We Call That a “Draft”

You’ve been in a dead sprint toward your goal—you’ve had your head down, your family no longer recognizes you, it’s been weeks since you showered or drank anything but coffee or whiskey. And now, you’ve done it. It’s the BIG MOMENT. You finished your book! Time to dash off those query letters and get your book into the eager hands of the awaiting throng of agents! Right…? You don’t want to hear what I’m about to say, so go ahead, take a shower first. Drink some water. Have a good meal and talk to your family, because you, my friend, are only at the beginning of a journey, not at the end.

Now, if you are a published author and have a book contract in place, then maybe you already have an editor waiting on your project. And maybe she or he is prepared to go a couple of developmental rounds with you, if you’re lucky. Your publisher may have a vested interest in your work, and may be willing to put in the time, money, and expertise to help whip your book into shape. But in this climate, there is no guarantee of a robust editorial process. Your editor needs that title to fill out their fall list! They’re hoping what you send is so clean and polished that it’s ready to go into production, from Outlook to copyeditor in ten seconds flat. And this is only if you’re signed. More likely, you don’t yet have a contract, but it’s your goal.

I meet folks every day, seasoned and green, who believe that they have written a book, when what they have written is a draft. I’ve read amazing first and second drafts from people with great skill, and still their prose needed at least a few rounds (and sometimes an overhaul) to become the book it was meant to be. And remember, as a Girl Friday editor, when I read your book, I’m expecting a journey. If I have taken you on as a client, I have full faith in the result and have scheduled the time to coax it into being. After all, that’s what you’re paying me for. When an agent or an acquisitions editor reads your book, they are expecting near perfection.

Shocked? It may not be fair, kids, but it’s how the world operates. Sure, enthused agents and editors may help you reach your potential (though reviewers of rushed-to-market self-pubbed work may not be so kind). But here’s the spoiler: houses or manuscripts, we all want turnkey, not a fixer-upper. We don’t want a book to require vision (and work) to realize its latent appeal. We don’t want to mine ore; we want to poke around in the rocks and come up with a nugget of pure gold! And the fact of the matter is that perfection doesn’t flow from your fingertips onto the page. Oh, if it were that simple. No, it takes time, dedication, and a hell of a lot of labor to create a work of art.

Whether you want to self-publish your work or catch the eye of a publishing professional, at the bare minimum you must take the time to read your book first page to last and make your own adjustments. You should ask trusted (as in, you trust them to tell you hard truths) advisers to do a read of their own and then really consider their input and advice. For heaven’s sake, do a thorough spell check, give lots of thought to the title, and ensure your first fifty pages will knock someone out of their seat. Better yet, hire an editor to assess your work through an acquisitions lens or to do a developmental edit or a copyedit—or, ideally, both. Then do what they tell you to do.

Please do not take this as me diminishing your accomplishment. I think probably 95 percent of the population has a book idea, but only a fraction of those actually write it. Congratulations! That’s the first hard part. But that first draft also has the thrill of novelty that makes the writing bearable. The revision process you’re about to embark on is going to be harder, I won’t lie. But it will also transition your draft into a real book.  And it may very well make the difference between getting that book published and having it languish in slush. Brew up some more coffee, or get out the whiskey. You’ve got some more work to do.