Apparently, it was Hippocrates who first said something to the effect of “Life is short, art is long”–but it could just as easily have been a fiction writer.
Chances are, if you’re writing fiction now, this art form got a hold of you when you were just a kid, swept up in the magic of books that transported you to other worlds, touching your heart even and expanding your mind.
I know I was One Hundred Percent That Kid. (Famously, my dad could barely get my head out of a book to look at the Rocky Mountains on a road trip one summer.)
Because that magic feels so easy to experience, many people think it should be easy to create.
In fact, I’ve had many clients over the years who always wanted to write fiction, but chose other career paths, becoming doctors, lawyers, professors, and engineers instead (you know, probably because they liked the idea of having a steady paycheck)–and these clients are almost always shocked to discover how much time and effort it actually takes to write a 300-page story that someone who is not related to them will actually want to read.
I don’t love being the bearer of bad news that way. But I do love this art form, and I love helping people to get over the finish line with their first published book.
It was certainly a long road for me to publication with my first novel, Hot Season–and it’s been quite a process with my current work-in-progress, a collection of short stories called Dream Studies.
But I’ve been around the block a time or two, and at this point, I recognize the signs that I’m close to lift-off this next project.
Wondering how close you are to that with your own WIP?
Here are 5 signs that indicate you’re nearing the finish line with your book:
1. You’ve received enthusiastic feedback
The number one mistake I see writers make is not getting feedback on their work–which can lead to a sense of shock when that story you thought was so dialed in proves nigh-on incomprehensible to your readers.
Or when the protagonist you love is one that many readers just don’t understand or can’t connect with.
Or when readers point out some basic flaw in your story logic or world building that you were just too close to the story to see.
Not all feedback is created equal, and it’s easy to get burned. But finding a reliable source of qualified feedback, whether it’s a critique group, a beta reader, or someone like me, really does tend to be critical in the process of bringing a book to market.
And when you’ve gotten enthusiastic feedback from those type of folks? There’s a good chance publishing pros will feel the same.
2. You no longer have the urge to rewrite your opening every time you read it
When a story is still in flux, it’s normal to want to rewrite–and rewrite, and rewrite–your opening. Because every time you return to that opening, you know more about the story, and you can see that opening’s flaws in the hard light of day.
That process is oftentimes necessary, in terms of creating smooth, clear, intriguing point of entry for your story. (And FYI, that really is the aim with an opening–not getting everything but the kitchen sink on the page.)
But when you’re nearing the finish line with a WIP, that urge to rewrite the opening tends to dissipate–not in terms of the urge to tighten up the language (that never goes away) but in terms of the urge to find a different or better point of entry.
And often, that’s really just the product of trial and error: You’ve tried other options, and this is the strongest.
3. You’re just futzing
One of my early mentors used to say you knew it was time to send a piece out on submission when instead of revising you were really just “adding and subtracting the same commas.”
I think the same is true with little bits and pieces of language: If you’ve cut it, read over the piece, and then decided to add that little piece right back in, it might be time to stage an intervention.
Which is to say: It might be time to stop futzing and start pitching.
4. Another project is starting to knock on your door
You know that point where you hit some tough slog in the midst of your WIP and start to daydream about the new (better, smarter, sparklier) other book idea you’ve had? The one that’s so much better, because you don’t yet know what will be hard about actually trying to write it?
That’s not what I’m talking about here.
What I’m talking about here is when you genuinely are starting to tire of the process of revising and polishing old work, and starting to feel the pull of a new idea–the urge to sit down and begin that nervy, exciting, anything-can-happen process of creating a fresh draft of a new idea.
This tends to be a good indicator that your current WIP is nearly ready to pitch.
5. You’re starting to imagine where your book fits in the marketplace
When clients are still in the early stages with a book, I often advise them not to think too much about the market for it, because they’re often still very much in the process of discovering what that book actually is.
But there comes a time when you know what your WIP is and what it isn’t. You’ve gotten a good sense of what other kinds of books it’s in conversation with. And you have a realistic idea what sort of publisher might want to publish such a book.
That too is a key indicator tends to be a good indicator that you’re ready to start sending that book out on submission.
Regardless of where you are in the journey with your current WIP, I hope this post has helped you to get clear on the signs that it’s time to starting thinking about querying.
Never miss a post! Subscribe to my newsletter.