You gotta know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away . . .
Okay, so technically that line from an old Kenny Rogers song is talking about gambling, not writing a book. But either way, it still holds true. Sometimes, you just need to know when to walk away.
There comes a point in every book manuscript when good enough is, well, good enough. How do you know when that is?
My honest answer is that it’s not something you will intuitively “know”; neither will there likely be writing in the sky or an angel choir singing the hallelujah chorus. Rather, it’s a decision you make:
It is finished.
I’ve seen authors make endless iterations of paragraphs and chapters and beginnings and endings when, frankly, each was just as good as the one before it. I have seen the same comma being inserted and removed multiple times in the same sentence, seeking “perfection.” I’m not sure who was more frustrated, the author or me!
When it comes time to make that determination, here are some things you, the author, should be thinking about to determine if your manuscript is done:
- Structure: Does the flow of thought makes sense across the entire book ?
- Non-fiction: Is there a clear thesis statement? Does the book deliver on its promise to answer a certain question (or questions) for the reader?
- Fiction: Do all your story lines get resolved? Are all your readers’ internal questions about the characters and plot resolved?
- Is there an intriguing first chapter and a satisfying last chapter?
- Does the pace of the book pull your reader through? (does not lag partway through)
- Does each chapter end with a satisfying conclusion and transition to next chapter?
- Are your tone and voice consistent throughout the whole book?
- Is there a good connection between author and reader? (outside voices can tell you this)
- Have you caught all the grammar and spelling errors? (It’s hard to get a perfect book but you should strive to get as close as possible; find a trusted proofreader!)
The sensation of “finished” may feel different between a fiction and non-fiction book. An editor with Penguin Random House said, “When editing non-fiction, I feel the book is done when it delivers on its promise: it communicates its information in the most pleasing and effective way, and has answered the readers’ anticipated questions.’
On the other hand, a fiction author related, “I find that I’m done with a book when my subconscious mind is no longer working on it. When I stop thinking about it when I’m running. Or if I’m in the grocery store staring at avocados and a great idea about the book doesn’t just spring into my head. Or if I’m no longer waking up in the middle of the night with an urgent need to write down some dialogue. When those little moments stop happening, I know I’m done.”
That’s where a trusted third party voice, like an editor, can help you settle the issue and assure you that, yes, it’s time to put down the pen (or computer) and launch your book into the world. If you’ve ever launched a child into the world, you know what I mean. You teach them everything you can and pour your life wisdom into them the best you know, but eventually, you have to let them go and make their way in the world on their own.
After all, we don’t want them hanging around the house forever, do we?
Arlyn Lawrence is a developmental editor, president of Inspira Literary Solutions, and co-author of Parenting for the Launch: Raising Teens to Succeed in the Real World (LifeSmart Publishing). She has successfully launched five children into the real world, along with over three dozen books.