Every manuscript serves a purpose, either to get you to that next stage, develop your writing skills, or room to create a world or character that might not work this time but you can resurrect for a later work with a face lift and an updated backstory. The big question is WHEN do you decide it's time to move on, set that book on the shelf, and start something new?
I went to a conference this year, and one of the author/instructors made a point that hit me hard.
Don't reject yourself.
She and a coworker had both been writing on the side. After a handful of rejections, he gave up. She pushed through, and now she's published. He's not. We hear all the time the stories about how very successful authors almost gave up on themselves.
- Stephen King threw Carrie in the trash, and his wife dug it out for him.
- J.K. Rowling's publisher was going to pass on Harry Potter when his daughter said, (very wisely) you have to print this!
- Marie Lu had something like 100 rejections before she got that one yes.
I looked back at my sub lists, and on my last two novels, I gave up on them after thirty or fifty passes. I don't regret shelving them for now. Both have parts and pieces I plan to yank out and stitch into something else, but for my current manuscript, I'm going all the way. I am not going to reject myself. (That doesn't mean I won't make edits as needed to either the manuscript or the query, but I am going to exhaust all possibilities before I put it away.)
Every day I chant my new mantra: Don't give up on yourself. Don't give up on yourself. And it's still really, really hard. Each pass is another question.
"Am I good enough?"
"Is this book good enough?"
"Is this a bad time to query?"
"Should I have queried a different agent?"
Then as the list of potentials dwindles, the question becomes, "What if I can't do this? What if I don't come up with another idea?"
I think even published successful writers face this challenge, and the answer is: there are always new ideas.
So when do you put it away? I don't know. I wish I did. Just remember it could be agent 101 that says, "yes," but you'll never know unless you get there.