Oh, Decisions, Decisions…
No, not “indie vs. trad-pub” or “Kindle Select vs. going wide.” I was thinking more about the decisions we make as we write and when we publish.
One question that I used to see popping up fairly often was “How do you know when you’re done?” The question seems to have faded in importance, in part because the GRRM-sized tome is not as in demand as it was 5 years ago, but it’s still a good question. How long the book should be depends on what you are writing and for whom. I write until the story is done. That can be 100K words, or 60K, or in-between. 110K words for me is a long book, really long. But I’m not writing to a market with a set length, be it short story or novel, so I can stop when the story does. If you are writing to a contract length or to a magazine or anthology market, you have a minimum and maximum that may require padding a little or trimming a little.
“But is that done?” It can be, or you might set the book aside for a while, come back, and discover that you left a massive plot thread waving in the wind. Or that the critical question asked in book one… remains unanswered. Or that you’ve got one plot-thread too many and it is messing up the story. Has the story come to an end? If not, have you tied up enough threads to satisfy readers while leaving room for a sequel? If the answer is yes, then you are done. Congratulations!
“How much should I revise or edit my book? I keep finding rough places!” Unless you are finishing furniture and you want a perfect surface with nary a flaw in the varnish or urethane, stop right now. Unless you are polishing the mirrors on Hubble II, cease and desist post-haste. Have you tidied up that little plot hole? Did you triple-check that you have enough foreshadowing? Do any massive structural flaws remain that absolutely have to be re-written? Stop revising if the answer is “no.” Have a brutally honest friend and/or a CDO* editor-type person stage a typo and homonym hunt, then do a tic-check. Make certain that Bob stays Bob through the entire story, and that he doesn’t change hair color or height each chapter (unless he needs to for story reasons.) That’s it.
Sarah, Amanda, and others have written about the problems of polishing until dead. The result is a piece of prose with grammar that would make an English teacher swoon with delight, every possible plot problem neatly tied off and all the proper genre signals and details in apple-pie order, and less life than that thing in a jar of preservative in the biology-teacher’s office.
“OK, got it. When should I release the book?” If it is seasonal, I’d say a month before that season. Christmas romance in April? No, probably not. But that cozy about murders at a sand-castle building contest over Memorial Day weekend probably should go out the door in April. Otherwise there’s not really a release season aside from the pre-December “launch for Christmas gift-giving and gift-card use” plan. Release it once it is edited, formatted, and has a good cover. If you can do it, I’d wait until you have the sequel finished and aging, if the book will have a sequel, so that you don’t leave readers in limbo. *Glares toward a Big Five imprint* Especially if you write a cliff-hanger ending. *Additional irked cat glare*
Speaking of which…
The fourth book is in beta read and cover design at the moment. This one is about, oh, becoming an adult, plague, xenoarchaeology, grown-ups behaving badly, and Uncle Eb’s latest slight domestic failure. (Aunt Kay is a saint to put up with him.)
And city-destroying alien technology. Not necessarily in that order.
*That’s OCD but in proper alphabetical order.