How do you know when your story is ready to nudge out of its nest and fly into the world? This question can take a lot of forms: Is my book good enough? Will readers care about my characters?
Did I catch all the mistakes?
Trust me, I know how scary these thoughts can be. Letting my books go gets easier with each one I write, but I still hold my breath when I’m waiting for feedback to come back from my agent or beta readers on a new project.
If you’re stuck wondering if your book is ready, your project can stall and your book may never get into readers’ hands. And this is true regardless of the publishing path you choose. If you’re pursuing traditional publishing, you might wonder if your book is polished enough to query agents or submit directly to publishers. In most cases, you only get one shot and these days publishers expect a book to be almost ready to publish when it hits their inbox, so you don’t want to send it off half-baked. If you’re publishing independently, you might be wondering if you’re ready to start the upload process and start selling copies. And the truth is, you could continue to revise a book forever and probably keep making it marginally better.
So, where do you stop?
Here are four steps you can take between revisions that will make your book the best it can be.
- Take your Manuscript as Far as You Can on Your Own
This may sound basic, but you’d be surprised how many times I give feedback on a manuscript, only to have the author say, “oh, yes, I knew that was a problem, but I just didn’t get to it.” Please, don’t expect your book to be ready for readers after a first draft, or compare your first draft to the writing in a bestselling book you just read and get discouraged. Your book will go through several revisions to iron out all the kinks, so dive in.
If you know in your gut that something isn’t quite right with your book, your reader will pick up on this, even if they can’t pinpoint why. Structural changes to a book can be painful, but if you know a change will make your book stronger, do the work and don’t send it out until it’s done.
- Get Feedback from Beta Readers and Critique Partners
These are the first readers you’ll share your work with. Treat them like gold, because their feedback is priceless. You may choose to use one or both of these types of readers in your revision process, but please have someone read your work besides your family, who will tell you it’s amazing. (They’re proud of you! But… this feedback won’t tell you if your book is ready to publish.)
A good beta reader reads a ton of books in your genre. You want them to turn into your biggest fan. To be clear, their job is to read your work and let you know what they think. How does it compare to other books they read in the genre? What did they like best, and least? These readers don’t need editing skills, and you shouldn’t expect them to make improvement suggestions. Their job is to read and react, giving you the valuable information you need to create a book that they and other readers like them will want to read.
A critique partner is another writer who provides feedback on your manuscript, usually in exchange for your feedback on their work. The feedback you get from a critique partner will vary depending on their skill level and their experience in the industry. My best advice when looking for a critique partner is to find one who’s supportive and collaborative, but will still provide constructive criticism. While it’s important to get an honest opinion of your work, it can be soul crushing to get a poorly delivered early critique, and nobody needs this. You’re writing a book because you’ve got something to say, and if it’s not perfect the first time, keep trying. You’ve got this.
- Work with an Editor
It’s important to find an editor who’s passionate about your story and who knows your genre well, including expectations on word count, tropes, and trends in the industry, so that they can give you feedback that increases your chances of reaching the publishers or readers you want.
There are many levels of editing, including Developmental, Content, Copy Editing, Proofreading, and more. There are several accepted definitions of what each level means and what’s included, so have a conversation with your editor before submitting your work to clarify exactly what feedback you’ll be getting to help polish your work.
Every time you touch your manuscript, you’ll introduce new errors, that’s just a fact of life no matter how much of a perfectionist you are. Every published book in the world has a few typos, even after they’ve gone through multiple levels of editing. But you want to catch as many as you can. I recommend doing several revision passes and at least one pass reading out loud to yourself (or having your computer or phone read it out loud to you). Listening to the words will help you catch errors that your brain corrects for you when you read.
You can also hire an editor to proofread. Your best chance of catching 95% of the errors is to get as many eyes on it as you can.
Writing a book takes hundreds or thousands of hours and knowing this upfront might just save you a lot of heartache when the revision process seems overwhelming or endless. But if you’ve completed these four steps and you’ve taken your book as far as you can on your own, it’s time. Send that book out or hit the publish button, knowing that your book is ready.
Suzy Vadori is a Book Coach, Editor and the award winning author of The Fountain Series (The Fountain, The West Woods, Wall of Wishes).