Monday, July 8, 2013

How do I know when I'm done with my book?

by Stephanie Morrill

Stephanie writes young adult contemporary novels and is the creator of Her novels include The Reinvention of Skylar Hoyt series (Revell) and The Revised Life of Ellie Sweet (Playlist). You can connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and check out samples of her work on her author website.

I started to write up a whole fresh post to answer this question, which a writer asked in the comments section last week, and then realized I had already answered it in the Go Teen Writers book:
View the book on Amazon

So rather than rewrite it all, I decided to just share the excerpt from the book. This is taken from chapter fifteen, which falls after Jill and I have detailed the steps of the macro and micro editing process:

...When it’s early in your writing journey, and it seems you learn more about writing and storytelling every day, it can feel impossible to discern when to stop fussing with your manuscript. So how do you know when it’s time to take the plunge and share your book with your critique partner or start querying literary agents?

I’m going to start with a question that totally marks me as a mom: Have you done your best?

Your book isn’t perfect, of course, but did you do your best with the knowledge and skills you have? Or were you lazy with character development? Is that plot twist at the end more of a cheap trick? Did you have an idea for how to improve it . . . but you weren’t in the mood for yet another rewrite?

If you’ve written and rewritten and revised and edited and rewritten and revised again, and you feel this is the best story you can produce at this point in your journey, I say go for it. Send out the queries. See what happens. I honestly didn’t know if my writing was “there” or not, until an agent said, “I’m so excited about this project. Can you send me the rest right now?”

And I didn’t dare say it out loud, but when she said that, my internal monologue was, “Really? I did it? It’s good enough now?”

I had been pitching projects for a few years at that point, but I never really knew if they were ready or not. I did my best with the knowledge and skill I had, put it out there, and braced myself for the feedback.

This is a rather uncomfortable way to determine the quality of your writing abilities, but it’s about the truest mirror you’ll find. Not to say that agents and editors don’t make judgments in error or guess wrongly about what will sell and what the public wants. Most everyone has received at least a handful of rejections. But for my rejections, typically I knew in my gut if they were right or not.

Like on the first book I sent out. Hardly any editors bothered to read it (no surprise, since I printed out all 90 pages of it and mailed it to anyone who accepted unsolicited manuscripts) but the one who did told me my ending lacked oomph. And you know, that resonated. As I considered it, I realized my book didn’t have an ending at all.

By now, I have a definite procedure I follow before I declare myself done with a book.

Before I send anything to my agent or editor, I always:

1. Write a bare bones first draft
2. Let my draft sit for 6 weeks (unless we’re on a major time crunch, but ideally I take a full six weeks).
3. Do the macro edit.
4. Do the micro edit.
5. Send to my critique partner and wait for her thoughts.
6. Make her suggested changes and read through it again for typos.
7. Send it to my agent.

And to be honest, even as a published author, when weeks go by and I haven’t heard back from my agent, I slide into a pit of thoughts like, “She hates it. She’s wondering why she ever took me on as a client.” Every time the phone rings, I’m thinking, “It’s her. She’s calling to say she hates it.” Most my writer friends do something similar. We’re a needy bunch.

While I’ve gained confidence in my ability to know if my story is a good idea or not, and while I’m mostly confident in my writing style and voice, I still tremble a bit before I send my stuff out, for whatever’s that worth to you. But at some point, you’ve got to go for it.

And here's a link to download the Go Teen Writers self-editing checklist.


  1. oh this came in time because this has seriously been bothering me. People in my family have been pestering me to read my W.I.P (which is hard enough because I've never let them read my writing). Plus, I'm at a point in my novel where I'm actually anxious to start sharing because now I've gotten to the point where I'm like "What if m novel is only good to me in my head and wont be to anyone else?" Anyways I'm basically done with micro and macro edits and I asked myself if I've done my best and for the most part I can say yes.
    Sigh, a part of me is still terrified to let anyone read what I've done but I do think it's time.

    Thanks for the post :)

    1. Lol, Leah -- my family are pestering me too ;) But I've only done a first draft, so my excuse is "No, Stephanie Morrill says not to show anyone your first draft. Sorry!" But am both excited and dreading the day when I've done both my edits.

    2. Wow. I wish my family actually wanted to read my writing. I've asked them to and they just kind of read it, toss it on the table and say, "Yeah. That's good." Then they go back to whatever they were doing. Kind of takes the wind out of your sails. Lol.

    3. Leah, it's still a very scary step! Lots of courage is needed.

      Hannah J, that's so funny! Good for you for protecting your first draft :)

      Ashley :( That definitely takes the wind out of your sails! I'm so sorry.

    4. LOL, I am the exact opposite of you guys. My family and friends can't get rid of me, pestering them constantly to read what I've written and tell me how it is. :)

  2. I just finished my first complete WIP around 6 weeks ago. I put it away so I could have a fresh set of eyes- and so I would put time into studying for finals haha! I just opened it up again the other day and its really daunting to know the amount of work I have to do. It's also pretty cool though to see how much I improved from the beginning of my manuscript to the end. So, I know I have a lot of work to do if I want to make the beginning be as good as the end.
    Just a quick question. If I notice something that should be changed when I'm doing 'micro edits' (like a misplaced comma or a sentence that needs the wording changed) should I change it during rewrites or just make a note of it and change it later?

    Kelly Ann

    1. Also, another question, can we post our comment using our name even if we leave the URL section blank? Because every time I try the comment just doesnt show up.

      Kelly Ann

    2. Kelly Ann, for something super minor like a typo or a funky comma, I would go ahead and make the change. Rewording a sentence...well, that's up to you. I don't, only because I know in micro edit I will rework basically every sentence and even ax a few scenes. So I wouldn't, but it's up to you.

      And that's strange about the comment thing. I guess not. You could put the Go Teen Writers URL if you want, just so you don't have to be "Anonymous." Or signing your name like you did works fine too :)

    3. Thank you! Also thanks so much for writing this blog it's been really helpful for the past year or so and I couldn't have finished the first draft without all the helpful posts. (I also was the only kid who aced their grammar quiz thanks to your grammar posts :)

      I think I will leave the sentence rewording until the end because most likely I will end up completely rewriting the scene anyway.

      Kelly Ann

    4. Kelly Ann, I don't put anything in the URL when I comment, just my name. It works fine for me.
      Congrats on the grammar quiz. I rarely ace anything. Always too much in a rush to go back to fun stuff, like working on my book. :)

  3. I really needed this post. I've always wondered about this--like, what if I want to go up to draft eleven!?!? (Has anyone ever seen that "modern take" on Pride & Prejudice--can't remember who it starred but Elizabeth was blonde and a writer--and her "The Iron Carriage" was rejected over and over and she rewrote it eleven times.) But this was so helpful for me in determining when I'm done. I know I'm not yet (heck, not even through with the first draft yet...) but at least I know how to know when I am!

  4. I'm at the point of knowing some things that need changes but lack motivation to do it at the moment, I rather paint. I debate should I start another story or write a short story letting it rest longer? Give my self the summer off? Idk yet.

    As far as publishing goes, what does it mean when an agent likes your book but asks for a total rewrite like the basic idea is there but all the characters and plot twists are changed.

    1. Tonya, sounds like you've got my "writer's block", which is the term I use when I'm putting off writing because I'm bored of it. The proper name would probably be procrastination. I've actually never gotten past the rough draft (OK, I've never even finished a rough draft, although I've started at least ten), so I'm not really sure what the best thing to do now is, but one thing that I've learned is if I start another story while one is still unfinished, it ain't ever gonna be finished. I don't know, maybe that's different for you, but that's how it is for me.
      Maybe for now take a little break, paint, hang out with friends, then go back to it. And then push through, no matter how hard it is. OK, I should go and take some of my own medicine. Off to pushing through my book...

    2. I've heard of that happening, Tonya, and I always find it very confusing. And ... well, a little suspicious. I'm in no way an expert on agents and why they do what they do, but...

      I suppose it depends on how it's phrased. If it's, "I'd be interested in representing you, but you need to rewrite this contemporary manuscript of yours into a paranormal," then I think it's not worth pursuing. (And I've seen that happen...) But if it's, "You have a great basic idea, but here are a few weak spots I noticed, and overall I think X, Y, and Z about your style need to be addressed. If you fix these things, I would be interested in seeing it again." Then, yeah, I think that's worth pursuing.

      Is that helpful at all? I guess in general my opinion is that the best agent/author relationships happen when the writer gets to be his or herself and the agent loves them for it. You don't want to have in the back of your mind, "If I hadn't switched genres, they never would have decided to represent me," every time you're discussing a new project.

  5. I know that a book is finished when I have worked on it for forever and do not want to look at it again. Still love it to death... but don't want to look at it again. :)


  6. How many words is a good number???