It was such a pleasure to host you Stephanie! Thanks again for sharing your 3 Amazing Guest Posts :)
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This is part three in a three-part series where author Stephanie Carroll breaks down what you need to write a novel and finish. Check out part one for how to start and part two for how to get through the editing phase. This week is all about knowing when you are finished, which can be much more difficult than writing The End.
As Winston Churchill said, “Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement; then it becomes a mistress and then it becomes a master, and then a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster, and fling him out to the public.”
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Many writers say, I will know when my book is finished when an agent or publisher picks me up. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. The state of the industry confuses authors about their finished work. We’ve all heard the stories of the bestselling author who queried 100 agents before getting one who would take a chance, so obviously it’s possible to be rejected even if you have something that is finished and good. You would have to be extremely skilled at self-denial to not question whether or not your book needs work after 100 rejections. Still, I know plenty of writers who continue toiling on a wonderful book because the industry hasn’t recognized their efforts yet.
So how do you know when your work is actually ready?
The Final Edits
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To begin, there shouldn’t be any sections that you personally consider weak or flawed. Resist the urge to think an editor will ultimately help you fix it. If you have those types of flaws, you probably won’t get accepted by an editor and even if you do get an editor, most editors don’t edit anymore. Check out this book for help with editing, Self-Editing for Publication. Once you get to a point of satisfaction and a point where you can’t stand to even look at your novel anymore, it’s time to get reader opinions.
You can start sending it out to those agents who you don’t care about rejecting you just to test the waters or you can get test readers. I did a series of readings where I asked friends, family, and anyone from my Facebook page to read my novel and answer a list of questions. It's free and easy to convert your word document into an epub, which friends can view on their e-readers. Here's the one I use Online Epub Converter.
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If you are like me and have trouble getting people to commit to this beyond your mother and grandmother whose opinions’ are somewhat biased, offer an Amazon gift card to the first person to get a feedback questionnaire returned to you. That got some extra people interested in my test reading. If the majority of readers report problems or seem unwilling to report either good or bad, it usually means it needs more work. It wasn’t until the majority of those readers reported that they couldn’t put the book down that I began to believe the book was near completion.
Editors for Hire
Writers can also pay for a content editor to go through their work and help get it to a finished state, but be careful and extremely picky when searching for these editors. There’s no certification and anyone can offer their services even if their editing skills involve rewriting your book to their liking. The process can also be drug out for years at an hourly rate, which can rack up a bill into the thousands. I’m not saying content editing isn’t the way to go. I’m saying be careful and well-informed when choosing an editor.
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Don't have your book copyedited before sending it to agents and publishers. Content editing is about the story. Copyediting is about grammar. Proofreading is the very last edit right before publishing.
If you are going to try for traditional publishing, do make sure your manuscript as clean as you can get it. Use Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript to make sure you have all the right specifications.
Then start researching agents who represent your genre. I recommend using 2013 Writer’s Market, which is basically a phone book of agents, editors, and publishers for novels, short stories, and magazines. Then comes the fun of learning how to write a query letter to an agent, which is surprisingly difficult. This book will help though: How to Write a Great Query Letter.
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Are You Ready to be Finished?
The urban legend of writers is that there was this one author who trolled around to bookstores with a red pen finding copies of her latest novel and marking them up with changes and corrections . . . that author never finishes!
Some authors honestly believe that there is no such thing as finishing a novel because it can always get better or change in some form or another. Not to mention perfection is an impossibility, but it is so easy to become obsessed when your critique group can nitpick on every little thing, and you've spent years telling yourself or having others tell you, it's not good enough.
In this line of thinking, a novel is only ready when the author is ready. Are you ready to risk the possibility that it’s not done, that it will be judged harshly, or that it will be loved, and you will be required to do publicity and pressured to continue producing work?
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Authors Have to Be Confident
One of the hardest things for writers is to be confident in their work, but confidence is essential for publishing because you have to be willing to throw the book out to the public and publicize it by actually telling people it’s good. To start being confident, stop telling people you are trying to be a writer and just say you are a writer. Start telling people you have a novel and talk about it as though you believe it’s fantastic. Don't be like me and hide the fact that you are writing a book for years. Once you start telling people they will be interested, impressed, and even helpful.
If you decide to take the newest route toward publishing, as in ebooks and print on demand, don’t just rush on over to CreateSpace and pop out an ebook the moment you think you’re done. No book is ready for the world until it has been copyedited. If going for print, it needs to be typeset. If going for ebook, it needs to be properly formatted.
So, are you ready to kill the monster?