Jude Hardin

Author, Drummer, Turtle Whisperer

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Location: United States

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Giving Birth

I asked several published authors this question: When do you decide your manuscript is ready to go out? How many people read it first? How many rewrites?

Follow the links. Buy their books. I've read works from each of them, and each is first-rate. A ton of thanks to them for answering my question.

Here are their responses, in the order I received them:

Erica Orloff (speaking specifically about her first novel, Spanish Disco) says--
For me, I had always been--for years--in what I knew was a really talented writers' group. A combination of good critics and brilliant craftspeople . . . and I worked on it with them continually for six months, honing and refining, and when it was finished, I was pretty sure it was as well-edited and good as it could be. My agent sold it in three months--and my editor
asked for no comprehensive changes. I think my group had accurate instincts.

JA Konrath, author of the Jaqueline “Jack” Daniels thriller series, says--
By the time I type THE END, the book has had two revisions, because I rewrite as I write. Then I go over it once more to make sure it gels, and give it to a select cadre of beta readers (which include several bigshot authors) and incorporate their suggestions.

From there, it's to my agent, and more rewriting.

If it's a book I'm under contract for, my editor usually asks for more changes, and then the line editor has a final shot.

So I'd say there are at least 6-7 rewrites between first draft and publication.

Aaron Lazar, author of the Gus Legarde mystery series, says--
I have an inner circle of at least a dozen people whose skills range from tough writing critics to readers who simply want to follow the series, but who are happy to catch my typos.

After my inner circle has fed back to me (and meanwhile I've written another book, usually), I will go over it, rewriting it carefully. Choosing the best verb, eradicating phrases I've grown to dislike, and trying to smooth the text and plot to perfection. I usually end up doing this a couple of times before considering submitting it. Then, if I get a publisher to request it, I often polish it again before it goes out. All in all, it probably gets revamped a dozen times before it's actually published, including two or three revisions by editors.

Tess Gerritsen, whose thrillers can consistently be found on the NYT bestseller list, says--
I don't let ANYONE read my manuscript until I feel it's ready for publication. Which means my ms's go through about six or seven drafts before I feel they're done. I want the writing to be clean and polished, and I want all questions of logic fixed. Then I let my husband read it for typos. Then it goes out to my agent and editor.

My editor once told me that I was one of very few authors whose manuscripts come in just about ready for the printer, and how much she appreciates that.

Marcus Sakey, whose debut The Blade Itself hit the stores a couple of weeks ago, says--
I write the whole thing, beginning to end, trying to avoid major backtracking. I'm always polishing as I go, but I focus on forward motion. Once I finish, I send it out to my parents and a handful of friends while I let it cool, a month-long process that involves an obnoxious amount of moviegoing and X-Box playing. Then I sit down, read the whole thing in a day, look at the feedback from my readers, marker the hell out of the manuscript, and roll up my sleeves. When I finish that rewrite, the book is ready to go to my agent.

PJ Parrish, who writes the Edgar-nominated Louis Kincaid mystery series, says--
This is a very hard question for me. I am a big believer in rewriting. To me, this is where the book is truly made. I quote this every time I teach writing: The first draft is made with the heart; the second, third, tenth is with the head. Maybe it is because our books are so plot intensive, our bread-crumb trail of clues so long and winding, but we HAVE to rewrite just to get things to work. For our newest, "A Thousand Bones," we rewrote three times then were still rewriting whole chapters after the copyeditor was done with it. My husband came over to me one night and sighed, "It's time. Let it go."

Now the hard part. I can't let it go. As my co-author and sister Kelly knows, I am a perfectionist who labors over each and every line like I will never get another crack at it. Then when something is finished, I go back and smooth it, polish it, gnaw away at it like a stray dog guarding its last bone. This, of course, is anal and as bad as not rewriting at all.

Because you gotta know when enough is enough. You gotta just heft up your courage and fling your baby -- warts and all -- out there and take your shots to the gut. As that great 20th century philospher Sting once said: If you love somebody, set them free. That applies to ex lovers, adult children and manuscripts.

Because you have to know when to let your baby go.

Sean Chercover, whose debut Big City, Bad Blood was recently released to rave reviews, says--
I'm constantly re-writing and tweaking as I go along, so by the time I get to the end, it's not really a first draft anymore. I also give it to my wife and parents in about 50-page chunks as I go, so I'm getting feedback, some of which I listen to and some of which I don't. Anyway, I take a break after I get to the end, while my early readers get a chance to look at the thing as a whole. At this point, there are a couple of friends who will see it for the first time, because my wife and parents have seen it quite a bit, and I need some "fresh eyes". Then I read it again and dive back in for revisions.At that point, it had better be ready to go out, at least to my agent. Then my agent reads it and I get her feedback, and tweak it again. Then my editor reads it, and I get her notes.

But having said all that, I'm not sure that I ever "know" that it is ready to go out. I just get to the point where I've really done all I know how to do. My wife may say something like, "Okay, now you're spending weeks obsessing over commas. It's time to stop." That helps.

My thanks again to all these authors.

Anyone notice a trend here?

I recently finished a novel I’d been working on for six months, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever written. I felt an incredible sense of accomplishment when I finally typed THE END.

Now I’m anxious to start querying agents. My goal is to have a book deal by year’s end. But how do I know when the manuscript is ready for, if not the world, at least an agent’s eyes? Should I blitz the field with queries, like some writers do, or should I be selective and only send to a few agents at a time? Should I start licking envelopes?


My son was a preemie. Five-and-a-half weeks. I witnessed the miracle of his birth, and then got to watch him through the glass walls of an incubator for several days, being fed through a tube. He did fine. He’s fourteen now, and six-feet tall already.

But being a preemie is never the ideal. A fully-developed baby fares much better in the world.

Same with books.

Tagging a first draft with The End is a first-degree misnomer, when you get down to it. Finishing the first draft is a milestone, to be sure, and anyone who has done it knows how much work it takes.

But, for most of us, it’s a far cry from actually being finished.

Two published authors (one who worked as a book editor for a decade) are reading my manuscript and offering feedback. A third has agreed to do the same after his deadline has passed. I’ve given it to several friends and family members, getting takes from the layperson’s POV.

Ernest Hemingway said, “A book is never really finished, it’s just due.”

Since this is my first novel, I have the luxury of taking as much time as I need to get it right. I don’t have a deadline (other than my self-imposed one). But here’s the thing I have to keep reminding myself:

It’s never going to be perfect.

Like a chick from the nest, you have to eventually let it go. Multiple rewrites are essential, but if you’re not careful you can edit the soul out of a book. You have to know when to let go, when enough is enough.

So how will I know?

My plan: After I get the feedback from my readers, I’m going to do one major rewrite and a polish. Then I’m going to give my baby wings. I’m going to start querying agents. When I find representation, there will probably be another rewrite. When a publisher buys the book, probably more.

Is it worth it? Putting all that effort into something you know will never be perfect? Something you might never earn a dime from? Is nurturing your baby to maturity worth the blood, sweat and tears?

Only if you want to be a writer.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The End

Are there any two words in the English language that are sweeter for a novelist to write?

We love what we do, but actually finishing something evokes an emotion like no other. Something akin to bliss.

About an hour ago, I finished the first draft of my work in progress. After six months of hard work, it’s finally done.

I say “first draft,” but much of the manuscript has been worked twice or more. It’s pretty clean, I think, and ready to share.

I want to thank everyone who has been supportive along the way, especially my sweet angel who gave me strength when I had essentially given up on this novel.

Now I’m going to have a drink and click print.