Today I’d like to talk about knowing when your book is done, as in ready to go forth and terrorize agents and editors in the outside world. These erstwhile folks all say the same thing- don’t send them your work until it’s done. But how can we tell when that is?
The trick is to get it as polished as can be, but still feeling, sounding, and acting like YOUR book.
This came to me today while I was nuking my oatmeal (yes, I lead an exciting culinary life- I do add a ton of cinnamon though ;)). If you under-cook your oatmeal, it doesn’t taste right, and the texture just isn’t done. Yet if you over-cook the stuff, it becomes a giant blob of blech that over flows in your microwave.
Authors can have both problems:
1) Sending manuscripts out without proper “cooking”. Often seen with first books, this is also the result of no cooling off period. We’ve all been there. We rush through a book or project (seen it happen with short stories too) and are so excited about it, we jump right into editing, then send it off the instant we can.
Like being able to purchase a gun, books need a cooling off period. I’d say multiple cooling off periods.
We need time to step back and ignore our baby. Push it out of sight for a few weeks (or even months) before we go through that first essential edit. I’d argue that at least one more cooling off period would be a good idea to gain distance after we’re SURE it’s ready, when we’ve edited until we feel we can edit no more. Give it a few weeks, then check one last time ;).
It’s also good to get it in front of an extra pair of eyes, although there are some pubbed authors who don’t use a beta (aside from their agent ;)) and that works for them. Most of us really do better by having one or more trusted readers plow through things. If even just to catch the “stupids”, those little errors we all make and that our eyes somehow miss no matter how many times we read it.
2) Over-cooking. This can happen when someone has perhaps too many “extra-eyes”, or doesn’t have enough sense of their own voice to know when a comment shouldn’t be followed. It can cause the story to lose the “you” in it, to become watered down to the point where it’s not interesting to anyone.
It can also happen if someone over edits (and I know there are some of you out there screaming, “not possible!” but it can, and has, been done). Part of what we do as authors is take chances. We take a chance that our skill and drive is enough to make our dreams come true. But that takes a lot of faith too, in ourselves. If an author lacks that faith, they may edit their book to death.
I have three books that are “done”, yet like most writers I can’t stop poking at them. There is always something to change, fix, fiddle with. And ya know what? There always will be. At some point you just have to tell yourself, you’ve done all that you can. You’ve finished the book, let it cool off (while you work on a NEW project) then edited like a fiend, let some trusted folks read it, take in what YOU believe works from their comments, let things cool again- then taken that final look. THEN, knowing you’ve done all you can, you hit the submissions’ circuit with pride (you DID research all of your agents, right?!). Then get back to that next book!
What about you- are you an over cooker, or under cooker? ;)