“My book is finally finished!” I yell as I dance around the house, throwing the previous draft up toward the ceiling. Papers lazily rain down on the couch, the dog; my husband runs for his life to avoid paper cuts in odd places. I pull the bottle of champagne out of the refrigerator, where it has sat for months, waiting just for this day. Who cares if it’s only 10 a.m. — I pop the cork, leaving a dark smudge on the white paint above my head. Cold alcohol fizzes down the neck of the bottle and over my hand, gushing to the tile floor before I remember to retrieve glasses from the cabinet.
“Want to watch me press publish?” I call out to the empty room; I don’t know where my husband is hiding but I’m told, quite frequently, how well my voice carries throughout the house.
Finishing a novel is the most exciting moment for an author — whether it’s your first book or your fifth. Months of excruciating work have gone into the goal of seeing your words sent out to the world with your name proudly displayed on the cover. It’s a time for celebration.
But are you truly ready for that moment?
An author’s biggest mistake is impatience. That might seem contradictory, given that patience is the main requirement to sit and write, especially at times when it’s the last thing you want to do.
Indie authors are penalized heavily for impatience, as they don’t receive advances for their work and struggle to finish quickly in hopes of making a few extra dollars while they labor at their day jobs. They don’t have a team scouring their words for errors or suggesting possibilities of different sentence structure. Taking your time before publishing your draft is essential.
After successfully completing a first draft, close your book for a month. Work on something new. Read. Dust off your gym membership. Remember you have a family. Let the words simmer in the back of your brain while you sleep. When I am actively writing, I frequently wake up with a new idea about the ending, or even a specific paragraph. I’m always surprised at how my unconscious mind is constantly working. If I don’t have time at that moment to write, I email the idea to myself and hope I remember to look for it later.
After a month, or however long you think is appropriate to make your book seem fresh again, start your second draft. Make changes, look for errors in grammar and punctuation, remove unnecessary sentences, add more description if needed. Then put your book away again for a couple weeks.
These breaks don’t have to be idle time, though. Use them to find a respected editor, shop your work to agents and publishers, and work on the cover design. A finished product is so much more than just the writing.
When it is time, begin your third draft. Hopefully, less changes are needed, and after you’re satisfied, your draft should go to your editor. A second set of eyes is essential, and these eyes need to be trained in the proper rules of the language — not just a friend who likes to read.
I use two editors. The first is a friend who has worked in the writing industry for many years; it never fails to shock me when I get my third draft back from him and it is drenched in red ink. After correcting the mistakes he has found and considering the word substitutions he suggests, this fourth draft goes to my mother, who is smart beyond belief. While she doesn’t have formal training as an editor, she has an eye for picking out any errors that were overlooked. In my experience, after publishing three books, no single person can find all mistakes — not least the author.
When my mother returns her copy it has much less red ink, as would be expected — my first editor is very good. Again, I make changes, and this is the point where my impatience begins to rear its ugly head, but for me, it’s still not time to publish.
After a thorough read-through of the fifth draft, it’s time for test readers, or beta readers. These are the people who love to read and aren’t afraid to tell you if they don’t like certain parts, or wish the ending was different, or maybe the beginning is too slow and they lost interest. If you’re lucky, they’ve located a grammatical error that everyone else has missed, although that hasn’t happened to me since my editor and mother do their jobs very well.
Listening to the opinions of test readers is important because they are not starting and stopping when they find a mistake — they are reading the book from beginning to end as if it were a finished work. It should flow smoothly as they read. Use their thoughts to make a sixth draft, if needed, and reread. By this time, I am so tired of reading the same thing over and over that I never want to read it again!
My sixth draft then goes back to my first editor to look over any changes I have made since he saw it previously; just because I have made changes on the advice of test readers doesn’t mean I have written them perfectly. He will likely find mistakes I have just added, and I make any corrections as a seventh draft.
And now, months after my book was originally completed, is when I publish. Now I am confident that every error has been found and my book is the best it can possibly be.
I wrote this article of friendly advice not because my books are amazing best-sellers, but because I belong to several Indie reading groups; we read each others’ published works in the expectation of finding great new authors and promoting them to our friends and the public. When I began these readings, I always purchased the books — besides a good review, a purchase is the best way to show Indies your support. But it didn’t take long to realize that most authors are not as concerned about proper grammar and test readers as I am. I was left with a pile of books full of easily corrected, glaring mistakes; most times they were grammar, sometimes spelling, and a few used the same descriptive words so repetitively I lost interest regardless of how good the storyline might have been.
Sadly, this happened so often I’ve all but quit reading Indies — which prompted me to saddle up my high horse since I am a part of this group.
As Indie authors, it is our responsibility to get over our impatience to publish and send out our work only when it has been thoroughly vetted by many sets of eyes. The reputation for sloppy work has been earned, in my opinion, but it’s not too late establish ourselves anew.
My latest work-in-progress is now in the hands of my mother. I began the book nearly two years ago, and quite honestly I am ready to be done with it, but I know it’ll be a couple more months until it is worthy of publishing. The impatience to be finished is like a constant itch in my mind, but I want my book to have the greatest chance of success I can possibly give it. The extra time and effort is always worth it.
Huge thanks to Kay and her Summer Blog-a-day feature for making me think of something to write other than my book! Please take a moment to go through the posts and find something fun to read.
The idea for this article came from three people who asked me for tips about publishing their first book — I hope it is helpful.
2 thoughts on “An Indie author’s biggest mistake”
Melissa, I made some of these mistakes with my first two books. I learned quickly! I am now into my 13th book, currently in the middle of editing. I review an Indie book most each week on my blog Monday Morning Indie. I am not the grammar police, but I refuse to review a book full of typos and grammatical errors. I simply send the author an email telling them why I won’t review their book. Most seem to appreciate my comments and immediately edit their books. Others ignore me. I am saying all this in response to your comment about not reading Indie books. So you got a few bad ones – there are bad books published by major houses. Instead of giving up on Indie books, read those recommended by book bloggers who actually read the books, like I do. You are not the only Indie author who works hard at her craft.
I’m definitely not the only one who works hard at writing – just to finish a book is an amazing effort. I stuck with reading Indie books for a long time after getting discouraged by the editing, and decided to only read books by authors who had published more than one in hopes that they got better the more they published. For some reason, though, it seems I only chose books with multiple errors, regardless of what the reviews said. My bad luck, maybe. But it made me think that if there are so many out there without solid editing, then as a group we should be more vigilant and make this a top priority.
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