Move Beyond “Potential”: Make Your Indie Book Shine
I wince a little inside when I hear someone describe a self-published book as having “potential.” At the same time, I feel a small piece of acknowledgment—because not every author sticks with the project through the final, frustrating revisions that would make the book truly excellent.
In my work, I’m privileged to read a lot of books. Design elements aside, the one element that bugs me about many indie books is the short shrift given to the editorial process. If you’re a reader of this blog, you’ll have heard me say this before: EVERY good author works with an editor; no one comes out of the gate with a first draft that is as beautiful as what you see in the finished work. If [insert name of your favorite author] needs to go through revisions and editing, don’t you think you should give it a try?
When you self-publish, you get to call the shots. That’s both the blessing and the curse of the model. I love that authors get creative control with independent publishing. Unfortunately, some authors use this control to veto work that would be good for their book. So, how do you know when your book might need more work? Below are a few clues.
Clues your book needs more editorial work
1. Have you finished writing your manuscript, and then gone back and re-read the whole thing, from beginning to end?
You haven’t? What are you waiting for?
I promise you, your story has logical gaps, discontinuities, and/or repetitions. If you haven’t re-read your entire manuscript, you are making a huge mistake, period.
2. Do you have title/subtitle ideas?
While you’re working on a first draft, it’s perfectly natural to have only a working title for your book—you might call it “My book.” You’re figuring things out. However, beyond the first draft, you should be getting other ideas. If you don’t, this is a sign you probably need to work more on your manuscript. Writing and revising will provide ideas.
3. Have you read your last chapter as often as your first?
Writers have a tendency to spend a lot of time with Chapter One. And the beginning of your book is important. But, newsflash: so is the end of your book. The end is what your readers will remember—assuming they read all the way through. If you haven’t paid attention to the end of your book, you’re not ready to publish.
4. Have you read your “middle” more than once?
Some of you are now thinking, “OK, this now makes EVERY part of the book an ‘important part.’” Yes, yes it does. Did you see #1 above?
Those readers who get to the end? They have to make it through the middle of the book. The reason I call out the middle by name is that writers give it even less attention than book endings, and by far less than beginnings. For this reason, it’s earned the name “muddy middle” in the writing world. Your book can get flabby around the middle—just like we can. Have you spent time working it out?
5. Did you make any big changes in your story/topic while writing was in progress?
I guarantee you will want a complete re-read of your manuscript, if you have. Skip this step, and you’ll hand your editor—or, so help us, your designer—a hot mess.
6. Are you clear on your audience?
If you can’t picture one specific person (not your mother) reading your book, stop and take a minute. You should not—I repeat should NOT—publish without this knowledge.
7. Are you sick of reading your manuscript, or only sick of writing it?
I get it. First drafts are hard. Most of us don’t want to look at the darn thing anymore, after we finish what we think is “The End.” That’s not the same as reading your manuscript a lot. By this I mean, you’ve taken a break after you reached The End; you’ve read either a hard copy or you’ve refrained from beginning to edit as you read; and you’ve done #1 more than once.
Being done writing is not the same as being done revising. You better be sick of revising before you publish.
8. Your editor hesitates AT ALL when you ask whether your book is ready for the next phase.
MAJOR red flag.
9. Your designer asks you, “Has this been edited?”
See number 8.
10. The people who read your manuscript say, “It’s promising.”
Ugh! This is like saying something is “interesting.” It means it’s not finished and they don’t know how to tell you.
The bottom line
If you at all wonder whether your book needs additional work, chances are yes, it does. Even after many revisions. This is your opportunity to ask an expert for their assessment.
Be careful to not let your enthusiasm and impatience for getting the wretched project out of your hair lead you to pull the plug too early on writing and editing. I love seeing manuscripts with potential. But published books should achieve that potential. Get out of the B leagues—do the work.
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