"Art is never finished, only abandoned."
Leonardo da Vinci
During my senior year in undergraduate school, I enrolled in an Art History class. This was a fun class. Basic premise was that through art, we could learn about the history of the people, the region, the era.
The artists generally had a hard time parting with it, because in their view, the work was not ready.
For an unpublished author, this is an interesting dilemma. We want to be published, yet each time we look at our manuscript, we find maybe "one more thing" to touch up. Speaking for myself, each time I read my manuscript, I want to modify something--again.
If you're doing it right, you're always learning about the craft, you're always reading more novels, and you're always writing. These three things have one significant impact -- they make you a better writer.
So it's only natural that what you know today, makes you slightly better, than what you were say, a month ago.
This isn't a dilemma in and of it self. But it's a problem if you don't hit send. I spoke to a few agents recently and they said something that nearly dropped me on my arse (I was going to say ass, but the way the British say it so much more refined.)
They each said that more than half the people that are asked to send in pages, don't. Don't! In other words, the agent is showing interest. They ask you to send them the manuscript (partial or full) and yet, the writer in question never follows through.
There are a variety of reasons, I'm sure. One is probably fear. What if they hate it? What if they love it? And when you start asking these questions, it is a natural step to think, "It's not ready yet." I need one more review, one more beta reader, one more proof reader, one more scene, one more adverb. That last one was a joke... you never need more adverbs, he said, passionately.
The reality is that you have no deadline. When you have no "sponsor" (agent, editor, etc) the only gate is you and your own inner-voice that doubts you and reminds you that you're not good enough, smart enough, or just enough. Please do not misinterpret this. You should NEVER send out material that is not ready. You need to slave over every word, and clean it up with a toothbrush, and have trusted people read and critique it. You must do these things and these things will take time -- a lot of time.
If you are signed, you don't have a choice. You throw caution into the winds and you let fate take its course.
Here's my recommendation. Set a deadline. Create goals that will challenge you. Declare it to others in your writing world. Then be committed to that timeline. Have integrity in your own words. Amazing things happen when you put yourself out there.
Then test it. Test the quality of your work. Be ready to share it with some people that you trust. Get their feedback, and be brutally honest with yourself. Be ready to internalize and understand the criticisms you get. It's not personal, it's opinions that may make your manuscript better.
I have a small, but badass set of first readers who want to see me succeed. So they will not let me make a mistake. I also have a mentor who is a NYT bestselling author who will call me out on the deck. He doesn't let me get away with anything. I also turned my work in to agents and editors at a conference (20 page critiques) to get their feedback. Was I nervous? Yes. But not knowing was worse. And once I had all the arrows pointing north, that's when I knew I was ready for a final proof read. Once you're there, the only next step is to jump in with both feet.
If you don't, then you take the risk of falling into Leonardo da Vinci's astute observation. Your art will never be finished, and one day you may decide to abandon it.
How do you know if you're ready? What criteria do you use?
Fight the good fight.