Monday, January 19, 2015

When Are You Done?

           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?

There are so many steps and elements in the writing, entering, submitting, and s-p processes, how can you feel confident that you've done enough revisions, editing, and/or proofreading? When can you stop staring at your synopsis or back cover blurb or tweaking your cover--should those flowers be daisies or dahlias? 

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

Some may be aglow with self-confidence (or arrogance), and not spend enough effort polishing and improving. They may not be willing to accept advice or suggested revisions from a critique partner/group or industry professional. I don’t have a cake analogy, but I do have one from American Idol. This is like the auditioners who sing so off key even a non-singer can tell, but they’re convinced they’re fabulous and that the judges don’t know what they’re talking about.
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?

Other suggestions:         

      
      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.

Ta Dah!
I’ve heard many say that one of the good things about s-ping is that you can try different things and make changes if something doesn’t work. But to me, that’s a double edged sword. You could spend so much time tweaking and reuploading your ms or trying different prices that you don’t produce more product. So that’s the final tip: Make your product the best that you can while continuing to produce.







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.



85 comments:

Marianne Barkman said...

A great post, Ruth, and as a,reader (no I'm not a writer) I'm glad when the book is out, but sad when I'm finished reading it. I want there to be more, atleast if it's a novel I really enjoyed! Thanks for sharing!

Audra Harders said...

I can't believe I'm still awake. Way past my bedtime. Thought I'd check in before I turn the lights out, and I'm glad I did.

Ruth, great post for those of us who don't know when to say when. There's always that one more tweak to be found, one more word to replace, etc. Stepping away from the book when I'm finished for a week or so does help me gain new perspective on the work when I pick it up for the final read.

Great advice all around and thanks for joining us today : )

Eva Maria Hamilton said...

So great to see you here, Ruth! Such poignant advice! Love the thought of seeing it as an opportunity cost!

Cindy W. said...

What a great post Ruth, and WOW! What impressive credentials you have!

My problem for the most part is going back and rewriting along the way and then not being happy with it later on. I find if I leave it alone and come back later it does sound so much better than what I had originally thought. I was the same way in college when I took tests. I would change an answer for one question to the wrong answer and my professor would always shake his head knowing what I had done. He always told me "go with your gut" as you are usually right!

Have a blessed day!

Smiles & Blessings,
Cindy W.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Ruth, you published two versions of "At His Command", one for the inspirational market and one with bedroom doors open for the ABA market.

What was your marketing strategy behind this? And weren't they both put out there just this week? I'm not even sure what to think, I'm that surprised!

Madeline Hunter (who endorsed your ABA version, great lady!) was an amazing mentor to me years ago when she looked me in the eye and said, "Keep writing. It's like money in the bank. When someone discovers you, and they will, you'll be ready to be put out there repeatedly."

I took her advice, and that's exactly what happened. She came to speak at a writer's group, and I've been forever in her debt for taking the time to guide me.

The coffee is on and fresh bagels available at the back table!

Becky Dempsey said...

I'm sure I'll have problems knowing when to "pull the cake out of the oven", but for now, I'm still getting the story down on "paper", so I know I'm not done yet!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Welcome back, Ruth. Always a pleasure to have you with us.

Done is a deadline date. Self imposed or otherwise. If not I'd fiddle til the cows come home. :)

And they never come home.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning Seekerville! I brought apple fritters, scrambled eggs and ham and oj this morning.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Marianne, I am exactly the same. When a book is really great the characters linger in my mind for ages.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Audra's a night owl. :-)

I think that's the perfectionism in us as I'm exactly the same way. I appreciate Ruth's tips too.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Eva Maria! That is a helpful concept, isn't it? Does the benefit to the work equal the time spent? Not always.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Cindy W. Go with your gut is good advice. We need to trust ourselves more.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruthy, Madeline gave you great advice and you took it. That's even greater. :-) Writing a novel is like taking a college class.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Becky, Congrats on getting that story on paper! Can't polish a blank page as we've all heard a million times.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Tina, cows do come home as the little trails to the barn testify, but when they get there they can chew on something forever. So they'd help you fiddle. :-)

Janet

kaybee said...

RUTH, this is a good post, and timely for me. The more I learn, the harder it is to let go. I like the idea of "opportunity cost." Balance, balance, balance.
KB

kaybee said...

RUTHY (OUR RUTHY), that is good advice, like money in the bank. I also like the advice from Mary (OUR MARY) to "be ready."
KB

Jackie said...

Great post, Ruth. I never thought of opportunity cost, but I'm not published yet either. I'm always learning something new at Seekerville. Thanks for sharing.

Mary Hicks said...

Yes, I can believe the knowing 'when it's done' is one of the hardest parts of writing. :-)

Thanks, Ruth, for the good tips! :-)

Becke said...

Ruth,
Opportunity cost is the best and probably only advice that came from my Econ course too. Thanks for the reminder.

Most important you trusted yourself and your talent and published the blasted story.

I applaud your tenacity to follow your dream.
b

Ruth Kaufman said...

Hello, Everyone! I'm glad to be here today.
Marianne, I agree!
Audra, Thank you!
Eva Maria, Glad you enjoyed the post.
Cindy W., thanks for the kind words! Self-doubt can be challenging. And so can "going with your gut," if you aren't sure what it's telling you.

Mary Connealy said...

I am now craving cookies at 8 am.

Dangerous blog! :)

Ruth Kaufman said...

Ruth (rare to see another Ruth), I'm glad you think I'd have a marketing strategy.
I released both at the same time, with the goal of reaching more readers: those who enjoy sweet/mild romances, and those who enjoy romances where the bedroom door opens, as they say. I have some friends who love inspirationals, but others who don't.

Madeline is great! We first met years ago in the Silver Lining contest, if any writers here remember that...

Ruth

Cindy Regnier said...

Thank you Ruth. I am one of those who never reaches "Done" so I just have to send anyway. I guess I think no matter how much time I've invested, there is still always room for improvement. And then improving on the improvements. And so on. Great post with many helpful tips.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Becky, if you're still getting your story down, I hope you're spending more time moving forward than reviewing what you have so far. As Nora said, "You can't edit a blank page!"

Ruth Kaufman said...

Tina, LOL!
Janet, thanks again for having me.
Kaybee, thank you. I'm glad I got something out of being an econ major.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Jackie, opportunity costs apply to the AYU (what I call the as yet unpublished), too. For example, if you allot one hour to writing each day, and, for example, spend it researching instead of getting words on the page, you might learn some fascinating tidbits you can use, but the cost of those tidbits is the words you didn't write.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Hi Mary, I've been at this a long time, and feel a tinge of sadness when I meet someone who's been working on the same ms for years. She may be happy just to call herself a writer, but I believe if you want to call yourself an author you have to submit (to agents, editors, the world via indie publishing), at some point.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Hi Becke, Great to see you here! Thanks for the kind words. As you know, it can be hard to trust yourself in general much less after getting a revision letter. While making requested changes, I'd keep wondering, is that enough? Too much?

Ruth Kaufman said...

Hi Cindy. I hear you! Have you tried setting (and telling fellow writers about) a specific goal of when you'll be done with something?

Michael Coorlim said...

Great post, Ruth! I try to keep this Voltaire quote in mind:

"The perfect is the enemy of the good."

Ruth Kaufman said...

Michael, thanks for stopping by. Great Voltaire quote.

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Kathy. The more we write the more we intuitively know when to let go that manuscript go. Or so we hope. LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Jackie, this was a new idea for me too. I'm always learning something new in Seekerville.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Mary H. If only there was a manuscript recipe for doneness. LOL Put in the toothpick and it comes out clean.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Good morning, Becke! I never took econ in college. Lucky me. :-) Still, you and Ruth found a great takeaway.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mary, I thought the cookies looked a tad overdone. But I did relate to the gal tearing out her hair. Must go comb mine. :-)

Janet

Missy Tippens said...

Welcome, Ruth! I wish we could hear your voice to go along with your post. :)

You know, I have such a problem letting go of manuscripts. About the only thing that does make me declare it "done" is a deadline. (Whether that's to a critique partner or agent/editor). I just always find something else to change!

Janet Dean said...

Cindy R, I relate. The reason the post resonates with us. The good part is that some things become more automatic as we write. For me that's remembering to have scene goals and conflict.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruth, you majored in econ? You seem so normal. Sorry! I just do not understand goods/numbers.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Michael. Love the quote! Thanks for sharing.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Missy, we have the same chronic disease. Must be catchy. :-)

Janet

Ruth Kaufman said...

Missy, deadlines can be a great way to force letting go. Perhaps this will be your year to let go when you're ready.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Janet, yes, one of my undergrad majors was econ. I didn't realize how much math was involved, or the complicated graphs, but at the time I wanted something practical to go with my radio/TV/film major....

Pam Hillman said...

Undone or overdone. What a conundrum! At least with a hard deadline from Trad publishers, this issue is WRENCHED out of my hands and someone else makes the decision. lol

Being an Indie takes a lot of guts! :)

Ruth Kaufman said...

Thank you, Pam! I've heard many author friends' tales of indie pub, and decided to go for it. We'll see!

Susanne Dietze said...

Fabulous post and just what I needed today as I'm in the finals stages with my manuscript.

I appreciate the introduction to Ruth, too! Thanks!

Myra Johnson said...

Insightful post, Ruth, and thanks for being our guest today!

I absolutely could find something to tweak with every editing pass I make! But I do get to the point where I know I'm getting too picky about inconsequential things and need to stop.

Also, having an editorial deadline is a really good motivator for declaring it "done"!

Truly, though, you do have to trust your gut, and I believe the more experience you have, the easier that is to do.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Hi Ruth, Welcome to Seekerville. Thanks for such a helpful post. Love the checklist. We all need to pay attention. smile

Have fun today.

Connie Queen said...

Good morning Ruth.

I'm not sure I ever get done. Depending on my mood and what I've read recently, I can see my ms differently. Somewhere in there I must get exhausted and send it out whether it be to a cp, contest, or editor.

Great thoughts!

Ruth Kaufman said...

Thanks, Suzanne! Nice to "meet" you, too.

Maybe you'll share what you plan to do differently now?

Ruth Kaufman said...

Hi Sandra! Glad you liked the post.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Good morning to you, too, Connie.

I hope my post helps you and others decide when you're done, not let external circumstances decide for you.

Janet Dean said...

Ruth, econ is practical. Who knew? ;-) I apologize to all the Econ majors everywhere.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Pam, undone cakes have a gunky middle. Isn't it always the middle that needs the most revising? Overdone, and as Ruth says, we strip the book of our voice. Just right. We all need more Goldilocks in us.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Susanne, congratulations on reaching the final stages with your manuscript! Always a reason to celebrate!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Myra, excellent point! More experience and I'd add less self doubt. An editor will let us know when we have more work to do.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Sandra, don't you just love checklists that remind us of areas to go over before we hit send!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Hi Connie. We writers have to get to the point where we recognize the difference between nitpicking and meaningful revisions. Not easy.

Janet

Julie Lessman said...

Hey, RUTH, WELCOME TO SEEKERVILLE!!

And, WOW, loved the post, but realllllly love the idea of two versions of your book -- VERY COOL!!

I actually did that myself in the very beginning, but only to sell it to a publisher, not the public. I'm an inspy author whose tagline is "Passion with a Purpose," so my books are definitely more romantically passionate than most in the CBA.

My original goal was to go for that broad middle-of-the-road market of romance readers with faith who read mostly secular. So I gave my agent two versions of my original ms. of A Passion Most Pure -- one to pitch to the ABA and one to pitch to the CBA. Fortunately for me, she inadvertently pitched the ABA version (with drinking, card playing and WAY more passionate romance) to my CBA publisher, and they bought it!!

Since then, I can't tell you how many times I've thought about creating two versions of a book, one for CBA and one for ABA, so you basically are fulfilling my dream!! I'm anxious to hear how it works out, so I hope you will come back to Seekerville to tell us, okay?

Hugs and GOOD LUCK on both versions!

Julie

Elaine Manders said...

Ruth,

You really hit me between the eyes. I've always been such a perfectionist I'm rarely satisfied with anything. I have one 500 page manuscript in the closet that was a good story at one time until I over-did it. It's only been recently that I realized what my real problem is--I'm over-controlling. That's what keeps me from turning over a book to someone else. I don't have any problem giving it to critiquers or beta readers, in fact, I like getting advice, but the idea that something will be published and closed to tweaking scares me. What if there's a glaring error? Even professional editors can let that happen.

Then someone told me if you indy publish, you can revise if necessary. That's been very freeing, so that's what I'm going to do this year with 5 books that should be ready and my daughter is going to actually push the buttons because I probably would never be able to, and she won't let me touch them for six months.

Maybe I'm an oddball, but I think there are a lot of writers like me. I'll let them know this time next year if that works.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Julie, thanks for the welcome and for sharing your story! And great that you were able to sell the ABA version to a CBA publisher.

I'd be happy to come back and report if Seekerville lets me!

So far, the biggest surprise is how many authors have reached out saying what a cool idea it is.

I pitched a workshop to RWA (we'll see!). And, soon I hope to announce the specifics about something coming in RWA eNotes....

Ruth Kaufman said...

Elaine, I feel your pain. But I think the pain of not getting your work out there (after, of course writing the best book you can, blahblahblah) can be worse.

Congrats on having 5 books ready to go, and best wishes for your success when you release them.

Mary Connealy said...

When is a book done....you know, I try and give myself time away from the finished manuscript.

That lets forget what I MEANT to write and go back to read what I really wrote.

That time helps, Ruth, like you said.

But somehow for me when the book is in print, yes there are moments and scenes where I sometimes wish I had one more chance to get it right, but mostly the book becomes a finished product, one whole, large item rather than all the little pieces of the jigsaw I'm trying to fit together.

I can mostly let it stand as is and have peace about that.

Mary Connealy said...

Ruth, yes the cookies looked overdone but thanks to my vivid imagination I could totally visualize LUSCIOUS cookies.

I went to bake some and was thinking oatmeal raisin and I had not enough oatmeal so I was saved from my snacking habit.

Janet Dean said...

Julie, when the two versions sensuality are quite different authors will need to ensure readers don't become confused.

This approach seems contrary to the emphasis on branding.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Elaine, bravo to your brave button pushing daughter!

I hadn't thought that authors can revise a pubbed indie novel.

We all may need time in therapy. LOL

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Ruth, that's what I call a tease!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mary, you poor thing. I'm sitting out every kind of cookie along with a variety of ice cream and toppings.

Mindfulness. I must remind myself of my word. And stay away.

Janet

Natalie Monk said...

I always dread the "letting go" stage, be it with a proposal, MS, or query letter.

Thanks for bringing us these tips, Ruth!

Chill N said...

I can not express how timely your post is, Ruth! As to my biggest sticking point before I let go, I blame it on my years in journalism -- fact checking, punctuation, formatting. But eventually I'm just sick of the project and ready to move on :-)

Cool that you're releasing two versions of the same story!!! I wish more writers would -- making it apparent on the cover which version is 'gentle/sweet' and which one isn't. Good luck with this.

Nancy C

Ruth Kaufman said...

Natalie, something I just thought of: one thing about letting go...it frees you up to work on something new...more chapters of that project or a different book.

Ruth Kaufman said...

Nancy, glad my post is timely.

And thanks for thinking 2 books at the same time is cool. I'm glad I made it through the self-publishing process!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Elaine! I can only imagine how hard it would be to push the publish button! I do know how scary it was to for the first time to turn over something my editor at LI hadn't edited for me. I was terrified. But thankfully Ruthy hit the publish button for our novellas. :)

Wilani Wahl said...

I just finished reading Hope for the Holidays Contemporary and posted reviews. I loved both collections and am very sorry that I finished them. I want to keep reading! When will the next group of collections due out? There is something about the writers here on Seekerville. You are all great writers and I want to learn all I can from you.

DebH said...

Just now getting to the computer today.This is a great post for me to keep in mind as I work. Usually I feel like I'm done once the deadline hits. Looking on past work, I always can find what I'd like to do different, except that I would rather apply what I learned to the new project - not the old.
Each project is a learning experience and the next step of growth for me. At least that's how I view things.

thanks for sharing. i will be interested in how the two versions of same story work out for you.

Janet Dean said...

Walani Wahl, aren't you the sweetest thing to say that! Cheering for each wonderful author in the collections!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Deb H, I commend you for your wisdom! I'm guessing most authors would change something if they could, but most of those changes would be small things that a reader would never notice if she's enjoying the story.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Nancy C, thanks for sharing your thoughts on writers releasing two versions of the same book.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

When we're trying to decide when baked goods are done, we don't want to wait too long for that yummy payoff. Carrying that a step further, authors need to remember that a contest win or paycheck is just as satisfying.

Janet

Ruth Kaufman said...

Thank you, DebH. You have a great attitude!
And deadlines can be a great motivator.

Kelly Goshorn said...

Great post and timely as ever! I agree with Kaybee, the more I learn the more I want to polish. I need to wrap things up or this will be the only story I ever write! Thanks for the encouragement!

Janet Dean said...

Hi Kelly,

Isn't that the truth! When I wrote my first book I knew nothing. And was very pleased. Yet I soon learned the book had terrible problems. Now I know so much more. Not that I always remember those things when I'm writing. LOL But when I'm revising I have a tendency to strive for perfection. An impossible goal for imperfect me. And I'm learning thanks to posts like this one that striving for perfection is not the best use of my time.

Janet

Ruth Kaufman said...

Kelly,

I think it's harder to move on from your first ms. The way the market is changing, most of us need to learn to write faster!

Ruth Kaufman said...

Thank you again, Janet & Seekerville, for having me.

Happy writing and many sales to you!