Is Your Novel Ready to Publish?
We all want our novels to be the absolute best they can be before we send them out into the world. But perfect is the enemy of good— and perfectionism can be an excuse to procrastinate.
So what’s a writer supposed to do? How do we know when our perfectionism is really just our fears whispering the book's not ready yet?
The answer is a bit complicated. Ask any published writer—even ones who have authored many books—and they’ll tell you there’s always something they wish they could change in each one. Bestselling authors will talk about how their editors basically have to pry the final draft out of their hands.
But the mark of a professional author isn't laboring over one story forever— it's finishing your book, and moving on to the next one. So how do you know when it's time to send your story out into the world? Read on for some questions to ask yourself about your current work.
Questions to ask yourself about your book before publication
Have I revised the novel the best I can on my own?
As much as we wish our first drafts were publication-ready, they never are. No one’s is. No matter how detailed your outline was, or long you spent writing the draft, it is imperative to put your novel aside for as much time as you can, and then reread it and see what needs to be revised.
Are your characters’ motivations clear? Does your story have the proper structure? Did you hit all the important turning points? Do you meet the genre expectations? Make sure that you’ve revised your manuscript to the best of your ability. You’ve made every change you can make, and you can’t possibly look at it one more time without your head exploding.
Have I received outside feedback?
This can come in several forms and at different stages—every person’s journey is different! Maybe you send your bestie every scene as you write. Maybe you’ve polished the book until it shines, and then you round up your beta readers and ask them for their critiques. Maybe you have a writer’s group that meets regularly, and you’ve incorporated their feedback since Chapter 1.
It’s essential to have more than just your eyes on the novel before you send it out. Ideally, three or four people should read it once it’s complete. You’re looking for constructive criticism here, so your mom might not be the best person for the job. But the feedback should come from people you trust, and it’s even better if those people read a lot of books. They might not know all the writing lingo, but they recognize when the middle of the book bores them, or if the climax doesn’t feel earned.
Have I hired an editor?
If you're planning to query agents, this step is optional but highly recommended. If you’re self-publishing, however, working with an editor is extremely important. As a self-published author, you are responsible for the quality of your book, and if that quality is poor, you will struggle to make sales, get bad reviews, and turn off potential new readers. Even if you can’t afford an editor for every step of the revision process, consider at least working with a copy editor or proofreader. No one wants their fantastic novel torn apart by reviews pointing out every typo or misplaced comma.
However, professional editing is not something everyone has access to, and that’s okay. If you can’t afford an editor, you can still get your novel in professional shape, though this may require multiple passes of revisions and critique partner feedback. While not replacements for an editor, editing software such as Grammarly, Fictionary, ProWritingAid, or AutoCrit may be less expensive and can help you identify and correct issues on your own.
Other things to consider before publication
Can I pitch the story in one or two sentences?
You’ve done your research, you’ve made your publishing choice, and now you have to pitch the book. Something short and punchy that makes people want to click "buy now" or makes an agent/editor request pages. Writing a pitch or cover copy can be daunting, but you wrote and revised an entire novel! You’ve got this. If you have a clear, concise pitch, it probably means you have a clear story that's ready to go. If you struggle to identify what to include in a short pitch, it might mean your story is muddled and in need of some more revisions. If you can’t see it, go back to those lovely people who gave you feedback and see if they can spot the problem with your pitch.
Does it feel like the right time?
Quiet the voices in your head and do a gut check. Meditate, sit in the dark, go for a walk…whatever you need to do in order to connect with your intuition. Once your mind is as clear as you can get it, feel the question inside of you. Is my novel ready to publish? Focus on how you feel about your novel. Know that you’ll never be fully ready to let it go. But can you? Did you follow all your steps and make all the changes?
If the answer is yes, it’s time.
It's okay to be scared! Ask the questions, give yourself time to think about the answers, and trust that if you put in the work, the resulting novel will be worth sending out into the world.