When is a book finished? And other writerly ponderings…
I finished the first draft of my first novel, Art and Soul, back in November 2014. I spent two months editing, then sent the manuscript to my first two readers. While they were reading, I read a couple of books on self-editing and realized I’d committed a lot of glaring errors.
I used my readers’ feedback and what I’d learnt from the books to do another complete manuscript “fix”. I then sent this draft to more readers. Their feedback resulted in more re-writes, particularly to the beginning of chapter 1, which I freely admit I’m still not 100% happy with.
It was this version from which I took the first three chapters I started to send to literary agents back in May of this year. Each time I got a round of rejections, I took another look at those first three chapters, made some more changes, sent them out again…
Now we’re nearly at the end of the year without any positive responses from agents, I think I will be self-publishing next year. Before I do this, I plan to send my book to a professional editor for a full structural and content edit. With this in mind, at the start of November I decided to do another re-read of the whole novel, not just the first three chapters.
I didn’t expect to find much to change. And certainly no typos. After all, it’s been past eight beta readers who have all found different small errors which I have fixed. Surely there couldn’t be any more?
Well there were. In fact, by the time I got to “The End” I had made 298 notes (the Kindle comes in useful again!). That’s 298 edit points. Admittedly, many of these are “delete comma” or “check formatting”. But there were also things I remembered I’d never felt quite happy about. For example, there are three chapters (three!) with endings I feel are somehow “weak”.
On the bright side, I found myself drawn to my characters again and genuinely looking forward to the next chapter, even though I know exactly what’s going to happen. I hope this is a good sign. I’m guessing if your own work bores you silly, it’s likely to bore your readers too.
In conclusion: if you can, I’ve discovered that it’s worth putting your novel away for quite a long time (six months in my case) without reading it. When you return, you will be surprised by what you find. My experience also demonstrates why proofreaders are invaluable. I had asked my beta readers to look for errors, but all of them overlooked things I noticed when I did this most recent re-read (I’m not slagging my beta readers here. I love them. And, hey, I’m responsible for the errors and didn’t notice them either).
It also made me wonder: how do you decide your novel is “done”? Do you have to eventually accept you’ve done your best and hand it over to your readers to find the inevitable single sneaky typo? 🙂
Writers and editors: what’s your experience? Have you ever found any typos which made you laugh?