To answer what might be the first question you have, the first reason you probably haven’t finished your book is the fact that you haven’t started your book.
The most common question I get is, “What does one have to do to write a book?” The answer sounds rude or condescending, but it’s just simple truth. You have to write. You have to put aside time every day to sit down and work on your book. If you never do that, then it’s academic. You can’t ever finish a thing you didn’t start.
So that means I can talk about the “other” reason.
The simple explanation: When you’re writing your book. Don’t. Stop. I remember talking to my brother, I’m not sure if I finished my first manuscript or not, but he mentioned trying to write a book, and he said he wrote one sentence over and over again. That’s when it dawned on me.
One reason why I’m able to crank out novels is because I’m relentless. I don’t stop to edit. I don’t stop to think about how the book works. When it’s time to draft (write the actual story), I just let my fingers fly, and I’ve learned just how hard that is for some people to do.
Now, as I teach journalism, I see the same issue. I’ve sat, my heart breaking, as I watched students write a few words. Then they’d stop and look up how to write something or see if a term should be abbreviated. Then they’ll type a few more words or a sentence and then manipulate it for a painful amount of time.
The motivation of someone wanting their writing to have a high quality product is understandable, but here is the most valuable advice I can give a person aside from, “write.” That advice is, “Draft now; edit later!”
If you agonize over a sentence or a scene, you’ll never finish. You need to let go. Trust the Force! I’ll admit this thought is hard for some to understand. It’s equally hard for me to understand why people can’t just pound out the words, but it happens.
I promise, there is a time to edit. There is a time to look at your story and mold it into its greatest potential, but that time doesn’t come until you have a completed (start to finish) draft.
If you can cultivate this habit, I promise you’ll finish novel after novel.
The main reason I wanted to do a 2nd edition was to gain more control over the price and make it easier for people to purchase. I also wanted to be able to have electronic e-sales. Making this decision allowed me to do another editorial pass. In truth, I did three.
By my count, that means I’ve done about 41 total passes on this book. This isn’t to say I’ve rewritten it, I’m proud to say I only did about three “full” revisions. These were drafts where I changed or rearranged content. The rest were proofreading drafts, and that’s where I want to focus my attention.
There’s this term, minimum viable product. I’ll be honest, I hate that term. To me, it connotes, “get it printed as quickly as possible, and don’t worry about the quality.” Perhaps I take that term too far, but I’ve read work completed under that banner, and to be frank, it never works out well. The typos and issues pull me out of the story and away from the plot.
However, the other side of that coin is even worse. You see, at some point, you have to let it go. This is why I hold so firmly to my process. It’s the balance I’ve found between ensuring the best product I can get to my readers while ensuring I actually release something.
Too many people ever finish a book or never publish it because they want it to be perfect. Here’s the brutal truth: You’ll never be perfect. Of the 41 times I’ve read Bob Drifter, I’ve never failed to find a rather significant number of issues. It’s simply going to happen when one writes 133,000 words. Now, this version is FAR cleaner than the last, and it should be. I’ve been told that the industry standard for “number of errors” in a book is 3% (author and editor friends, I’d appreciate confirmation of this). That means I could theoretically have more than 3,900 typos in Bob drifter, and I’d still be “within standard.”
I never counted, but even after paying my editor to do a pass on the book, I found an embarrassing number of grammar errors and typos. I even noticed a minor continuity issue. (It appears Richard used to own a house that changed color. I fixed that.) I assure you, my editor did a fine job. I promise I gave my best effort the other 40 times I went over the book. The simple fact of the matter is the book will never be “perfect.” I have to give you readers the best, high-quality product I can in a timely manner. That means taking a breath, and letting the story get out into the world at some point.
I don’t in any way agree with the philosophy of “just get the product out.” Those who disagree with me are welcome to, and you can even comment if you wish. This is simply my opinion on a common topic of discussion in the industry.
What I do support is the idea that you have to, at some point, release a book.
What I recommend:
Develop a plan, and hold to it. I’ve mentioned my plan a few times in a few different blogs, but because I can’t think of any one to refer you to, I’ll just go over it.
Discovery draft: get the story written.
First draft: Fill in holes. Flesh out the plot. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This usually takes me between 3-7 “passes.”)
Alpha draft: Get alpha readers’ feedback. Take information under advisement and address concerns. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (This time it usually takes me 2-5 “passes.”)
Editorial draft: Sara gets her hands on the product and provides her developmental edits. I take those recommendations into consideration and make appropriate changes. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors. (The remainder of these “read-throughs” usually take between 1-3 passes.)
Beta draft: Send the draft out to the target audience. Apply their feedback. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Copyediting draft: This one goes back to Sara. She looks at the structure and grammar. Read out loud until you don’t catch any errors.
Proofreading draft: The last draft before I send it to publish. Simply read out loud until I can’t find an error.
Proof draft: When I get my proof (digital or physical), I read it out loud, making any changes I catch. I don’t repeat the process, I simply correct what I catch.
Is this too much for you? That’s OK, you can’t minimize. I wouldn’t be angry at someone who doesn’t do “read out loud” passes until the copyediting draft.
Arguments against my way: “What do you pay an editor for?”
I’m glad you ask. I pay Sara to catch what I miss. The more errors I blatantly ignore or don’t bother to look for, the more likely she is to miss something. I’m sure Sara would much rather I send her my best than if I send her a group of random fragments for her to polish into a book. If I did that to her, I may as well give her credit as a co-author. She’s the editor, but I’m the writer. It’s my job to give her my best product, and her job to make it better.
However, once I finish my process, I let the book go. I haven’t even looked at Sojourn, even though it’s not even scheduled to be turned in until later this winter. I followed my process, and I trust it. I’m sure people will note errors, and I’ll note them and offer my thanks to any who tell me about them, but I did my best with the time I gave myself to develop the story.
This is the process that works for me. You can use it, use your own, or use mine to develop something new. The point is, give your best effort. Don’t expect your editors to take your “least” efforts and make it stand out, but don’t edit a 30,000-word story 30,000 times and take years to release what should come out in a matter of months. (I’m delaying my releases because of a marketing and momentum plan, but those products will be finished well before my “deadlines.”)
A note: Please don’t feel insulted. Perhaps you have a different definition of “minimum viable product.” I’m happy to hear it, though I’ll probably still disagree, it doesn’t make you wrong any more than it makes me right. Like I said, find what works for you. The point is, give your products the love you want your readers to give those products, but remember they can’t love the books at all if you never publish.
What I hope is this post motivates you to publish that book you’ve edited 40 times. Get that story out in the world because you worked hard on it. If you’ve just finished the first draft of a product, do the story a favor and give it a few passes to make sure it’s the best it can be. Perhaps if they called it “most timely viable product,” I’d be more willing to accept it, but that’s not the case.
I hope this motivates you either way. I’m very eager to hear editors’ and authors’ opinions on this matter.