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How to Decide When Your Book Is Done

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.

Perfection Paralysis

Every once in a while, I am hired by a self published author who is a perfectionist. When coming on board, they usually tell me that this is not the first edit or proofreading that's been done. Some have reported that my review is as high as the ninth or tenth round. Wow. So I may be one in a long line of editors, beta readers, and proofreaders working on this book. They may also tell me that they've been working on this book for months or years.

While I applaud their conscientiousness, I'm also concerned that these folks have slipped into perfection paralysis. For some, I wonder how many other editor reviews after mine they will need to feel that their books are done and ready for publication.

The Approval Problem

Sometimes this perfection paralysis is more than just a quest for the perfect book. It may be a cry for approval.

Writing can be a lonely profession, with many hours spent laboring in solitude over a manuscript. There's no one there to give authors an "attaboy" or "attagirl" compliment. They're worried that their work just doesn't measure up. Yet the measuring stick by which their books will be evaluated is invisible and elusive, because it's really the market that decides. So these authors look to their editors and beta readers to give them the approval they need to go ahead.

The Goal Problem

One of the reasons that these authors cannot move their books from "to do" to "done" is that they have no clue what the mission is for their book. The only goal they have is to write a book. So they're never sure if the book is really done.

The Ego Problem

Because authors can fall in love and get married to their books, they can be put off by editors and beta readers who criticize their work. So they hire more and more in an attempt to dismiss any who have bruised their fragile egos. This is also an approval problem since these authors need to have validation that they and their books are good enough.

Sense of Loss

Especially when authors have labored over a book for an extended period of time, they can feel a sense of loss as a book project comes to a conclusion. In this case, they may love the writing process more than the result. Ending the project destroys their purpose and causes them to worry about what they'll do when the book is finally finished. So to avoid the feelings of loss and confusion, they just keep endlessly working on the same book project that has brought them so much joy and satisfaction.

Knowing when a book will be done should actually be determined BEFORE it's even written.

— Heidi Thorne

So How Do You Decide When Your Book is Done?

Knowing when a book will be done should actually be determined BEFORE it's even written. Determining the mission, message, or story of the book—your why—is the first order of business when self publishing. Then it takes discipline and determination to keep moving forward.

The following tips can help keep a book moving toward the finish line:

The Checklist. Make a list of ideas or story elements that need to be included and completed. A book's outline can also be used instead of a checklist. Once all of those points can be crossed off as achieved, then the basic content of the book is done and ready for the next stage of development. That next stage should include self editing and, ideally, review by beta readers, editors, and proofreaders to fine tune the manuscript before production begins.

Avoid the Never Ending Editing Loop. The biggest caution is not to let the book get stuck in round after round (after round!) of editing. Establish a point at which development and editing must end and production begins. Setting a realistic and specific date deadline for that point can help mentally and emotionally let go of perfection paralysis.

Limit the Number of Editors and Beta Readers. The other caution is to limit the number of editors used. The nine or ten editors that some authors report using is way too many. Even just one or two competent and professional editors can be enough; only hire more to address specific or troublesome aspects of the manuscript. Often, more beta readers than editors are hired. But even for that, limit that number to just a handful of beta readers to avoid being overwhelmed and unnecessarily changing the book to address several conflicting opinions.

Take Your Ego Out of the Equation. Professional editors and beta readers are committed to helping authors create the best possible version of a book. It is of little consequence to them if the author agrees with their assessments or not. So get your ego out of the picture and be prepared to receive and use their constructive criticism.

Become the Observer, Not the Lover. It's been my experience that once I finish a book—even before!—I'm already thinking about my next writing adventure. I take the Zen approach of becoming the observer of my work, watching my career and projects move forward, rather than getting stuck falling in love with my books and the writing process.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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© 2017 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 13, 2017:

Hi AliciaC! I'm going to agree with you on that. :) But I'll admit that it's an easy trap to slip into. Thanks, as always, for your support! Have a beautiful day!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on June 12, 2017:

You've shared some great advice, as always. I love the term "perfection paralysis". It certainly sounds applicable to nine or ten rounds of editing!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 12, 2017:

Flourish, I can't either! OMG, I would be nuts by the time I've reached the third round. Yep, too much navel gazing, too little results. Thanks for putting the exclamation point on the discussion! Have a beautiful Monday!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on June 12, 2017:

Billybuc, I definitely wouldn't think you have a problem with this! :) You're very committed and organized. Thanks for stopping by this morning and have a marvelous Monday!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on June 12, 2017:

I've heard of people who have this problem. I never have. I pretty much know the ending point by the midpoint in my writing....anyway, as always, good analysis and information. Happy Monday to you!

FlourishAnyway from USA on June 11, 2017:

Talk about not being able to let go! I cannot imagine that many rounds of editing. I'm too action-oriented. There is a point where good enough has to be good enough. That's what frustrated me about academic writing: the navel gazing. At some point we all just need to get over ourselves and deliver the baby.

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