Checklist For Determining If Your Book Is Ready to Fly

Can you spot the bird house? :-)
By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

We have a bird house hanging right outside our kitchen window. My husband built it with my son long ago, and they hung it up with pride and expectation.

For many years the bird house carried a vacancy sign . . . until finally a family of house sparrows decided to take up residence. Now they're the lucky owners of the best bird house in town. Their home is snug in a corner, sheltered from wind and rain. And right outside their tiny door is a heated bird bath and half a dozen feeders. What more could a bird ask for?

For a few weeks we watched the momma and daddy sparrow squeeze dead grass and dried weeds into their doorway as they slowly crafted their nest. Then when all of the fluttering in and out finally stopped, we decided momma bird was probably sitting on her nest.

Not many days later when we opened our kitchen window, we heard a chorus of cheeps. The daddy flitted back and forth from the feeders to his home. Every time he reached the doorway, the newly hatched babies inside would chirp with excitement.

As we watched, we were amazed at the amount of work those babies required! The daddy and eventually the momma spent most of their time flying back and forth feeding and nurturing their babies. As the creatures grew, they would pop their heads out the door and open their beaks wide, clamoring for even more nourishment.

After a week or two of constant tweeting and fluttering outside our window, suddenly one day, we awoke to silence and stillness. The birds were gone, already almost full size, ready to survive on their own.

We as writers have a lot in common with the birds! 

Most of us spend weeks building the nest–researching, plotting, and developing characters. Then we spend an inordinate amount of work nurturing our stories and crafting them with loving dedication during the first draft, just like the momma and daddy birds. Finally we help them mature with edit after edit.

But how do we know when we should push them from the nest into the wide world of agents, editors, or self-publishing? After all, we DO eventually have to let them try their wings. We can't hold them in the birdhouse forever.

How do we know when our books are ready to fly?

Over the years, I've heard many writers lament about sending their books out too soon. Agents often remark that one of the top reasons for sending a rejection is because the writing ability is not strong enough. And over the past year or so, I've read articles written by self-published authors who regret launching their books before they were ready.

Recently, I cleaned out a closet and came across the first five novels I wrote. All it took was one glance at the first page of my first one to see large paragraphs of backstory dump and setting description to know that baby had never been ready to fly. Thankfully, I never pushed it out.

With each book I wrote, I continued to study the craft of writing. And with each book, I continued to practice all of the things I was learning. But none of the books ever reached a truly mature stage. They were all just part of the necessary process of growing.

Sometimes we can do everything possible to nurture our writing, read all the writing craft books, take online courses, attend writing conferences. But ultimately, even with all of the food we shove at our writing, growth is slow and happens over time. We, like birds, have a growth curve, can only ingest so much at one time, and have to allow for a natural progression.

Maturation in our writing is not something we can rush. After all the hard work, it's easy to get excited about the next stage–seeing our babies fly. But it hurts when we push them out only to see them fall flat, get stepped on and rejected, or garner poor reviews.

So how do we know when our writing is ready to fly?

Here's my short checklist:

1. Know the techniques of writing inside and out. Make sure we have a well-crafted story that applies all of the various writing essentials.

2. Nurture our story-telling skills. Read lots of books in our genre. Spend time analyzing what makes a story work and what doesn't.

3. Allow practice to mature us. Write a couple of books to completion. There's nothing like writing a book from start to finish several times to help us grow.

4. Send a manuscript to a critique partner /group or professional editor. Good feedback from a skilled writer/editor can help us see how we're doing. Sometimes entering a contest can give us an idea of where we stack up against our competition.

5. Make a trial run. Send a query to an agent or publisher. Garnering their interest can often show that we're on track. On the flip side, however, a rejection doesn't mean we're terrible. It's often difficult to distinguish if a rejection means we're not ready or if the agent simply wasn't interested (for a hundred and one various reasons).

What do you think? Have you ever sent your work out too soon? How do you know when your work is ready to fly? 

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