Monday, 27 May 2013

When Good Is Good Enough

Writing the final pages of your new book is like mixing up a tasty batch of cookie dough. It looks good, tastes good, and has all the ingredients in just the right proportions - but it's not finished. Without the polishing provided during editing and revisions, readers aren't left feeling satisfied. Cookie dough may be tasty, but it's not as filling as a cookie baked to perfection.

It's common sense to not expect people to pay for an incomplete cookie, so why would an author publish an incomplete book without the benefit of a proper edit, and think readers would be satisfied with that? If it's not something that you would want to read from someone else, don't expect others to grant you any favors.

The vast number of free options provided today to aspiring self-publishers makes it very tempting to release "cookie dough" novels. Having a book sitting on a digital shelf, ready for hungry readers, is often too much of a draw for some authors to resist. The thing to remember, however, is that if you don't take the time to bake your cookies, it'll be your goose that's cooked. Readers are justifiably picky when it comes to their time, and all it takes are a few bad reviews to kill interest in a book.

However, that brings up another dilemma. At what point do you consider your book ready? It's easy to tell when you've overbaked your cookies. Unfortunately, there's no tell-tale signs of smoke to let a writer know when they've over-edited their story. Writing, like baking, is both a skill and an art. It takes time to learn how to do it properly.

When writing my first novel, Reading The Dead - The Sarah Milton Chronicles, I undertook no less than five major revisions. This included completely rewriting the entire opening sequence and the climax three times. I polished dialog, tweaked the humor, tightened the plot, fixed the formatting and grammar, cleaned up my dreadful habit of overusing certain words such as "had" and "was," killed adverbs and passive voice, and fixed numerous other problems that I hadn't even realized were dragging the story down, until literally years later. 

I finished the book in 2011. It didn't publish until 2013. In between, I kept writing, growing more confident in my craft. I discovered better ways to string my sentences, found what worked and what didn't, and saw real improvement in my skills as time went on. During this time, I kept returning to my book, finding new things to fix and clean with my increasingly critical eye. I shopped it out to editors and gained even more experience from their suggestions. The learning experience for me has proven more invaluable than I could have ever imagined.

I'm not saying this is the way every writer should treat revisions. If you want some good advice on the subject, I strongly recommend Stephen King's On Writing. He suggests shelving your book for six weeks, so you can go back and review it later with a fresh set of eyes. It just took a little longer in my case. I think the results were worth the wait. The book I eventually released was the one that satisfied me. 

In the end, that's all any writer - or baker - can honestly say.