Like just about anything we do (paint, cook, dance, carpentry, write) we get better with practice. We learn better methods, the tricks of the trade, how to blend color and spices, cut a rug and cut a bevel.
We learn how to craft a tight plot and rich characters, show versus tell, reduce dialog tags, choose verbs, kill the adverbs. If we’re lucky, we get strong feedback from editors, critiquers, and beta readers. We take courses, read books on writing, and write, write, write.
Knowing that improvement is a given, the books we wrote five years ago might not look as polished as those we write today.
As I reclaimed my publishing rights from my publisher, I planned to reread my books to correct typos and buff them up a bit. I didn’t expect to do much rewriting – after all, the books were edited and they’ve received decent reviews.
I started reading … uh oh.
Look at all those adverbs…
Erm, telling words…
Yeesh, I could eliminate a lot of these dialog tags…
Hmm, this section doesn’t really advance the plot…
Oh dear, kind of wordy…
So the books got a much closer look than I intended, and I’m glad I made the effort. This exercise got me thinking about two editing questions related to previously published books.
After a while, most authors develop an inner “knowing” as to when their story is done, and it’s usually based on the writer’s current level of skill. It’s as good as they can write it at the time.
Thus, our first books are often, not always, a little beastly. And this speaks to why editorial feedback is so vital, particularly early in one’s career. I know this from experience; my first book was a warty little troll before an editor got her eager hands on it for a makeover.
Fortunately, like most skills we tackle, we make gigantic leaps forward in the beginning and then start to level off when we near our peaks. For this reason, revisiting previously published books makes the most sense after we are a few years into our writing careers. By then, we have pages of experience crammed into our back pockets.
Another time to revisit a previously published book is when it has few or mostly negative reviews. Early works may need anything from a major developmental edit of plot and structure to a simple scrubbing for grammar and flow. If a book didn’t run through an editor’s gauntlet the first time, it’s not too late.
As authors, we might weigh the impact of leaving older books out there if they’re not reflective of our current skill. The last thing we want is for a reader, once snagged, to walk away and miss the awesome talent infusing our later works. It’s a confidence boost to polish up the weakest links in our backlist chains.
Your novel is done. Finally! But wait; maybe you should give it a last read-through for typos. Then there was that scene in Chapter 7 that gave you so much trouble. Just one more look. Wa-la! Oh, darn, there’s a telling word; are there more? What if I can cut another thousand words; maybe describe their clothing less; nobody cares about clothing. Okay, done! Maybe my protagonist should have a goatee…
Some writers never publish because they never stop editing. The editing loop can roll on forever and ever … even after publishing. Knowing when to stop isn’t always easy, but it’s important.
Here are some reasons to stop editing:
1. There is no such thing as a perfectly written book. And even if there was, someone would hate it. 90% Perfect and shared with the world is better than 100 percent perfect and wallowing in your head.
2. Endless revisions take time away from writing something new!
3. Over-editing can dull your pov characters’ distinct voices. This is especially dangerous when you’re editing in bits and pieces and lose the narrative flow.
4. You’ve done your major developmental edits, content edits, stylistic edits, and proofing, and now you are increasing rather than reducing the word count.
5. Instead of improving your book you are only making it different. And maybe making it worse.
6. You haven’t taken a break from your book in a year. Time to let the beast sit for a month or so. You’re way too up-close and personal with your novel and both of you need some space to relax and think rationally.
7. You started the book when your kids were in diapers, and they just graduated from college.
8. You hate looking at your book and the thought of rehashing it one more time makes you want to barf. Time to shut it down.
Have you written a book? Are you writing a book? How do you decide when it’s ready to fly?