Saturday, July 9, 2011

How Do You Know When Your Book is Cooked (The Revival)

A funny thing happened here on my blog:  I was wrong.

Now, now, before you go gettin' all quivery...

Last year, after an extensive round of edits with my agent that whipped my manuscript into the best shape it had been at that point (and during which time several editors asked to read it *gulp*) I wrote a post on how to know if your book is cooked.

Except, the problem was, my book wasn't.  So editors who were 'very excited about the premise', turned it down. 

It just wasn't ready.

(If you want to see why I'm eating humble-pie, check out this post, then come back here.  I'll wait....)


Now, from what I gather, I'm not the first author to have experienced this.  But it taught me something really important:

I'll probably never be finished until the book is on the shelf.  (And, based on listening to a bunch of published authors out there, I'll probably wish I could change it later).

BUT that's kind of the beauty of this industry.  We're always growing, always improving, always learning new skills (or should be). 

I think the question you, me and everyone else who's writing should ask is: Have I got the right recipe?  Whether the next step is revision, querying agents, submission to editors or self-publishing - your book might be as "cooked" as you're capable of getting it right now.  If you find yourself reading through, changing sentences, then reading through and changing them back... you've probably reached your limit. 

So, what next?  How do you know it's ready to move along?

- Find a critique group (especially with someone more experienced than yourself) and listen to what they have to say, even if it hurts.

- Read a Really Good Fiction Craft Book.

- Put the manuscript aside for a couple of months and write something else, then come back to read with fresh eyes.

- Read another Really Good Fiction Craft Book.

- *CAUTION: USE WITH CARE*: Approach any professional contacts you might have and ask their advice.

The point is, even published authors haven't 'finished' a book until it's been through several rounds of editing.  We-The-Aspiring's can't really expect to reach that level without professional help.  The trick is to recognize when you've taken it as far as you can for now, then employ one of these techniques (or any others you can come up with).  And the key to making any of these actually useful is a willingness to consider criticism as a springboard for improvement, rather than a failure of epic proportions.

Your Turn: Is your manuscript ready to move on?  What helped you feel confident of that?


  1. Great post Aimee, and I'm not sure you ever really know. I guess when someone buys it? :-) Even then, as you mentioned, I'm sure there'll be some regrets.


  2. My manuscript is ready to move on. . . to revisions and rewrites. Hopefully when it's all done being cooked it will come out as the MS I love. Fantastic post! :D

  3. Wow, I'm not sure. I'm usually so blinded by love for the first draft that I can't see it's faults until the honeymoon is over and I've lived with it for a while. Even then, I need someone else to point out the lies and manipulation. I let my editor tell me it's finished, otherwise I'd never know when to break it off!

  4. I blogged my way to this question a few weeks ago, and this was the conclusion I reached too. Until the MS is actually out of my hands for the last time, the book isn't done.

    However, I don't think this negates your earlier post. Listening to the advice of others and our own inner voice is an important part of the process. It's how we know the book is done... for now.

    The honest truth is, our book will never be done for good (as in, actually on sale somewhere) unless we eventually allow it to be done for now. If we never put our red pens down and send the MS out, we won't know for sure if it's ready.

  5. This was me for a solid two years. At first I thought each revision would be the last one, until that 'very excited about the premise' line would pop up and some months later it was followed by a 'but.' All good advice here, though. Doing this stuff has helped me out a lot.

  6. None of my manuscripts are ready, in any sense of the word. ;) Well, unless you count them being ready to be worked on!!

  7. It's diffacult to tell. Sometimes our taste buds are out of whack.
    Guess you can only be creative with your book and see if it has any flavor left over.

  8. Great post!

    I have nothing to offer here as i have not finished a book. However, i certainly will not shy away from the most crucial step of writing a book. The edits edits edits and accepting as much (hopefully well meant) criticism that i can. I am sure my meagre knowledge will NOT be enough to point out the problems with my book.

    Anyway, back to writing for me.

    Good luck


  9. My book is far from cooked and you're right, it probably never will be completely. I've learnt the value of constructive criticism and am looking forward to getting Tangled to a state fit for beta readers!