One of the struggles many writers face is knowing when their book, story, poem, or [insert your work here] is “good enough”. If George Lucas taught us anything (for better or worse), it’s that there’s always room to tinker. As writers, we have to learn to know when if there is still more work to do or we’ve tinkered enough.
It’s a common joke among writers that there is no such thing as a FINAL draft. We’re lucky if there isn’t one more FINAL on my-story-final-final-FINAL-FINALFINAL-no-really-i-mean-it-this-time-FINAL-DRAFT.docx. Like George Lucas, we’re always tinkering.
There comes a time when we have to learn to let it go and hit publish. But sometimes, it’s just not ready… and we may not even know it yet.
My Final-Final-FINAL Story
My yet-to-be-published novel has nine official drafts. Each of those drafts represents a pretty significant round of edits, but within each “draft,” are probably two or three more representing minor edits throughout the manuscript. For instance, the minor edits might include running the pages through Grammarly or performing a “final” read-through to make sure it flows. The major revisions are more significant. It may or may not include story or plot changes but often represents dozens of edits per chapter.
Another way to put it is my numbered drafts are like an upgrade from iOS 14 to iOS 15, vs. the smaller edits are updates from iOS 14.1 to iOS 14.2. The hard part for me has been knowing when I needed a micro edit or a full revision. At some point, writers have to be happy with the result of their work, knowing that they can always find something to change, regardless of how many times they’ve poured over the manuscript. If you’re anything like me, you’ll change something in one edit and change it back in the next.
As a writer, I struggle with knowing the difference between “good enough” and “keep working at it.” I’ve reached the point of knowing my story was as good as it’s ever going to get no less than three times before I subsequently realized it wasn’t.
There’s a danger in releasing your book before it’s fully baked. This applies to all authors but specifically to self-published authors who don’t have the backing or support that traditionally published authors have. Publishing too soon often means your book is the best it’s going to get (for now), but not the best it could or should be.
The problem is that once it’s out there, you can’t really hit undo. Sure, you can pull the book and/or make edits, but you can’t take back what’s already been purchased. If your published book is not quite ready for prime time… well, people have seen it, read it, and likely reviewed it. You can’t un-ring the bell, even if you do go back and try to give it a better tune.
So what do you do when your book is as good as you can get it?
My advice? Wait.
Only Time Will Tell
As I mentioned, I hit that point three times with my manuscript. Each time I had finished extensive edits, worked with an editor, and ran it through a final polish. But instead of self-publishing, I sought a literary agent to represent me. Now, I wish I could say the agent rejections helped me see my book wasn’t ready, but I can’t. Agenst have given me remarkably little feedback. Yet, I realized on my own that the book I was pitching to agents wasn’t quite where it needed to be.
How did I figure this out? Time.
After each major round of edits, I knew I had brought the book as far as I could at that point. After all, that’s what the revision edits were for. But as time passed after each edit, I grew as an author. There were issues with my writing that I wasn’t able to self-identify, until one day, I could. I’m not sure how or why, other than I’m always learning how to improve as a writer. But these were different. I didn’t learn anything; I just learned how to see it. And that made all the difference.
I turned my “this is the best it’s ever gonna get” into “I know how to make it better.”
Patience is Perfection
In a way, I’m thankful that I haven’t (yet) self-published my book. And when I finish this latest version/update, I think I might. Except I won’t for one reason. I want to give it time. Because while this may be the best version yet, it may or may not be the best possible version. And while I do want to publish my book, I’m willing to wait until it is the best possible version I can do. Or at least a version good enough to get the kind of sales I want.
I know there will come a point where good enough is truly good enough. But I don’t want to settle for “good enough” if “much better” is attainable. So after each revision, I’ll give it time. And if time doesn’t show me the error of my ways, then I’ll know it’s good (enough) to go.
But as long as I see room for significant improvement, I’m going to keep tweaking. And someday, I’ll be able to publish not just a good book, but a great one.
And everyone will know it.