The book is done. Sorted and ready to submit.
Strangely, it isn't relief I feel, but an odd sense of loss, the writing equivalent of empty nest syndrome. The last time I went out on submission, I conjured up this amazing blog post. Sadly, I feel the same won't be true this time, because I am exhausted.
Knowing when a book is ready to send out has become increasingly difficult. Agents and editors expect work to be highly polished before it reaches them, and I have heard the term "market-ready" from several sources. At first glance, this might imply that publishing people are lazy, and want to be delivered perfection on a plate - the real reason is time and market pressure. In a recession, everyone is busier as fewer people have to cover more work. Although agents and publishers would dearly love to do extensive editorial work, they simply can't afford to. This is an especial problem for agents, because a lot of their revenue has traditionally been generated from advances – and these are still dropping like a stone. Publishers can't afford to pay them, not only because of lower sales volumes, but also because of the high discounts that retailers demand to stock their books.
Other writers are a problem too. With ever more people flooding onto the market, many prepared to do a lot of work just for the prestige of "being published," agents are spoilt for choice. I'm sure we can all moan about being nurtured and having the chance to grow creatively, but would we handle the slushpile any differently? Given the choice of a marginal work that might be brilliant after another three drafts, or something polished that can be sent out to publishers in a fortnight, which would you choose?
Editorial agencies like Cornerstones have sprung up to fill the gap, offering to critique and polish your work before it goes out on submission. Of course, they charge a fee for this service, and if you get taken on as one of their special clients they may also take a percentage of any deal you get from a publisher (on top of the percentage your agent commands). This might seem unfair, but they have a business to run as well, and like an agency, you don't have to use them. But, they are a useful weapon in the arms race that is fiction publishing.
There are also creative writing courses, and many of these produce an anthology of graduating authors' work. These anthologies are sent around to agents and are another useful route to exposure. The downside is that writing styles can become homogenised by the academic restrictions of these courses, and this is never more evident than when several students' coursework is put together in a book.
I feel a little like I'm taking the very hardest route, editing and polishing the novel myself, deciding when it's "good enough" for me to let go. But I've actually had input from lots of brilliant writers in my two critique groups, as well as my lovely wife who read the whole thing through again last night to make sure it still made sense. Aside from my own feeling that I was reaching the limit of what I could do to make the book better, I was also getting progressively less critical comments back from critique partners. When people start saying things like "I'm disappointed that I wasn't able to find much wrong with this," you know that another round of critique will probably be wasting their time. Next time, I'll have to throw them a bone and send out a first draft – that'll give them something to get their teeth into.