Is a Book Ever Really Done?

Way back in 2011, I blogged about the Dynamism of Writing, which takes many forms. I concentrated mostly on the ability of a project to take over the story from my conscious brain, but touched on another aspect as well, and that’s the “doneness” of a book. As I wrote back then, I think I could look at one of my books every day for a year and probably think there were 365 different ways to make it better (sometimes changing things back to what they were before I changed them!). Even our illustrious lady leader, K.S. Brooks, wrote about the wisdom of letting a book sit and looking at it with fresh eyes before publishing.

I don't remember that part!
I don’t remember that part!

This whole issue was brought to my unhappy attention when I began to re-read one of my older books. First published 25 years ago, it’s one of my favorites and I do re-read it periodically just because I enjoy it so much. When the original publisher felt it had had its run, they let the rights revert back to me and I published it through iUniverse (the only game in town at the time), then years later cancelled my contract with them and republished it through CreateSpace. At both of these junctures, I went back through the book and made minute changes, caught a few typos and pronounced it good.

So imagine my surprise when I started reading it recently and found within the first few pages a glaring misspelling! Ack! Of course then the reading-for-fun immediately turned to proofreading, and I’ve found many things that I’ll change, a handful of typos but also—I swear—things that I don’t think I would ever do! Where do those come from? Did someone edit my book?  Who’s hacked into my Kindle and changed things? (Probably the same person who somehow gets into my DVD collection and adds new scenes to movies I’ve watched a dozen times before!)

Coincidentally in a recent discussion, another author friend asked the question, “Is a book ever really done?”

I would love to say yes, but I’m honor-bound to say no. At least not as long as we keep looking at them.

I mean think about it; some days we wake up feeling refreshed, energized, ready to go accomplish great things. Other days we might feel sluggish, short-tempered, churlish. Or maybe depressed. Or grateful. Or open. Closed. Happy. Sad. Bullet-proof. Overwhelmed.

Do you really think you could read the same book every one of those days and actually see the same thing, feel the same thing?

One day the book is good; it’s whole, complete, done. Next day it needs work. Ok, then it’s done. No, next day it needs something else.

Where does it stop?

Well, the fact of the matter is, it probably doesn’t. Not unless you close the book, put it away and never take it out again.

The way I see it, I’ve got two choices: I can do the above (put the book away and never touch it again) or I can revisit it periodically and make whatever small changes I feel it needs at that time. I honestly don’t think I could do the former. And the latter, to me, feels like polishing, like the slow, deliberate caressing with a soft cloth to really bring out the shine, the loving care that is accorded to family heirlooms that are timeless in their value.  This is part of the lifelong process of caring for that treasured story, taking it out every so often, burnishing it gently, then returning it to its place of honor on the shelf.

At least that’s my story and I’m sticking with it.

Author: Melissa Bowersock

Melissa Bowersock is an eclectic, award-winning author who writes in a variety of fiction and non-fiction genres. She has been both traditionally and independently published and lives in a small community in northern Arizona. Learn more about Melissa from her Amazon author page and her blog.

39 thoughts on “Is a Book Ever Really Done?”

  1. At some point you have to draw a line in the sand. I’ve done one touch up on The Spark since publishing it. That was to fix the four remaining typo’s that somehow snuck through. (I swear those things breed!)

    I had a little over two years between finishing the first draft and publication. Part of that was agent related. It wasn’t a bad thing. I went through several complete rewrites. However between each one I put the manuscript away for at least a month, usually two or more,so that I could look at it with fresher eyes. I’ll probably take a year or so to do the same with the second book when it’s done.

    With all my other hobbies and interests I don’t have enough time to work on the next book, let alone go back to the first one. What time I can carve out I’ll spend on promotion and fun things like library talks.

    The Spark isn’t perfect. It will always be a first work. And I’m OK with that.

    1. John, I wish I could say I had caught the last typo in any of my books, but I’ve thought that over and over and always get proved wrong. I agree–they breed in there at night! But that’s one reason I like to go back and re-read, because my more “mature” eyes catch new things. I actually don’t re-read looking for errors–I re-read because I like the books–but it almost always turns out to be beneficial as well as enjoyable. Like you, I am well satisfied with my early books, at least with 99% of them. That last 1% might always nag at me, though. Perfection is tough and not something easily (ever?) gained. I think most of us are happy enough, even if our books do have a “spirit line” in them. Thanks for commenting.

    1. Is this where I say, “Too late”? Just kidding. I guess it’s a toss-up: does it make us crazier to re-read and re-edit over and over, or to not read the book and know there might be tiny little things in there that could be fixed? Obviously it’s personal choice. I’m sure we’ll have every degree all along the spectrum here. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  2. Great post, Melissa. I do the same thing. Every single time I read through one of my books (or even glance through) I find something I need/want to change. But that’s kind of like life, really – always striving to improve and find new ways of doing things. *needs nap after deep thought for the day* 🙂

    1. Thanks, Melinda. (Oh, were you awake?) I agree, there’s always that push to get it right, to improve and polish, and yet as I said above, some days improvement looks one way, on other days it looks like something else. I’ve actually looked at some of my older books and considered doing major rewrites because I’ve learned so much since I originally wrote them and my entire mindset is different. But, ahem, actually doing that has not gotten to the top of the priority list yet. It might never. And the good news is that no one but me will ever know there might be another story in there.

  3. I do a bit of that, in fact edited my first book twice after the first version published. Generally, though, I’m like Lynne. If I kept going back to to old books I’d never write anything new.

    1. I agree, Yvonne, I think people could get hung up on an early book and keep banging away at it to the detriment of anything new. As with so much of writing, it’s all a matter of balance. After all, we don’t just write–we write, edit, publish, package, promote, connect, teach, discuss, learn, rewrite, re-edit, re-publish ad nauseum. As long as we have a process that works for us and gives us satisfaction, that’s all that counts.

      1. Yes. The hard part is finding that balance. We sometimes need some other eyes to tell us whether it needs more work or it’s fine the way it is. If we trust that person we’re lucky and need to listen.

  4. Melissa, I feel your pain! It takes me so long to write and revise a novel, and if I look at the manuscript again…well, you know where that leads. Learning to “let go” is difficult. The best thing to remind ourselves is that no book is perfect, no matter how many times we go over it. We will always find something not to like.

    1. Linda, you’re absolutely right; letting go is often the hardest thing to do. I used to work for a project manager at the National Observatory and we often had to prepare proposals and huge reports. I had to wait until he was done writing it so I could format it and get it ready for submission, but I had a terrible time getting him to let go of it so I could do my part. I often threatened to break his fingers to get it out of his hand. The difference for us, of course, is that we don’t have a deadline (usually), so we can keep looking at it over and over. That’s the good news, and the bad news!

  5. Excellent post! If Walt Whitman can do it, why not us? Each time a reread something, I pick up on a different sentiment, or nicely set phrase that I hadn’t noticed before. Keep reading those stories over again, and don’t be afraid of change them. That is life, and our books are never finished, just left aside sometimes.

    1. Thanks, Elisabeth; glad you’re in my corner. Yes, our books, like our lives, can be revised over and over as necessary or as desired. The possibilities and endless and keep it all fresh. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Great post. I guess this an advantage (or disadvantage) of indie publishing. If I have the ability to go back and make changes, I’ll do it. I can’t help myself. There’s probably a fine line between giving your book a nice polish here and there, and driving yourself crazy. I tend to be on the crazy side, so I haven’t revisited my published books out of fear I’ll decide to totally rewrite them. This post has helped me realize that I owe it to my books to enjoy them and again.

    1. Thanks, Tricia. Yes, I have a feeling this is a very individual decision and process, based on how we feel about the “doneness” of our books. I think it’s interesting how a story can evolve over our lifetime, and we probably could write a different story for the same characters every 5 or 10 years or so. Again, it’s just a matter of balance and how much we want to invest in our old stories while still writing the new ones. I don’t necessarily think all authors need to ponder this, but for me, it does rear its head every now and then, and when it does, I have to figure out how much energy to put into it.

  7. Excellent post, and right there with you, Melissa, I’m just going through the process of getting one of my books ready for hardcover that has previously only been an eBook; even though I’ve done it several times before, more tweaking, more polishing.

  8. Melissa, I vote that a book is never completely done. With our new technology, there is no reason for a book to be static. I recently updated the Createspace, KDP and Smashwords versions of my first novel. It took about an hour. The change included typo fixes and added a scene I’d cut before the initial publishing. Why not do it if the result is an improvement.

    1. My thinking, exactly. If you can make it better, why not? Sure, it may be a never-ending project, but so what? I doubt that I will ever rest at winnowing out all the typos. Thanks for commenting.

  9. One thing this brings out is one of the really great things about contemporary publishing…. it doesn’t HAVE to be over. You can keep on correcting or even re-writing your book indefinitely. And fault of problem can be fixed nd hit a new batch of readers at any point. “Never over” means “never failed”

    1. Thanks, Lin; that’s definitely one of the largest advantages to indie publishing. It always trips me up when I notice a typo in another author’s book, notify them (I would want to know), and they say they’ll let their publisher know for future reference. Me, if I know there’s an error there, I want it fixed NOW. And I even re-thought the ending of one book and changed a minor detail that had bothered me. Later, an early reader brought up that same issue to me and I was happy to say I’d already fixed it. We indies are nothing if not responsive!

  10. I actually winced when I read the title of your article Melissa. It’s a question I avoid because I know the answer and I don’t want to go back and revisit.
    Part of me wants to leave it alone but part of me knows that as I (hopefully) progress as a writer there will always be changes I want to make down the line.
    Thanks for making me look at this. Great article!

    1. Sorry if you felt put on the hot seat, Martin. As I say, it’s a very personal decision and there is no right or wrong. Revisiting is not something I make a point of doing, but if it presents itself, I will address it. As I said earlier, it just depends on what drives you nuttier: rewriting or letting it be, knowing it could use a rewrite. But look at it this way: we all have multiple projects waiting for us when we run out of new stories, right?

  11. LOL Melissa. I’ve gone through this with each audiobook I’ve had done. Each read through, I find something else to tweak. Ack. But now that all of them are in audiobook format except for one, I can’t go back in and change anything major. Whyspersync wouldn’t work if I did. I’ll have to comfort myself with making changes in 7 years, when the contract is up 🙂 That’s going to be interesting, to say the least. Hopefully, I’ll have scads of tricks up my sleeve by then and will be able to vastly improve the books…

    1. Well, the good news is, with audiobooks if you say you’re instead of your or use a colon instead of a comma or whatever… nobody KNOWS!!! It’s like getting away with murder.

  12. This is marvelous, Melissa, thank you. Part of me wants to keep revising. Part of me thinks that once it’s done (and published), I’ll never again be the same person who wrote that book and to just let it stand. Oh, the temptation, though.

    1. That’s exactly it, Laurie. I’m not the same person I was when I originally wrote it, and my view of things has changed. But it was valid for me then, therefore … who knows? Definitely something worth pondering.

  13. I wonder this myself. For now I’m happy to correct typos and grammatical errors if I see them (or if a reader mentions something in a review!) but otherwise I’ll let sit. My first novel may have its writing kinks, but I grew with everything I wrote after.

    1. That’s the thing, Emma; it’s whatever works for you. And I have a feeling most of us can track our writing skill across the progression of our books. Thanks for commenting.

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