I’m not being crass. I give that answer because novels are highly subjective works of art. A novel can always be improved. Authors often spend years writing and re-writing before they are satisfied. For this reason, it’s very hard to say when a novel is “finished.” It’s only finished when you’re tired of it and want to get it off your desk!
Think of it in terms of an automobile. Some books are like little Fiats – basic transportation. Other books are like BMWs – better and more costly. Still others are like Ferraris – supercars that everyone wants. Many books begin as a Fiat. It will get you where you want to go, but it’s not going to win any awards. Could it become a BMW or even a Ferrari? It could, if the author works very hard and learns more and more about how to write novels and keeps making it better and better. The number one thing a writer must do is read lots of the best novels in their genre and analyze them and try to make theirs match them.
Having said that, often the best and most fair way for my client and I to proceed is for my client to hire me for one workday and let me edit as much as I can in that one day. I’ll get as much done as I can on a portion of the manuscript. Does this mean the part I’ve edited could not be even better? No! Even a Ferrari can be made better. Any book can be made better.
If my valued client believes he or she got what they wanted for one day, then they can hire me again. If not, then at least they’ll have an improved book and they haven’t lost much.
That’s my very best advice.
– Thomas Hauck is a professional book editor and ghostwriter.