Wednesday, June 8, 2011

When is it ready?

Revise until it's published.

That's a piece of advice I was given many, many years ago when I started writing. I've heard it many times since. I'm sure you have, too.

I follow a personal rule of revising every submission before it goes out. I was following this rule recently while preparing my latest novel for submission to a publisher who had requested it. After seventeen drafts, I figured there wasn't much I would need to do on it.

Boy was I wrong.

There must be a special type of ghost that messes with writers. This ghost removes commas from where they should be and adds commas where they shouldn't. It takes tightly written sentences and makes them wordy. It abducts strong words and inserts their weak cousins.

My first drafts tend to be loaded with what I call seeds. Seeds are plot elements or character traits, sometimes even characters themselves, that I drop in to see if they will grow into flowers or weeds. Most of them become weeds which need to be pulled in revision. The trouble with weeds is their resistance to pulling. That bit about the Beretta was pulled seven drafts ago. Why is there still a reference to it?

Seven drafts ago, I thought this was ready. Agents and publishers did not agree. They sent it back for more revision. It's clear to me they were right or I wouldn't now be working on the eighteenth draft.

How do I know a story needs more revision? One way is to give it some time. I give the story a rest for a few weeks or a month so that, when I return to it, my eyes will be fresh. The sucky parts are easier to see when the eyes are fresh. A second way is to give it more eyes. I let somebody I trust read the story and tell me where it needs work. It can't just be anybody, however. It needs to be someone who understands plot and character, who understands sentence structure, and who knows grammar and punctuation. It's not easy to find someone who's good at all three, so multiple sets of eyes might be necessary. Finally, I let somebody else decide on publishing it.

I haven't yet made the jump into self-publishing because I'm not confident the book is ready. So, if any of you have published your own books, how did you gauge the quality of your work? What do you do to help you decide if the book is ready for publishing or if it needs more revision?

Mark Troy
Hawaiian Eye Blog


Terry Odell said...

Although it can be hard to judge for yourself, advice from a Big Name author was you were done when your edits weren't making it better, only different.

Terry's Place
Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

Mark Troy said...

I like that, Terry. Thanks.

Helen Ginger said...

I'm with you, I let time pass between reads. Another thing I do is as I read (not on every pass, though), I do a quick mini synopsis of each chapter (maybe a couple of lines or so). That has helped me catch mistakes. I'll get to Chapter 22 and go, wait a minute, that car was red in Chapter 4, or even, her childhood pet used to be a dog!

Jean Henry Mead said...

The logical thing to do is to send your manuscript to Helen Ginger, an excellent editor, to review.
Everyone should put their "finished" manuscript aside for at least a month, then take it out and read it as though someone else had written it. Then re-edit and polish it until it's the best you can possibly write.

J D Webb said...

Jean's advice is right on.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Read it aloud. I catch a few that way. I also sometimes have my youngest read it back to me and can catch a few things that way.

I also agree that putting it aside for a month helps a lot.