I touched on this a little bit in my Self-publishing: It’s Harder than I Thought blog post. However, I thought I would expand on this topic a little more.
It’s the most popular question amongst aspiring self-publishers that I see on writing sites and in writing communities. When do you know your novel is ready? Is it like love, do you just feel it? Do you simply know? Is it even a feeling? Or is it a fact, a completion of a set check-list?
It’s a bit of everything. The best way I can describe it…ever have to use the bathroom really badly, but there’s no restroom in sight? Your bladder is about to burst, you want to cry. You panic, you don’t know what to do. You’re desperate. Then you see it. That gleaming silver sign. Restroom. Today, you’re lucky. There’s no line. You rush. You throw open the door, hobble to the first stall, pull down your pants…and ahhhhh. Relief.
Okay, so maybe it isnt exactly like peeing after you thought your bladder was going to explode. But it’s pretty similar. The panic. Frustration. Desperation. Hope. The rushing. And then relief. It’s a whole surge of emotions in a small span of time, so intense and so overwhelming that you think you may die if you have to endure another second of it. But, then it ends.
The weeks before publishing are the hardest. It’s when you get down and dirty. By this point, you’ve been working on your novel for months — years in my case. Writing and rewriting the same scene over again and again and again…Your characters bug you. You wish they’d just die if they weren’t going play fair with you and do what they were written to do. You’ve come to the end of your rope, and if one more person finds a fatal flaw in your story, you can easily imagine yourself transforming into a human torando and destroying everything in your path.
So, how do you know you aren’t going to brutally kill all of your characters, throw your story into the fire, or become a human tornado? How do you really know you’re done?
Let’s start from the beginning. The very beginning. Before your story is even a full thought in your head. Realize: this is going to take a long time. “A long time” differs from writer to writer. Some think six months is long. Some think a year is long. Regardless, it is going to take a long time before your book is ready. For those who can crank out a book in a month, I salute you and want your brain. I can pay you with my writer’s tears.
For me, I began Blue Ruin in May 2014. Only now have I been able to publish it, almost two years later. I don’t consider that bad or incredibly long. But between May 2014 and February 2016, I’d set to release my novel two different times. By spring of 2015, I’d anticipated publishing my novel by June. Beta-readers cycled through and found mountains of things I could change and expand upon.
I didn’t plan for another publishing date at that time. I worked through all of June and in July I became ill for the entire month. There went my productivity. August was spent recovering with little to almost nothing being written. September rolled around and classes began. By September, I’d intended to publish in December. I announced to my beta-readers that they would have to finish up their critiques by the middle of December in order to give me time to finalize the novel. Then, organic chemistry came into the picture. What social life I had went out the window. Spare time was replaced with crying into my textbook as I tried to comprehend the chemical reaction that yielded soap.
The end of December was crucial. It was those few weeks prior to publishing. Everything was hectic. However, this is the time I knew I was done. The critiques my beta-readers had given me had shifted from what they’d originally been. Plot holes had been filled. Characters had grown to their full potential. Critiques that had once torn into my story, now nitpicked at word choices I could ignore, ideas that I could use but didn’t have to. My story was sound, and readers assured me it was sound. When enough of my beta-readers reached this consensus, I pulled Blue Ruin from the critiquing site. If I’d kept it up there, additional readers would’ve critiqued it. More readers. More ideas. More edits. More of a chance I would never publish.
But you say, what if one of those readers would’ve given you vital information?
Every reader will give you something that you can use. Every reader will spark an idea in you. But, at some point, you have to let your story go. And when more readers are saying it’s sound than not — because you will always have those readers who think otherwise — that’s when you cut the umbilical cord.
Once removed from the site, I hired an editor to give me that last ounce of reassurance and confidence that my work wasn’t a pile of shit, but an actual novel that people could read and hopefully come to love.
In the end, knowing your book is ready for the world is partially based on facts and partially based on feeling. It takes longer than you thought, with more edits than you’ll care to realize, and a lot more tears than you thought you’d shed.
In short, after you edit your book, set it aside, hide it in a drawer, bury it in a folder on your laptop. Forget it even exists. If you can come back to it months later, read it, and not want to vomit…you’re done.