I have a problem. I’m an inveterate editor. I want my manuscripts to be as perfect as possible before I send them out. I fret when I discover a problem, even a minor punctuation error, after the manuscript goes out the door. And that’s usually when I find the error—right after submitting the manuscript.
Recently I blogged about my book Bryte’s Ascent, and why I decided to self-publish. I went through the submission process, which Amazon’s CreateSpace makes very easy, and received the proofs for the paperback edition. With the proofs comes the recommendation that you go through them three times: once for formatting and design problems, once to catch errors in spelling, punctuation, and other technical errors, and the third time for content errors such as inconsistencies or omission of important facts. I was reasonably confident that my manuscript was free of such problems, so I went through it rather hurriedly, checking primarily for formatting errors. The formatting looked good, but I spotted a couple of minor errors in punctuation. When I saw those, I decided I’d better give the entire book a more thorough check. I did, and found several things, all relatively minor, that needed to be fixed. I fixed all I found and went back to CreateSpace and resubmitted the manuscript. Immediately after I did so, I found a place where a comma was needed.
Should I resubmit for one missing comma? Who would notice the omission? The missing comma came at the end of a line, which is probably why I didn’t catch it in the first place. Its absence was less noticeable there. Who would notice? Who would care?
Then I realized something else. I want to write a sequel to Bryte’s Ascent. I have a title and a plot for it, and have written most of the first chapter. And I have the title and a vague idea for the book after that. But … I didn’t include something in Bryte’s Ascent that would set the groundwork for the sequel. It wouldn’t take much. Just a couple of lines of dialog. To add those lines and the missing comma, I’ll need to resubmit the entire manuscript. Should I spend the time? I’ve already spent a great deal of time going over the proofs.
Why didn’t I catch those things before resubmitting? I suppose because it was late, and I was tired and ready to be through with the manuscript and have it on its way to becoming a book. If I had just let it sit overnight and looked at it with fresh eyes and a more alert brain in the morning, I would have spotted the things that needed fixing. But I didn’t, and now I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I resubmit—and that means not only the paperback book manuscript but also the manuscript for the e-book, or do I let it go? I really don’t want to spend more time on it.
I’ve explained all this because I rather think that this is a dilemma faced by all authors who self-publish. Caught between the Scylla of being eager to get the book out there and the Charybdis of wanting to hold on to it until it’s absolutely as perfect as possible, some authors let go of the manuscript too soon, and others hold on to it too long, rewriting, adding, taking out, fixing things that may not even need fixing. Negotiating that narrow strait in between is not easy. I think we’ve all seen manuscripts that have been published unedited and full of errors. The author was too impatient to see her work in print to go through the laborious editing process, or perhaps felt she could not afford to hire a professional editor to do it for her, and her own skills weren’t sufficient for the job. On the other hand, some writers keep tinkering with their manuscript, perhaps because they’re subconsciously afraid to let it go, afraid it won’t be well received. They add a little something here, rewrite that opening scene one more time, change the conclusion just a bit, make this scene more complicated, make that one more suspenseful. The problem is that all that tinkering after the manuscript is basically ready can hurt or even ruin it. It can happen that what the author does to try to improve it complicates it to the point of making it close to being unreadable.
So how do you find the safe passage between those two dangers? If I knew I probably wouldn’t be having such a hard time deciding how to resolve my dilemma. I think the best answer is to find someone—preferably another writer—who will read the manuscript for you and tell you whether he considers it ready for publication. It must be someone you can trust to give you an honest opinion. And the author must be willing to give that person time to read and evaluate the manuscript.
I hope some of you who read this blog will read Bryte’s Ascent and decide: is it under- or over-edited? Please don’t hesitate to give me your answer. And even if you don’t care to read Bryte’s Ascent, I hope you will share your thoughts on how to know when a manuscript is ready to be sent on its way.