestions and ended up with so many different versions of your manuscript you barely remember the story you were trying to write in the first place. Maybe you’ve written both rhyming and non-rhyming versions, both first and third person narration, in past and present tense. It gets confusing! Or maybe you’ve tinkered and tinkered and even though you think it’s a strong manuscript, you just can’t seem to make yourself press send on any queries.
If you feel stuck, maybe it’s time to bring in a professional. A freelance editor can use their experience and industry knowledge to give you an expert opinion on your manuscript’s readiness for submission as well as what areas need revision. They can read multiple versions and tell you which one they think is the strongest, or help you pull together the best pieces from different iterations of the manuscript to make the heart of your story shine through.
Most of all, the important thing to remember if you’re thinking you’re ready to query is: it’s a big accomplishment just to be at this point! So take a breath, take a step back, and read through that manuscript one more time. Pressing send can be scary, but once you’ve put in the work to polish up a story you’re confident in, it’s an incredibly satisfying feeling to send it out into the world.