How to Know When Your Novel is Finished

Bryan has written a lot about constructing, writing and editing your novel… but where do you draw the finish line? How do you know when your novel is finished?


When it came to the timing of this article, I could not have asked for more. My team and I finished my third novel in August and as of now I am full of relief, disbelief and the fear of letting go. This is nothing new. I had the same feeling with my other two books, but each one is a little different. All have their own special way of knocking me to the curb when it’s time to say goodbye.

On that note – Let’s begin:

Polishing the Finished Manuscript

Writers have a name for this. It’s called rearranging the chairs. Sometimes you have to call the room good and leave the chairs alone. The same goes for our manuscript. There are only so many commas and periods to replace. 

Last spring I had the last of my major rewrites. I knew it was crunch time. This was going to make or break the book. In July I sent Alyse, my editor, the final draft. Weeks later it was returned with a passing grade. I handed the final draft to my line editor. She hunted down every typo and misplaced comma and by mid August the manuscript was complete and I was a mess. There had to be something wrong. Clearly these two experts of mine missed something.

But as hard as I looked and as much as I tried, the story had reached its end and the rearranging of chairs had come to a close.

Look at it from a Reader’s Perspective

I learned a valuable lesson when I wrote my first novel, Dempsey’s Grill. At the time it wasn’t a lesson I wanted to learn but thankfully my editor gave me no choice. 

Her name was Jo and she had the unfortunate task of reading my 600 page mountain of mess. She tried to explain that somehow in the middle of that mess was 300 pages of fun and another 300 of weird, mind aching nonsense. I responded with a simple question: What’s wrong with weird? 

She tried to explain through the eyes of a reader those 300 pages of fun were entertaining. It was the kind of story a person might buy. So she asked in the simplest of terms: What do I want to do?

Her question forced me to ask a question of my own: Am I writing for me or an audience, and if the answer is an audience, I need to make a change.

Turning my mind into a reader was hard and sometimes it still is but it had to be done and I did it by reading. When I write a book I read a lot. Not only am I reading a great book I am reminding myself this isn’t about me. I’m writing for you, the audience. 

So now it makes sense. My third book, Saving Iris, was written to entertain you. She had to do things to keep you turning the page and if that didn’t happen, I failed. So now I get it, this is no longer about me.

Feedback and Beta Readers

I call beta readers my test audience. It’s kind of like movie makers when they hand out free tickets to see if their movie is any good. So far, Saving Iris has 11 beta readers. More if I can convince two book clubs to read her. My newest arrival is Isabella. I resisted because of her busy schedule, but she insisted and I am grateful.

The key is to find people who read the kind of book you wrote. By achieving this, you need to know your audience. By finding the right audience you will receive honest feedback. In other words: Don’t send a romantic comedy to a shoot ‘em up hard-core sci-fi reader. It may end badly.

I give every beta reader a brief description of the book before they read it. That way they can pass if it’s not their thing. I want them to be entertained and I need to know if they were when they finished. So far two beta readers have completed Saving Iris. They had small complaints and corrections but the story entertained them. Goal Achieved…so far!!!

Sending a book to beta readers is nerve wracking. I like to convince myself I’m fine, but who am I kidding? Questions will always stir in my head. Did my editor and I miss something? Were we too busy creating instead of reading? Do we suck? Should we drown our sorrows in alcohol or self-medicate?

On the bright side, feedback will allow me to see what works and what doesn’t. Most of it comes down to consistency. Did everyone like or complain about the same thing? If there is a consistency in complaints or confusions Alyse and I will go to work and try to fix the problem.

As a writer, remember: Beta Readers are your best friends. 

The Art of Letting Go

One of the longest days I ever had was taking my oldest to kindergarten on her first day. For five years she was mine. I taught her, I protected her, she made me a better person. But on that day I had to let her go. I had to trust a stranger to protect her, to teach her and hope that I did a good job preparing her for this day.

I remember hugging her goodbye and a final wave before I left. My heart was heavy, reminding myself this is a good thing. All those years watching her grow, teaching her to read, how to tie a shoelace and celebrating when our team won the big game led to this moment. I should be happy and proud. This is what good dad’s do. But it was a losing battle. I was rattled and afraid and full of doubt that I failed her.

Now, take everything I said and replace my daughter with your book and when you do you will understand the art of letting go.

Your book is you. Every page, every paragraph, every space in between are tiny shades of you. The day you release your book to others you’ll ask yourself, was I good enough. No matter what the answer is, no matter how hard you try, your heart will be heavy when you say goodbye.

I am nearing that stage and I don’t want to let her go. The characters I drew, the journey they travelled, I can only say I’m lucky they chose me to tell it. But now the ride is coming to a stop. Soon it will be time to give someone else a turn. I hope I was good enough. I hope she’s strong enough. Deep down I know she is.

So there you have it. Writing a book is a lot more than a bunch of words crammed together. It’s personal. It’s full of you. It is the core of something secret where only a selective few will see. And now it’s time to let her go. It’ll never be the same, but like all books a new chapter is about to be written.

1 thought on “How to Know When Your Novel is Finished”

  1. Great information here Bryan. I’ve been drafting something along the lines for my blog. It’s great to see you have the same fears of letting go and angst when you pass it over. The wait is unbearable. Sometimes, I want things to happen now, but for any budding writer we can confirm you need a wealth of patience and time to make sure it is right for your readers. Then when it comes back all shiny and done the reality check kicks in. Letting go, praying readers will enjoy.

    Congratulations on your books – loved reading. @lbgriffinauthoruk

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