When you finish writing the first draft of your manuscript, there’s a good chance that your novel is NOT done. In fact, if you expect your novel to be a work of permanent perfection, it probably never will be “done.”

Think of yourself more like a parent who will inevitably still see a grown child as a work in progress. Ten years later, after professionally editing and publishing your novel, you’ll wake in the middle of the night with some new idea for the book. “Ahh,” you’ll think. “How could I have missed that? It would’ve made a huge difference! But oh well. No going back now.”

Sure, you could just wait ten years to publish your novel, but who’s to say that after twenty years you won’t have the same “how could I have missed it” experience? There comes a time when “good enough” is good enough. So how do you know when you’ve reached that point?

Is it finished?

Every writer must answer this question for themselves. As you mature as an artist and have new life experiences, your tastes are going to change, which also means your opinion of your own work will change too. It’s pretty common to be embarrassed by a book you wrote even a few years earlier. But a book, in addition to its contents, is a record of where you were at in your own development as an author. In order to know how far you’ve traveled, you’ve got to put down some mile markers (in the form of… published writing).

So one good way to know if you’re finished writing your novel it is to ask yourself: is this something I’d be proud to release into the wild RIGHT NOW? Sure, my tastes and style might change in the next few years, and I might find more things to tweak if I hold onto it longer. But I don’t want to be a smothering parent. At some point, I gotta let the little birdies fly and see if they crash or soar on their own.

You might know this quote (it’s been attributed to several famous people):

“A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.”

With that in mind, here are a few criteria that you should consider before “abandoning” your book to the wide world of readers:

1) Did you complete all the necessary story points included in your outline?

2)  Did you take out any part of the book, any dialog, or any descriptions that make you wince or cringe with shame? Not every moment in your book has to be spectacularly compelling, but you want to get rid of the embarrassing stuff (especially cliches).

3) Have you made sure there are no continuity problems or logical missteps?

4) Do the characters have believable motivations?

5) Have you enlisted beta readers, a writing group, a workshop, or a developmental editor to help you trim the fat and enhance the strengths of your novel?

6) Does the beginning of your novel feel like something that will invite or compel people to keep reading?

If you answered yes to all six of these questions then you might be ready to publish your novel.

If so, check out our “Book to Book Launch” timeline to see what other steps are involved in writing, editing, publishing, promoting, and selling your novel. And remember, BookBaby would love to help you take your writing and publishing pursuits to the next level. Check us out HERE.

Image via Shutterstock.com.

5 Secrets of Successful Authors

Chris Robley

About Chris Robley

Chris Robley has written 570 posts in this blog.

is an award-winning poet, songwriter, performer, and music producer who now lives in Portland, Maine after more than a decade in Portland, Oregon. His music has been praised by NPR, the LA Times, the Boston Globe, and others. Skyscraper Magazine said he is “one of the best short-story musicians to come along in quite some time.” Robley’s poetry has been published or is forthcoming in POETRY, Prairie Schooner, Poetry Northwest, Beloit Poetry Journal, RHINO, Magma Poetry, and more. He is the 2013 winner of Boulevard's Poetry Prize for Emerging Writers and the 2014 recipient of a Maine Literary Award in the category of "Short Works Poetry."

27 thoughts on “How to know when you’re done writing your novel

  1. babeins says:

    Thanks for posting this article! Has given me some general things to think about as I review my first draft of my first novella and revise going into my second. Very helpful. 🙂

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Awesome. Glad to help. Did you change your revision/editing process as a result? If so, how/why?

      @ChrisRobley

      1. babeins says:

        I haven’t necessarily change my process as I wasn’t really sure where to start from once I finished my rough draft. There seem to be so many articles out there with so many ways to continue on from a rough draft, I was getting overwhelmed reading them all to get ideas and guidance as to what I should do next. Then your article popped up in my inbox in a BookBaby email. It was one of the most straight forward articles I have read and was exactly the information I needed to go forward. I am thankful for that email. 🙂

        1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

          Awww. Thanks. I’m happy to hear that. As for information overload and conflicting advice, here’s one more piece of advice: forget what other people have to say and trust your gut. I think you’ll know when it’s ready.

          @ChrisRobley

  2. Good points, Chris, but I would have italicized ALL instead of YES – and set it in bold. All six points are essential. Especially number 6: the opening. If the reader can’t make it to page 5 without being enchanted or curious, none of the rest matters – no one will plunge further in.

    Recommendation: read the opening paragraphs of 20 random books and see if you are enticed. For a brilliant example check out Chris Cleave’s “Little Bee.”

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Good suggestion, and I’ll have to check out “Little Bee.” It’s funny, a year or two ago when I was looking through a bunch of books to compile a list of great opening sentences, it surprised me how many great books had really unmemorable, unexciting sentences (even opening paragraphs). But yeah, if you get to the end of the first or second page and STILL don’t care, put that book down!

      Thanks for reading, and commenting.

      @ChrisRobley

    2. Anita says:

      When you say enchanted does the intro always has to be a Wow! Factor? Some stories that are written gives you a intro to embrace.

  3. John P Stockton says:

    I see you are a man of your word Chris.
    You “abandoned” this blog before properly proof reading it!
    You actually posed 6 questions/criteria, not 3.
    I guess we should answer YES to all 6? LOL.

    However, you have distilled some very worthwhile concepts. Thank you.

    A couple of my favourite questions are…
    Have I really nailed my target market?
    Can I read it fast, especially in the action sequences?
    Do I repeat the same words too often?
    (And as you hinted) Have I ruthlessly chopped out all the boring bits?

    There are lots of other great questions in relation to grammar, pace, character and plot development, writing style… the list seems endless!

    My biggest challenge is that like many writers, I am slightly OCD when it comes to delivering a quality product to my readers. As such it’s hard to “let it go…” It’s the perennial tussle between commercial reality and artistic perfection.

    Writing is certainly an interesting journey. We are constantly learning and re-inventing ourselves.

    Thank you for your thoughts.
    Cheers

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Very true. Perfection vs. reality is a good way to frame that struggle. I know that with my own work, there’s little bits I’ll keep working and working and working on to “get right” (according to how I see it), and all the while, other readers are, like “Yeah, I think it’s fine either way; that part seemed fine before you changed it 50 times.”

      And wow, so much for my own proofing process. (I just fixed that).

      @ChrisRobley

  4. Steve G. says:

    Nice concise piece (except for the typo – there are more than “3” questions). I would really stress #5 and make sure proofreaders/editors are honest in their feedback. Authors don’t want inadvertent plot or grammar snags . . . or typos.

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Ah! Speaking of editing! (Thanks, I just fixed that).

      @ChrisRobley

  5. thanks for the help/How to know when your book is finished. This is the same info that my editor told me when my book ‘A Walk Through The Bitterroots’ was almost finished. Now done to what I call great. He was pleased to.

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Nice. Glad to hear you took your time and edited and made your book as strong as it could be.

      @ChrisRobley

  6. Nicola says:

    How many editors should a writer have? And how many and how long should you take to edit your novel?

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Well, there’s no real rule, but for me, if I trust the editor, I’d rather just have one person I respect doing the developmental editing stuff, and then get another professional in the mix for copy editing and proofing. As for time, however short or long it takes to get it right. If your manuscript is really strong, it won’t take you long to edit/revise. If it’s a mess, you could be working on multiple drafts for years.

      @ChrisRobley

  7. Soji Obebe says:

    I am glad to have read the article. That striking quote: A work of art is never completed, but abandoned, is sufficient to put my mind at rest. Thanks.

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Nice. Thanks for reading. Glad it gave you some relief.

      @ChrisRobley

  8. Ellen says:

    Terrific advice! A famous writer once said that when he realized he was changing things back to his original (had a comma, took it out, put it back in; changed a phrase, then changed it back to the wording he started with, etc.) during his editing phase, then he knew he was done. He’d made all the changes, at that point, he was going to make that would improve the book. (Sorry I can’t remember the author who said that…!)

    1. Chris Robley Chris Robley says:

      Sounds like… EVERY author!

      @ChrisRobley

  9. Chris, thanks for the great post and brilliant information about a step-by-step plan to successfully send a self-published book into the world – http://blog.bookbaby.com/2014/04/from-book-to-book-launch

    Like it!

    1. Mason Pratt says:

      Thanks, Chris, from another Portland, Maine writer.

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