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When Is a Book Ready?

With less than 10 days before I publish Specks of Dust, I figured now would be as good a time as any to write a new blog post.

(Myself with a proof of my book. You may notice the white bar along the bottom of the book. Each step in the process of publication requires attention and correction.)

I’ve been asked a few times about the whole writing and publication process and what it’s been like for me. I’ve been working on this book for something like 6 years, depending how you look at it. But if you do a quick google of “How long does it take to write a book,” the search returns, “The average time to write a book for most authors is 180 days, or 6 months, more or less.” So what gives?

Certainly, the idea for Specks of Dust came to me during the summer of 2017, while I was in Uganda. Each day I was there, I wrote emails recounting what I saw, experienced, and learned. Photos, too, were taken in abundance. These items proved to be invaluable once I began the full writing process, as memory is a fickle thing.

It took me until around January of 2019 before I began writing in earnest. That hiatus was caused mostly by the demands of college and my prioritization of travel. There was however, another novel I was working on. It was an historical fiction novel I began back when I was 16. I had finished the first draft a while ago, but it was in desperate need of revisions, as first drafts often are, especially first drafts of first novels.

(Where is this novel, you may ask? It has not been touched since I finished the revision in late 2018 when I was in Cambodia. Although it is much better than what it was, I knew the idea itself was not as good as the one I had in mind for Specks of Dust. So I shelved it in order to prioritize the more promising story. I nevertheless found it a very useful exercise for what was to come.)

During 2019, I wrote in earnest. When I wasn’t writing, I was reading the Bible from start to finish, underlining anything that may apply thematically. I had already developed ideas based on the PhD thesis another volunteer I met in Uganda had provided, and I knew how I wanted my book to start and end. I met with an expert in immigration, read books on Judaism, attended online writing workshops, scoured Spotify for fitting songs and artists to reference.

Once I finished the first draft later that year, I began to look for people to read it. This began a series of revisions that continued through to 2021. Each time I got feedback from a beta reader, I reworked the story.

I had read in Stephen King’s On Writing that a second draft is the first draft minus 10%. I found that to be an incredibly useful way of thinking about editing. Entire sections were cut, characters were combined, bible quotes were pared down, and I sought to make sure every word deserved to be on the page.

Other times, I would read a book and get inspired by it. The glossary at the beginning of each section of Specks would never have occurred to me had I not been assigned Tommy Orange’s There, There, which got me to reevaluate how novels can be written. At least 7 revisions were made, though I honestly lost count.

Once I made enough revisions to be proud of my work, I was faced with a much bigger problem: how to publish. I knew no one in the publishing industry. I tried to find an agent to no avail. I could have continued to search, but I didn’t want to wait my whole life to hopefully get noticed. Thus, I made the decision to self-publish.

That came with its own challenges. First, I had to figure out how self-publishing even works. Furthermore, finding an editor, a book cover designer, a typesetter (for internal formatting) all cost significant amounts of money if I wanted it done to the caliber I felt my book deserved. These financial constraints are what limited me up until 2023 when I started working as a software developer.

And so 6 years passed from conception to execution. And even then, I had to reach out to my typesetter to add a sentence I had suddenly discovered was needed. The truth is that stories are never done; I have no doubt that there will come a moment where an idea will pop in my head and I’ll think, “if only I had thought to add that to Specks!” But if you hold onto it forever, it will never get read. Best I can say is that a book is ready once you have done enough revisions that you feel like you’ve addressed its weakest points and you can be proud of what you’ve written. Plus, when your editor tells you after you’ve paid him that “This is a powerful story well told. You should feel very confident in the quality of your writing.”

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