Edit or Shred It?

What do you do with a manuscript that doesn’t find a home with an agent or editor? Do you continue editing through the many rounds of rejection or put it away to work on something new? Here are some options to consider:

How many times have you already revised the manuscript? Maybe you love the editorial process, but more than half a dozen serious rewrites can be a red flag that there is something untenable with the manuscript (and be honest with yourself—superficial changes don’t count here). If you have done a handful of deep, painful, and comprehensive manuscript revisions and you still don’t get a bite from an agent or an editor, it might be time to hold a small ceremony and lay that manuscript to rest.

How do you know when it’s time to put a project on hold? Examine your feelings: Are you inwardly cringing every time you look at yet another draft? That’s a tell-tale sign that it’s time to move on before the negative feelings sap all your motivation to write. Is the feedback that the timing isn’t right or there are too many similar projects? That’s another reason to step away for a while.

I’m not saying delete the file or shred the pages, but put the project far away, out of sight, and do not look at it for several months, or years. By then you will have enough distance to objectively re-evaluate your work and see if it is worthy of resurrection.

It is common to think that if you retire a manuscript, you’ve failed. After two years (or more) of researching, writing, and editing, letting go may feel like you have wasted all of that time, tethering you to a project long after all the joy has left. But each draft of every project is an opportunity to grow in your craft and holds vital lessons about writing as a career. One such lesson is learning when to put a manuscript aside. Most published authors have at least three book attempts that did not result in publication. They attest that these projects helped them find their author voice and writing style.

If the feedback is encouraging and working on the manuscript still makes you excited and inspired, by all means, continue! Get other readers, solicit feedback, workshop the project, and/or pay for a professional evaluation. All of these steps will help you excavate what isn’t working and make a plan to forge a path forward.

Don’t get caught up in the belief that you must stick it out, or that your work is a masterpiece despite the feedback you’ve received. While there is a chance that may be true, odds are that it’s not. Do shrug off the attachment to an individual project and continue writing. Cast a long-term view of your work. You are not here for a get-rich-quick scheme, or global adulation. There are other more viable pathways for that goal—like TikToc! Writing and publishing are not for the impatient.

In the end, it comes down to you and your manuscript—even if no one but you reads it, does it still bring you joy? If the answer is yes, then follow your bliss!

If you are looking for a professional opinion on the status of your work, sign up for a manuscript evaluation to get a complete overview of the strength and weaknesses of your project and market viability. We are here to help you focus your energy on the aspects of your writing that will get you closer to your publishing goals!

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  1. Thanks for an interesting post. I’m sure no author wants to slip that manuscript and the months of work into a bottom drawer for an extended stay. Often writers who suffered rejection after rejection before being successful are held up as examples for continuing the querying process.

    • Thank you for reading, Bryan!

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