Oh, man. After two months of posts on outlining, overcoming obstacles, completing your first draft, and more, we have finally reached the end of our novel-writing journey. At this point, you’ve consulted readers in both your Inner and Outer Circles. You’ve taken their advice and feedback and worked to incorporate it into your manuscript. You’ve likely gone through at least one or more two rounds of editing, working to perfect your story.
Now you’ve reached the point where you think you might maybe, possibly be really and truly finished. You’ve filled in plot holes and created characters that leap off the page. But still, you feel unsure. How can you know when you’re actually done?
Here are a few things you can try to help make sure you have the confidence to send your book out into the world.
Get Some Opinions on Your First Chapter
As you reach the end of your novel-writing process, it is very important that your first chapter is in tip-top shape. No matter whether you plan to query agents or self-publish, this is when you draw your reader in and hopefully don’t let go.
So you might want to find a few friends to read just your first chapter. These will ideally be people who have not read the rest of the book at any point (though I have definitely asked a few particularly insightful first-chapter readers to read the whole thing after the fact). Getting some fresh perspectives on those first pages is invaluable. They will help you to decide if your book will manage to hook your audience right away.
Do a Fun Read
While I’m sure that you have read through your story multiple times at this point, it was likely with the aim of revising or checking to make sure that certain details are consistent. What I’m suggesting here is a “fun read”—this type of readthrough has nothing to do with trying to spot errors or any other form of nitpicking.
Instead, a “fun read” is exactly what it sounds like: Reading the book purely for your own entertainment. I know it can feel arrogant to think that you might enjoy your own writing. I know I’ve spent much of my own writerly career thinking that I would never be a good writer if I thought I was a good writer.
But being able to read your novel in this way is a pivotal part of the writing process. You need to experience your story not just as a writer, but as a reader. Try to treat your book like any other you might pluck off the shelf. Do you feel like everything is moving at a good pace? Are you rooting for your protagonist? Do you ever find yourself moved by a certain turn of phrase, or chuckling at the narrator’s humor?
Again, I get that you might feel kind of smarmy laughing at your own jokes, or embarrassed about cheering on a romance that you yourself engineered. But you shouldn’t! One of the biggest reasons we write is to create a book we would like to exist, but doesn’t. We write the types of books we want to read. So it makes perfect sense that you would like your own stories. In fact, being able to appreciate your book like any other author’s is a sign that you’re nearly ready to query or publish.
Take a Leap of Faith
There are definitely a few things you can do to give your almost-finished book a test run. But at the end of the day, I know from experience that you will never feel completely finished. I can easily point to a dozen little things I would change about both my published books. I have met several other authors who feel the same way—including traditionally published ones with the support of big publishing houses behind them.
When I first started interning for a literary agent in college, he pointed to a bookcase full of books and said, “You could take a novel off any of those shelves and edit it. Deciding a book is ready is as much a gut feeling as anything else. After that, all you can do is hope for the best.”
You should work to make your novel the best it can be. I hope that the posts in this series will help you to do that. But eventually, you just have to take that leap of faith—whether it’s publishing your book yourself or sending it out to agents.
Even if things aren’t perfect, every mistake or rejection is a chance to learn. One great thing about writing books is that you can always write another one. And with the tools this series provides, you’ll hopefully be able to write each new story faster than the one before.