Saturday, February 2, 2019

When to Let Your Child Go

My first book was going to be a work of perfection. I'd spent more than two years researching, writing, and rewriting it. That was the dawn of the personal computer age, so I did much of the work on index cards, handwritten notebooks, and typewritten pages that I cut apart, rearranged, and taped back together. (Can I get a witness?)

I was laboring over the typescript with correction fluid and transparent tape one day when I realized my late wife Judy was standing behind me. She peered over my shoulder and said, “Don’t you think it’s time to let this child go out and play in the street?”

She was right, of course. While it’s important to give readers our best work, if we insist on revising and polishing it to the nth degree, we'll never give it to them. As a panelist on the TV show “Shark Tank” recently said, “Perfection is the enemy of profitability.”

So how long have you been working on your work-in-progress? Check the computer’s date stamp on your earliest version of the manuscript (something I couldn’t do in the day of correction fluid and tape). Make your best guess about how much of the work you've completed. Now take a deep breath and honestly answer this question:

At the rate you’re going, when will you be ready to show your manuscript to an agent or publisher?

The answer may make you wince, but let me ask another: How many other books do you hope to write? Multiply that by the number of years you're taking to finish this one. That means you'll achieve your writing goals by what year? Hmmm.

Admittedly, it's difficult to know when your "child" is ready to go out and play in the street, but here are a few tests that might help you decide:

1. What do your critique partners say? Are they recommending major changes? Then your book probably isn't ready to release. Are they recommending minor tweaks? Then it's probably time to wrap it up. (This test assumes that you have objective, knowledgeable crit partners, of course.)

2. How do agents and editors respond to your pitch? Can they grasp the essence of your story? Are they able to discuss it intelligently with you? This indicates that the idea is well-formed in your mind, so you are likely to have well-focused manuscript.

3. Do you feel the book tells your story effectively? Notice I didn't say "flawlessly" because your editor will help you repair any flaws. But if the manuscript tells your story convincingly and with sufficient detail to convey your message, kiss it and send it into the big, wide world.

By the way, I heeded Judy’s comment. I stopped coddling my “baby” and sent it off to the publisher, who published it. The book is far from perfect, but it’s still in print 35 years later. If I had kept pursuing the elusive dream of perfection, I suspect it would still be that—just a dream.

Joe Allison writes both fiction and nonfiction, and has been a member of the Indiana chapter of American Christian Fiction Writers since 2010. He lives in Anderson, IN, with his wife Maribeth and daughter Heather.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you,thank you! Your questions give me confidence that I am on the right track sending my baby into the world!