I finished Your First Novel by Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb last night. The title seemed a little cringey and self-helpy at first, but the developer side of me has to admire a descriptive name. And I liked it a lot; it was well written and interesting. The first half, by author Rittenberg, is about getting it written, and the second half, by literary agent Whitcomb, is about getting it published.

Thinking I was closer to having the manuscript ready to send to a publisher, I nearly skipped the first half and started in the middle. But my completist tendencies, and the supposition (correct, it turned out) that the second half may refer back often to the first, prompted me to start at the beginning. Which was good, because that’s where I started realizing that my manuscript isn’t close to ready, at all.

Having an essentially completed work, and working on revisions, I’m glad to not need the advice about staying motivated and keeping momentum. One intense month, and many, many hours in the four years since, got me that far. But the parts about revisions, and polish, and “going from good to great”, those are where I’m at now.

By seeking professional feedback after finishing the first draft of a novel, you significantly reduce your novel’s chances of ever being published. Agents and editors should not be your first readers. They are looking for polished manuscripts, not rough drafts. By its nature, any novel that hasn’t been read by several people is a rough draft, no matter how often it’s been rewritten. [emphasis added]

That last sentence sums it up for me. By my own reckoning, this is version four of my novel. I’ve changed and improved it a lot since I finished my 50,186th word on Nov. 30, 2015. I’ve more than doubled the word count, for one thing. But nobody else has really read it. In fact I’m still working through “one last pass” (as I thought of it until recently) to fix any remaining typos, etc. before letting people I know read it. The point Whitcomb convincingly makes there is that this isn’t really version four. It’s barely version one.

Having other people read it, in part or in whole, is a scary but necessary phase I still need to go through. I can only imagine what it will be like to get feedback and constructive (I hope) criticism, but that’s obviously part of the process. In addition to putting this draft out to people I know after this current pass of typo-fixes is done, I’ve started looking into meetups and ways to connect with critique groups and partners. Not terrifying, no, not at all.

There are other approaches the book advises: readings, conferences, courses, and more. I plan to do a bunch of that, too, but this paradigm shift (pardon my language) about being “done” vs. having a whole bunch more re-reading and revising to do yet is one of the biggest things I’ve learned.