How many times do you read through your book before you’re satisfied it’s finished?
How many times have a heard an author complain that they’ve read through their book at least a hundred times? I’m certain that’s an exaggeration, but honestly, how many times do you need to go through your book before it’s ready to send out to your professional editor?
I’m currently in the process of editing my latest book, so I’m thinking about what I need to be doing and how many times I’ll need to go through the book.
I do tend to stop and reread what I’ve written, usually at about the halfway point. It’s usually then that I need to stop and re-evaluate the plot that I’ve already planned. I need to see who my characters have become (because they never turn out exactly the way I planned them. Oddly enough, as they live through the plot, they grow and develop into “real” people with their own quirks and personalities). And I need to see if the plot works with who the characters have become. Usually, I need to do some minor reworking, but I have, on occasion, had to completely overhaul what I’d plotted out.
So, I suppose, that counts as one read-through (even though I’m only halfway finished writing the book at that point).
My next read-through comes a few weeks after I’ve finished writing the book. Immediately after I’ve finished, the last thing I want to do is slide up to the beginning of my document and start reading. No, I’ve got to clear my head first. I’ve got to think of something — anything — else. I call this time letting the book gestate. This way when I do go back to read it, I’m coming at it with a clear head and I can read it through as if I were encountering it for the first time.
In this first read-through, I’m really not correcting much aside from obvious grammar or punctuation mistakes and perhaps changing a few words here and there. But really, what I’m reading for is to see if the book is good; if it’s enjoyable. How fast does it read? How interested am I in the characters? Is the plot believable? Enjoyable? You wouldn’t think that I would be able to read my own book and look at it objectively, but I’ve found that actually, I can. I can read through the book as if it were written by someone else. If I like it, I’m pretty certain my readers will too.
The second read-through is really more of a skim-through. I go through each scene briefly, not really reading for detail, and make a list of what happens in the scene, whether there’s conflict, description, five senses, and romance (you can read through looking for magic, suspense, or whatever fits well with the genre you’re writing). With that list, I can see where I need to make changes. Do I need to heighten the tension in a scene? Do I need to spend more time lingering over the touch of a hand and how exhilarating that makes my hero or heroine feel? (I write sweet romance, so it’s the touch of a hand or, at most, a kiss where the physical attraction is shown.) But you understand what I’m getting at. With that list in hand, I know exactly where I need to go back and make changes and corrections.
Once those changes are made, I do my last read-through (that would be number three) where I read the book out loud. Doing this allows me to hear the book. I can tell when dialogue doesn’t sound natural. I will find places where I’ve left out a word (which I didn’t see when I was just reading silently), or where the order of the words doesn’t sound quite right.
With that read-through done, my book is done. I could probably do another read-through and tinker with it some more, but why should I? At this stage, the book is about as good as I can get it. Now it’s time to let someone else read it and propose corrections.
So, in all, I only read through my book three times before it goes to the editor. That’s not too much. It’s certainly not overwhelming nor enough to make me despise the book and just want to get rid of it. There are authors who read and re-read throughout the writing process trying to get the words, the sentences, the paragraph, and the overall story just right. But those authors take years to write a book and at the end of it their book has about as many mistakes as mine do. There is no such thing as perfection. I’m happy if my book is enjoyable and the grammar and punctuation are correct — as many read-throughs as that takes.