by guest Ruth Kaufman
Whether you want to enter a contest, submit to a critique partner, agent or editor, turn in a contracted book or are self-publishing (s-ping), how do you know when your manuscript is done?
How much time and/or money are you willing to spend--in indie publishing, to get what you see in your head when working with a designer or formatter, or in traditional publishing, to go back and forth with your editor over a requested revision you might not want to make, or something that irks you about the color or style of your heroine’s hair on the cover?
For example, when working on the print version of my recent release set in 1453 England, AT HIS COMMAND, I asked my formatter for a medieval-y drop cap (when the first capital letter of a chapter is bigger or different from the rest) for each chapter. That’s just something I really wanted and admire in other books. I sent a couple of examples to show what I had in mind, but the capitals in her first effort looked more colonial than medieval to me. I could’ve stayed with her choice, but I decided to take the time to search for a font even closer to what I envisioned.
How much time are you willing to spend on details?
Checklists (such as these: http://romanceuniversity.org/2014/11/10/manuscript-readiness-with-heather-webb/, http://subitclub.wordpress.com/2014/03/10/how-do-you-know-when-your-manuscript-is-ready/, http://leaguewriters.blogspot.com/2014/03/how-do-you-know-when-your-manuscript-is.html abound. They set out items to review and areas to check, but those I’ve read can’t convey how to achieve the emotional satisfaction of a job well done or how to eliminate twinges of uncertainty, second-guessing or doubt.
Some authors think of their books as “babies” they’re not yet willing to send out into the cruel world, others as products perhaps not quite ready for market. And some may reach a point where they just can’t look at those pages anymore or are up against a strict deadline. They may not be able to accept failure, whether that comes in the form of harsh judge comments, agent/editor rejections, or bad reviews. I’m sure we all know someone who has worked on the same manuscript for years.
I’ve heard several published authors say they’re never done, and regret this or that when the finished copy hits the shelves. But if we don’t relinquish our manuscripts and send them out, we can’t win contests, get an agent, sell a book, self-publish or garner readers. We can say we’re revising…for years. On the other hand, if we submit/self-publish too early, we may hinder our chances for success. That’s like taking a cake out of the oven too soon, resulting perhaps in a mushy middle but a well-crafted first three chapters.
Sometimes, something simply feels right. You just know a scene or chapter is ready to go, and feel good when you hit send. Other times, you revisit, rethink and rework…perhaps too much. Too much revising can strip your manuscript of your voice, the unique something that makes you you. That’s like taking the cake out too late…leading to dry or burned edges.
|Hmm. A bit overdone|
Hmm. A bit overdone.
So how do you stop going back and forth? How do you know when to trust a suggestion from your editor (whether from a publisher or a freelancer you hired), a beta reader, your critique group?
This author (not me) doesn't know what to do.
Go with your gut is often the answer. First you have to know how to trust and listen to your intuition. Do you have a good feeling? Do you just know it’s finally ready? Do you know enough about the business to have a foundation for that good feeling…because if this is the first thing you’ve ever written and/or you haven’t read a lot in your sub-genre of choice, are you basing your decision of doneness only on your own satisfaction? Like taking out the cake before doing the toothpick test? Or, on the other hand, despite your best efforts, should you put this one under the bed and start something new…bake another cake?
Consider the opportunity costs, one of two main principles that stuck with me when I majored in economics. If one task, say, searching for that font, takes two hours, you can’t be writing new pages. So is spending more time on whatever you’re working on the most productive use of your time?
· Decide what you’re looking at your work to find. Just as there are developmental, copy and line editors and proofreaders, there are different approaches to reviewing your work that can be difficult to combine. For example, if you’re revisiting a back cover blurb, perhaps you should focus on the content instead of looking for typos. Make sure you cover the points you wanted before deciding whether to describe his eyes as cerulean or azure, for example. Knowing what you’re looking for could help you save time and frustration.
· Step away for a few days or a week, if possible. If not, do something else for even a few hours. You’ll return with fresher eyes, and may now realize what needs to be changed or added, or know that it’s as good or better than you remembered.
· Be a reader, not the author. Try to read your pages/synopsis, etc. from a new, unbiased reader’s perspective. How does that change your opinion? Do you like what you see?
· The number of drafts you’re willing to write or number of rounds of edits, of whatever kind, you’re willing to pay for if you’re self-publishing, may vary from project to project. Just because your first book(s) needed a developmental editor or your critique partner suggested a lot of changes doesn’t mean that will be the case for the next.
· Accept that sometimes you may not know for sure and just need to make a decision. For a synopsis, for instance, you may choose to call it done after you’ve worked on it for, say, a week, or sent it to two other authors for feedback.
· Know that done can mean different things to different people. How often have you gone to a restaurant and ordered your burger or steak medium rare (or dined with someone who has if you’re a vegetarian), but it was served either pinker or less pink than you expected? The chef thought it was done, but you didn’t. If you’re s-ping, you’re the chef. If you have an editor, you’re sort of the sous chef, because you have to get your editor’s approval to publish.
What’s your biggest sticking point before you let go, and how do you resolve it?
A random commenter will receive an e-book of AT HIS COMMAND-Inspirational Version.
Ruth Kaufman is a Chicago on-camera and voiceover talent, freelance writer and editor and speaker with a J.D. and a Master’s in Radio/TV. She loves chocolate peanut butter milkshakes, singing in a symphony chorus and going to the theatre.
Writing accolades include Romance Writers of America® 2011 Golden Heart® winner and runner up in RT Book Reviews’ national American Title II contest. Her true, short story, "The Scrinch" is in St. Martin's anthology The Spirit of Christmas, foreword by Debbie Macomber.
She’s appeared in indie features, short films, web series and national and local TV commercials, and has voiced hundreds of explainer videos, e-learning courses, commercials and assorted characters.
Learn more at www.ruthkaufman.com and www.ruthtalks.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthkaufman or Facebook: Ruth Kaufman Author & Actress.