Stephanie Morrill is the creator of GoTeenWriters.com and the author of several young adult novels, including the historical mystery, The Lost Girl of Astor Street (Blink/HarperCollins). Despite loving cloche hats and drop-waist dresses, Stephanie would have been a terrible flapper because she can’t do the Charleston and looks awful with bobbed hair. She and her near-constant ponytail live in Kansas City with her husband and three kids. You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and sign up for monthly updates on her author website.
"How do you know when your book is done?"
I get this question a lot when I have the privilege of talking to young writers at writing conferences or over email. I hate that I can't provide a, "If you've done A, B, and C, then your book is ready!" kind of answer.
Here's what I tell them:
1. It's a gut thing.
And sometimes my gut is more like, "I think my book is maybe done...?" rather than, "I'm SO ready! Let's do this!"
2. Process is important.
Every writer's process is a bit different, but generally speaking your book needs to go through several rounds of edits, several rounds of feedback, and several rounds of copy editing before it reads like a real book.
3. Let time be your tester.
Seeing this kind of rapid growth is wonderful, but it's also a challenge when you're editing. Regarding their first novels, I frequently hear young writers say things like, "I may as well just scrap the whole beginning and rewrite it!"
And I understand, because I've been that writer!
I know we're an impatient people, and nobody likes to hear "give it time" as advice, but I strongly believe in its value to the creative process. That's why with every book, I give myself at least six weeks between the first draft and the second. I need that distance to be able to see the book clearly.
There's nothing wrong with putting your completed book aside for a month or two, and then reevaluating it's doneness. (Yeah, I know. Not a word.)
4. The only real way to know the book is done and ready—that you are ready—is to fling her out there and see what happens.
You know when I knew that I had become a good enough writer to be published? When an agent said to me, "You have a lovely writing voice!"
I thought, "I do? Yay, I'm finally here!"
Before she said that to me, I had no idea I had finally developed a writing voice. I just kept doing my best work, and then sending it out to agents and editors to see what they thought.
I know that's a scary way to find out if your book is good enough to catch a professional's eye. I wish you could just upload your Word Doc to a program and have it give you a red light or green light, but that's not a thing yet. (Surely someone is working on it...)
But I can't find a way around it: The only way to really know that your book is done and that you're ready is to have not-family, not-friend people read it and give you their opinion.
This doesn't mean that if one editor at one conference doesn't like it, you should scrap the book and rewrite it. Again, this goes back to point number one, that deciding your book is done is largely a gut thing. We'll talk more about receiving and incorporating feedback in the coming weeks as we transition into talking about publishing.
One last note: I picked the word "done" for this article because I heard a quote (I cannot figure out who said it, so if someone knows, please help me out) that "No book is ever finished, it's just done."
I've found that to be true in my own books, that I could nitpick them forever, and I imagine you'll find it to be true for your stories as well.
Have you finished a manuscript yet? (It's okay if you haven't!) If not, what's the farthest you've gotten?