Why isn’t my finished book self-published yet? Somehow that needed repeating. First of all, I may not self-publish. I’m still open to continuing to query for a few months longer (especially since I’ve improved my novel since sending out some of those early query letters).
For some, once finishing a book, the move to self-publishing is a fast process. For me? Well…
I finished the first draft of REASONS a long time ago—a very long time ago. I knew I’d be in for many weeks, possibly months, of revisions and edits. However, I did not imagine that, for me, this process would end up taking years.
My novel is twenty chapters long and amounts to approximately 105,000 words. The writing community considers this a fairly “big” book. The genre is literary fiction, and likely, speculative literary fiction (with magical realism).
I worked through each chapter not once, not twice, but three times before I had what I considered a fairly polished product. This initial editing process took two years to complete. It’s important to note that during the second and third drafts of REASONS, I worked with a retired English teacher. So, with two people reading each chapter and then discussing each one, the work took almost twice as long—but was well worth the extra time. I will also add, because it applies to the timing issue, that I have a chronic illness that prohibits working for long periods. So, it’s fair to assume my illness caused this time to stretch. But, being that my working method is naturally slower-paced, I don’t think the time used for this stage would reduce significantly if I’d been completely healthy. I worked steadily and every day.
So, now I have a “polished” novel. Right? What’s the next step?
Some writers, long before a second or third draft, will have already engaged with a Beta reader, sometimes referred to as an ‘Alpha reader.’ Beta readers don’t necessarily have a writing background, though they are usually avid readers. Often, the Beta reader is receiving a first or very early draft of the author’s work—and giving feedback from the “point-of-view of an average reader”. Their comments pertain primarily to a general sense of the plot, pacing, and consistency—and importantly, emotional impact. My English teacher editor was essentially my Beta reader… with benefits—knowing grammar and writing skills.
So, back to the next step. For me, the next step was to find critique partners.
Critique partners are other writers who help to improve the quality of another writer’s work. Critique partners provide feedback that is thoughtful and informed. Each critique partner will provide criticism and advice based on their skill set as a writer—in exchange for the same from you.
Developing a successful critique partnership sounds easy, but finding the right critique partner takes time. It’s very important to work with compatible writers who are familiar with your genre, and who will provide the specific skill set and critique you’re expecting. For me, I wanted an in-depth review, one that included proofreading and grammar (which some critique partners do not do), along with thoughts about character believability and development, plot understanding and pacing, writing style (pointing out passive voice and show vs tell), to name a few. And, I wanted a critique partner who would provide positive comments along with the criticism.
Now, let’s say we find a well-matched critique partner. Let me correct that… critique partners, plural. We need several critique partners, at least three. In the end, I had ten. I think my number of partners is probably high. But I am grateful for the significant number of critique partners I had because the partners were diverse in experience and critique.
Okay. Now, let’s say we are well into our critique partnerships. How long does this part of the process take?
For me, the critique partnership took about 12 to 18 months. Yes. That’s a long time. But, the pace and attention to detail were well worth it. Fewer partners will mean less time put toward this stage, but less time could mean missing out on some fantastic suggested improvements.
So, what about that polished third draft I had before critique partnerships were even a thought? Well, that was then. Now my novel is truly polished. Or is it?
Before critique partners, I had created a decent book. Now, after critique partners, it’s a much-improved book. Am I ready to self-publish?
No. Not me. Some authors, yes. But for me… no.
Now, I’ll do the final proofreading. This shouldn’t take long, right?
I used two proofreading software programs. One is called Grammarly, and the other is called ProWritingAid. I’m using the free portion that Grammarly offers, and I purchased ProWritingAid for an annual fee. I’m happy with both. But why did I feel I needed them? Well, now I’m looking for the errors and poor writing habits that no one, including me, found.
And what have I discovered?
Well, I found so much more during his stage. These programs found commas to remove, and commas to add, spaces that needed fixing, quotation marks to fix, overused words, overused phrases, adverb overuse, and so much more. So, sigh, I realized I still had work ahead of me.
Now, many writers would not go this far. But I wish they would. Because there are too many self-published books that are rushed and presented for sale with these kinds of poor habits and mistakes. And, well, the whole self-publishing industry suffers.
Back to timing. How long is the proofreading stage going to take? Well, it depends on how deep a writer wants to go. I’m the type of writer that goes deep. So, this means weeks of work (because every error, every passive voice or show and tell, every word that needs changing or omission, every overused phrase takes time to correct). I’m guessing another two to three months.
Am I done now? Can I finally upload my edited and critiqued and improved manuscript to Amazon and be on my way?
Now I need to format my book. And, this means, I need to create formatting for both e-Book and paperback. Many authors will hire someone to do this work. But not me. I prefer to learn these skills and to know how to do this bit because if I need to make changes later on; I don’t have to rely on somebody else to make them when and how I want them done. Doing my own formatting is a learning curve for sure, but for my personality, it’s a learning curve I have thoroughly enjoyed.
But, how long with this part take? When can I finally start selling my book? Geeze.
Formatting a book involves designing an attractive and engaging interior with properly structured chapter titles, page numbers, headers, and footers… and it also means creating front matter and back matter for your book. Open any books on your bookshelf and you’ll see what some of these things mean. You’ll find a title page and a copyright page, and sometimes, a unique introductory page—say, with a famous quote. You’ll find acknowledgments, lists of the other books written by the author, contact information, and so forth. And in the electronic world, a writer uses back matter and front matter to further market and promote their work. For instance, this sometimes includes a newsletter sign-up page. Wow. Lots to learn. Lots to do.
So, how long will this take? The answer depends upon the writer’s available time, experience, preferences, and the desired amount of effort he or she wants to put into it. And, if you’re like me and have a design background (or a family member in design), you might also choose to create your book cover (which is a whole other process—including studying trends for one’s genre). For me, learning from scratch for this stage means I’m looking at a couple of months at least, probably three by the time a cover design is completed.
Where are we at now? Let’s add it all up:
Revisions after the first draft: 2 years.
Critique partners: 1 to 1-1/2 years.
Proofreading: 2-3 months.
Formatting: 2-3 months.
So, yes! I finished my book years ago!
And when people ask, “Where is it?”
My answer, for a while yet, is, “I’m working on it.”
(update: my novel, REASONS three lives, one soul, was indie published February 2022)