Monday, April 12, 2010

Have You Ever Revised A Novel and Made it Worse?

This may come as a surprise to many, but I have a big, big problem with self-publishing.

Many of you have gone--or are going--through the process of writing a book. It's quite a journey, even if the journey is one of those quiet ones that happens only in your head...and on your computer screen.

And if you've written a novel, you've also probably revised a novel. It's part of the process. You want to make it better and better.

Here's my question for you: Is novel revision ever a bad thing?

I've been writing novels, daily, seriously, for something like 14 years. In that time I've completed two novels, and I'm just about finished with a third. I don't count the number of drafts I do on each one, but I tend to go through a novel at least six times changing big-ticket items--plot, character, character motivations, etc. Then I read through it many times, my focus getting more and more narrow, until I'm fixated only on grammar, spelling and typography issues. That's when I call it done.

I have to admit there is no such thing as "too many" when it comes to passes through my works. In my opinion, they could always use one more. My work never tells me it's done. It's usually something I have to tell myself. "After four, five, six years, isn't it time to get it out there?" "Can I really justify dedicating any more time to this thing without knowing if anyone wants to read it?" These questions speak more to my emotional state than to anything within the work.

With each novel, there is a draft that I sense is the final one, and I try to make the thing perfect by the end of that draft...and then I give it one more quick draft, just to make sure...and then I read it--just read it--for any last-second issues.

And then I have to stop, save the work as "MyMasterpieceFinal," and send it out into the world.

And therein comes my problem with self-publishing.

Self-publishing allows many writers to call their final draft their final draft, whereas commercially published writers still have, at minimum, an editor, and probably an agent, who will go through that manuscript at least one more time with a keen eye for its weaknesses. This process, I gather, can take months--even a year sometimes--and it can't help but make those final manuscripts even more final. Extra-final. Super-final. FINAL-final.

Of course, self-published writers can hire their own experts to edit their works, but most don't. We'd rather save that scratch for book design, or marketing. We need to watch every penny if we expect to profit. Editing is one thing we should be able to do ourselves, so we try our best.

But how about you? Are your novels ever finished, even when they're "finished"? Or do you agree with William Faulkner, that great works are never finished, only abandoned?

Try Ghost Notes, the award-winning novel, in print form for just $5.

Try Ghost Notes the Audio Book as an unabridged digital download.

Or try Ghost Notes the Ebook.


M.L. Bushman/Jigsaw Press said...

I best advice ever received from a successful writer regarding editing/revision:

When you start putting things back as they were in the original draft, it's time to quit.

Best book on editing for fiction writers:

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Brown and Dave King

Augustina Peach said...

My family doesn't understand why I keep working on the same book when it's "done." I can't really articulate for them what I'm trying to fix - I just know there's something about it that is still nagging at the back of my mind, and I have to take care of that.

I'm really enjoying your blog. Lots of good sense here.

Art Edwards said...

Thanks, Augustina!

Whenever I start talking about how "done" my novels are, that's when I know they need another draft.

JamesL said...

Great blog. I'm actually going through this right now. I'm partnered with two other authors and we formed our own independent publishing company, but we also critique each others' books.

One of my partners is an editor and she made suggestions to change this and that on my manuscript (I agreed with about 80% of her comments). THEN my other partner read it and recommended changes that added more drama to the book (I agreed with them).

This is after I made a billion edits already! Arrgh! LOL I think the changes make the book better, but it remains to be seen how the reader will view the book.