Now that’s the 20-million-dollar question, no? It’s what every writer wants assurance of, and preferably, from the start. Before doing the hard work of revision. Before querying. Quite often, before working with an editor. But whether your book is good enough to be published depends upon about 20 (I’ll leave off the million, but experienced authors would add it 🙂 variables.
I understand. This is such a long, difficult endeavor, and having the answer before doing all that insane work would be oh-so nice. But the odds of an answer—any answer, much less a positive one—with a first draft, or even a second, is kinda like wanting the winning lottery numbers before you bet.
This question gets posed to me at least once a week, if not more often. For a variety of reasons. Writers want to know, before spending money on editing, before facing the daunting task of learning and then putting those skills into practice, if it will be worth it.
And the thing is, not one person in this industry—not free-lance editor nor literary agent nor publishing-house editor nor even a house’s marketing department—can tell you if your book, before being edited and revised and whipped into shape, is good enough to succeed in today’s publishing world.
Or even in the world of twenty years ago.
Because with writing, especially fiction writing, the devil really is in the details.
You know, those pesky details about characterization and plotting and prose and deft of pen. All the depth of skills that go into making a great story, and a satisfying read.
Writers coming in often think that their story idea will sell the book in nothing flat. Many are so sure of this, they worry incessantly that someone will steal said idea, and the book will sell millions.
Want to know an industry secret? Literary agents and publishing-house editors laugh about this. Yeah, someone might pitch that idea to them (at a conference, etc.), and their ears perk up. It might be a great storyline!
But until it’s realized on the page, none of it matters. Not one bit of it.
Becoming an author (and I used that in the Traditional sense, not in the world of self-pub) takes enough grit and courage and stamina and willingness to keep learning, in order to create a fantastic book that is there on the pages, that the “idea” of a great story is just that—an idea.
And in fiction, ideas don’t sell. Fully realized books do.
So many times, writers say, “I’m not sure if this one will sell, so maybe I’ll self-publish it and if it makes a lot of money, I’ll get editing for the next one.”
Which honestly, makes me want to run screaming from the room. I don’t tell them that, of course, but I can tell y’all, as if you’re reading this, you already know what’s coming.
There is no way to shoot yourself more solidly in the foot in this business than putting out a book that’s not ready, and when you, as the writer, aren’t ready. It’s the most certain way to set yourself back 400 yards before the game even begins.
For two reasons:
One, you may be a marketing whiz, and able to sell tons of copies of your first book. Because so much of book sales is absolutely about marketing (which pretty much all writers hate).
But if your first book leaves readers unsatisfied, they’ll never buy your next book(s). Readers have long memories.
And two, this actually stifles the learning curve. If you’re going to be successful in this business, you’re going to have to put in that blood, sweat, and tears to learn this craft. And as so many of you reading this can attest, it truly is that. Not one step in this process is easy. But if you’re up and running with a book out, marketing like crazy, exactly when are you learning the craft? How are you ever going to answer the question, is my book ready to be published?
You might as well learn it in from the start, before you embarrass yourself with a book that gets slaughtered by reviewers. Before you learn bad writing habits that then must be unlearned in order for you to progress.
Because, again, if you want to be successful here, you will have to learn the craft.
And once you do so, it’ll serve you with every book you write.
So, is your book good enough to be published? Depends upon what you’ve done to get it to that point. And once you’ve gone through the entire process, a definitive answer can be had.
As I often tell my writers, yes, you have to have some talent. But the rest is about skills, and those can be taught and learned.
When is a better time to learn?