Recently, I stayed in an Airbnb where someone had tied the top tissues of all of the Kleenex boxes into bows. My first instinct was to laugh because they looked so comical.
Then I thought, “Good for you, taking so much pride in your work.”
Writing well is the same as doing anything else well: whether it’s yoga, cleaning, running, doing your taxes or the dishes, the beauty is in the details. You must take the time to write your book with care and attention. That means revising it, sometimes many times.
“How long does it take to write a book?” my students often ask, and of course there’s no easy answer.
Self-published authors, especially those who write genre fiction like fantasy, romance, or crime, turn out two or even four books a year. Literary writers—i.e., people who generally are up for prizes like the Booker or National Book Award—often take many years to write and publish only one book. Most of us are somewhere in between.
When I sent my latest work-in-progress (a thriller set in Spain) to my agent, her response was “Do it again.” I picked my ego up off the floor and used her (detailed!) editorial letter to revise the book, making changes to every chapter and almost every sentence. It had taken me a year to write the book. It took nearly another year to revise it.
After that, I had to twiddle my thumbs for four months before the agent sent it back to me with notes on THIS draft. Her editorial letter this time was easier to swallow, since she said it was “85 percent there.” (Naturally I was hoping she’d say it was 100 percent there, she already had an auction going, and soon there’s be a Netflix series. A person can dream, right?)
I spent another six weeks on the next revision, reworking a key plot element and fleshing out one of the characters by adding some backstory. Then I went through every page again, often reading them aloud to tighten sentences, scout out awkward or repetitive words, and catch inconsistencies. Many of the pages, like that bow on the tissue box, had only one or two changes, but those changes made the novel shine.
So, whatever draft you’re on, take your time. There’s no rush. Agents and editors at traditional publishing houses are basically looking for ways to say “no,” so you must submit your best, most polished work. And, if you’re self-publishing, remember that your book is representing YOU. Readers won’t come back for more of your writing if they’re disappointed in your first book.
Bottom line: A book takes as long as it takes to make it the best it can be.
Anne Easter Smith says
You are so right, Holly. I noticed mistakes and a couple of discrepancies in my last book (which was independently published), for which I paid $1,000 for a copy editor’s services, and it wasn’t until I had to read along with my narrator for the independent audiobook that I caught them long after the book was published. Gulp! Reading aloud is a pain in the arse, but it sure makes mistakes and repetitions jump out at you. And I would add that even if you are traditionally published these days, editors are often just out of college and do not go through your manuscript the way they did when editors were often as famous as their authors. So, writers, as Holly says, it’s up to you!
Holly Robinson says
Oh, yes, I’ve had that same experience, Anne–it’s definitely true that writers are more responsible than ever for the quality of their work, whether they’re traditionally or self-published. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in on this!