I've been working on a book for 2 years now, and am thinking I'm getting close to submitting a first draft to a publisher. After reading this, and all the comments, I'm now thinking I need another four years before I'll be to that point…
What can I do to keep my motivation?
Part 1—How long do you need to work on your novel before submitting? The answer, of course, is: as long as it takes to get the story right.
Having said that, however, I have a few more comments. First, if it takes you six years to write a novel, and you've only been working on the one story during that time, as a publisher, I'm going to think twice about accepting your book. Reason being, if I publish your book and readers like you, they're going to want more ASAP. If it takes another six years to get book two out, readers will forget about you and we'll have to start all over again to establish a fan base. If you want a career as a novelist, you should plan to produce a book every year or two.
Now, first books usually take longer to write because you're learning your craft. We understand that. And if you're going to be a "one hit wonder," you may still be published if that one hit is good enough. Just keep in mind that part of my decision making process in accepting a book is if I think I'm going to be able to create a "reproducible commodity" of sorts. (Okay, I know that phrase is going to get me lots of hateful comments. Fine. Go ahead. Give me your best shot.)
If you've been working on a book for two years, get yourself into a good critique group right away and get that thing polished up and submitted this year!
Part 2—What can I do to keep my motivation?
Readers—jump in and help our new author out. What do you do to keep yourself motivated when you're either dragging in your work-in-progress or you're waiting to hear back on submissions?