Tuesday, December 29, 2009

What Do 12 Readers Represent?

Bailey really messed things up this time. He did our year-end post already, making the next two days very anti-climactic by comparison. Talk about weak endings!

Luckily, in our Just Ask section, Julie described the completion of her newest novel and the recent popularity her book has received among some local readers. She wonders: So several people like what I wrote does that really mean squat in the grand scheme of publishing? How do you know when you're getting closer to publication?

Julie, Scott already gave you some good advice already. I couldn't help but say something too. And, funnily enough, the subject of trying to figure out when your novel is done is actually the very first blog post I did, back in January of this year--when edithroad was my one faithful follower! Check it out if you like.

My implied conclusion there was that an inner feeling told me I was done.

I think, as writers, one of the things we need to know about ourselves is our own habits. I'm the type of writer who always fidgets with my work, so to say that my book is done when I can't find anything more that I want to change would be naive of me. I'd say you need to discover whether or not you are the same way, or maybe the opposite, calling things done when you might realize that there is plenty more work you'd like to do on it. Being done with a book is more of a decision rather than an actual moment, and you need to get to a place where you can make that decision with a clear head.

Your other question was about the "grand scheme of publishing." For that, I'd also say you must look inside yourself. What EXACTLY are your goals? For example, how many readers would you need to have to really feel satisfied? I asked this in a past post, and may writers said that they weren't looking for big numbers, that they would be satisfied if they moved just one reader. If that's the case for you, then you really have to admit to yourself that you've reached that goal. To please 12 readers must be a thrill, and you shouldn't belittle that. You've brought your art to the world; you've made a difference! Some painters have probably been satisfied with far less success.

So, if I were you, I'd consider what you've done already as a great forward step. You've got readers, many of them, though, no, if you're trying to be a New York Times Bestseller, probably not enough yet, or not enough to know. But, you've written several novels before, and I trust that you have enough experience to be able to tell when you're done and what you want out of submitting to agents.


  1. Scott's always ruining things. *wink* But then he makes them better somehow. He'll do something brilliant on Friday, just watch.

    Davin, this is an excellent post - with an excellent question. Thank you, Julie!

    I think the decisions we make when we should be done, abandon a project, query a project, etc. are some of the hardest decisions to make as an artist. It can mean a lot of wasted time or some of the most valuable time we spend on our craft.

    Oftentimes, I think experience gives us the skills to make these decisions well - but that means oftentimes we have to mess up a few times, make the wrong decisions, etc. I've done it. Most writers I know have done it. I'm still trying to decide if my first book is worth working on, or if I should just put it in a drawer and never look at it again.

    Julie, good luck! I agree with Davin. You've already reached a measure of success that's worth smiling over!

  2. Michelle, good point about abandoning a project. That's still one of the hardest things for me if I've put a lot of time into something! And, I personally think you should keep working on your book(s)!

  3. But you haven't even read The Breakaway. It's got problems. Big. Ones. Not sure if it's worth the headache and time to move forward with it. There's so many other things calling...

  4. So several people like what I wrote does that really mean squat in the grand scheme of publishing?

    It depends on who those several people are. If they are family and firedns and they are not in the publishing industry, it doesn't add up to much but it is a wonderful confidence booster.

    If the several people includes agents and/or editors, then it means much more.

    How do you know when you're getting closer to publication?

    When you:

    a) have an agent who is submitting your MS to editors, or you have an editor who is offering you a contract for your MS

    or b) decide that you are ready to self-publish

    For scenario b above, please read the back-posts on this blog regarding traditional publishing vs. self-publishing. I think the most important item to consider in evaluating self-publishing is your goal for your novel. Who do you want to read it? Why do you want to publish it? How much work are you willing and able to put into self-promotion to market it once it's available for print-on-demand?

  5. Well, Mr. Malasarn, you'll just have to come up with something spectacular for tomorrow, won't you?

    Where was I? Oh, Julie's question. I think that, as has been said here already, when a book is "finished" has a lot to do with the author's goals. Some people want to bang out 50 novels in their lifetime, and never revise or edit them. They just want to keep writing new stuff all the time for their own entertainment, and maybe share it with some close friends. Some people want to write highly-polished literary fiction and are willing to revise their novel for five or ten or twenty years (I know two people who've been working on books for well over a decade). Most people are somewhere in the middle of those extremes. My standard for being done has to do with a feeling that the story can stand on its own and doesn't require more work from me (a nebulous and vague sort of concept) for the reader to get it, combined with the idea that I'd be willing to pay money to read what I've written. Would I buy a magazine that published my short story? Would I pay $15-25 for my novel?

    A lot of that last is just guesswork, as frequently I have no critical distance from my work. As Rick says, if you can get an industry professional interested in the work, you might be ready. An agent or editor's interest is a lot more indicative of the publishability of a work (if that's what you desire) than is the interest of your circle of friends. Though your circle of friends may have better taste than the agents/editors you meet. It's some tricky.

    Ask yourself this question: Is my book as good (as interesting and well-written and professionally finished) as the books I read?

  6. Stepping away from it awhile is always a good way to judge, because you will more easily see strengths and flaws when you do that. But if you stepped away many times before, eventually you just have to take the plunge and see what happens.

  7. Lots of my friends and critique group members like the stuff I write, but does that mean it's ready for me to take it to the next step? Usually I answer that using two more questions to myself:

    1. After setting it aside for at least two weeks, do I still like it? (Do I feel that the writing says what I want it to say, how I want to say it?)

    2. Even though many people say they like the piece, are there any criticisms that are held common among three or more of the readers? If so, that's a red flag that a specific revision or exploration might be needed.

    But wow, finishing a novel and having a dozen people want to read it and then like it--what a great accomplishment so far!

  8. I think it's true that knowing when you're done comes with experience. I think I'm just getting to the place where I can accurately judge the flaws in my work and guess how done it might be. And I agree with Lady Glamis that there will often be times when we, as writers, make mistakes in our judgment of how done we are. I know I've misjudged my work and its done-ness. It's a learned skill. It comes with time and practice.

  9. I wonder this myself often. There have been several people who've read my current WIP in various stages and they've been encouraging. Is that good enough. My mother read the "final" version right before Christmas (the one before sending out queries) and loved it. She couldn't put it down. Is that good enough? My sister read it next and had the same reaction. Is that enough? Okay, I'll grant you that they're prejudice, but it is encouraging (they're avid readers and pretty discriminating). So far the only people who've read my book are friends and family. Is that enough?

    I suppose if they are the only ones interested I can tell myself that it's okay, but I won't really believe it. I want to entertain more than just a small group. I want to provide an engrossing read for every YA reader out there. Part of it is that I love the characters in the story, and I want the world to know them and love them too.

  10. I think it's the age-old question: is a play complete if it's never performed? Who is Shakespeare without actors?

    If you throw your heart and soul into a message that means so much to you that dedicate years to its creation, if it is beautiful and meaningful, then it is meant to be shared as widely as possible.

    All the same, the definition of what is meaningful and what is not--that will be always remain open to question.


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