Dear I Have Notes,

I’ve been working on a book for a couple of years now. My goal was to finish the manuscript and then begin querying agents and trying to sell it. But now that I’m finally so close, I’m hesitating—how do you know when something is good enough to let others read? How do you know when it’s done?

— Hopeful Novelist

Dear Hopeful,

Last week, after sending my manuscript to a friend, I told her that I am running out of big problems to fix, apart from every single sentence. I am at that stage—I call it “writing a book”—when I cannot tell whether what I’ve written is any good. A draft can always get better, which is why I struggle to let go of mine. I recently saw a tweet (which I have since searched for, but cannot find) about how finishing a book requires you to let go of the one you thought you’d write. How dare this person subtweet me in this way, I thought. Because of course I think about that book I’d hoped to write, the book of my life, all the time. It is unassailable, this beautiful, ideal book, because it does not exist.

All this to say: I would love to be the kind of writer who knows when the book is done.

One thing I can tell you is that your book does not have to be perfect for you to find and work with an agent. A good one will be able to share their opinions about what’s working and what isn’t, and help you determine whether it’s ready to share with editors. They should also be frank and tell you if they don’t believe you’re quite there yet.

If you finish your draft and still feel anxious about reaching out to agents, you could try sharing it with friends first. I know that can be scary too—it’s often hard for me to think about letting others move in and explore a structure I’ve built when I’m not sure how solid it is.

But there always comes a time when I feel that I’ve taken a draft as far as I can on my own, and need to seek the opinions of readers I trust—which is why my manuscript is now sitting in the inboxes of several writer friends. If they are able to see and understand what I’m trying to do with it, I still might not feel 100 percent certain that it’s “done,” but at least I’ll know that it’s on its way.

To read the rest, subscribe to The Atlantic.

Already a subscriber? Sign in