This is a kind of zen koan - a mind-bending unanswerable question - for many authors. But as I'm getting ready to send off my next manuscript, these are the ten questions I ask myself:
- Prose - is it fresh, evocative, vivid, agile? Is it clean, with the occasional sparkle? Are the first five pages as good as they can possible be? Does it have a killer first line? Does the reader get a feel (or at least a hint) for the upcoming conflict in the first few pages?
- Characters - are they memorable? Do they each have their own voice? Does the protagonist undergo a change by the end of the book?
- Dialogue - is the dialogue sharp, never banal? Do characters interrupt each other? Do they occasionally say things that can't be taken back?
- Setting - are places described using all the senses, as perceived by (and reflecting) the characters' views of the world? Do settings imbue their own character on the novel (could it only happen there, or could it happen anywhere?) Do the settings signpost the mood(s) of the book?
- Pace - does every chapter advance plot and character? Is there a good pacing of action/drama, and dialogue/exposition/internal scenes allowing the reader to go deeper inside the characters, without ever becoming either too static (aka boring) or breathless?
- Story - is the story coherent, every apparent loose end tied up, no deus ex-machina? Once the reader gets to the end, could she/he tell a friend what happened and why, and what it all means?
- Genre - is it clear what genre it fits into, and what sub-genre? Does your novel follow the etiquette for that genre? [you have to read in your genre to know this]
- Motive - are you clear why you wrote it? Vanity and profit making are valid reasons. But if there is a part of you trying to come through in your writing, does the novel do you justice? Because it is personal.
- Essence - can you already boil it down to a handful of killer tweets? It's best to 'get' the essence of your novel before it's published.
- Cover - does the cover reflect the novel/s genre and essence? Because the cover matters.
Okay, back to my editing. I hope the above may interest or even help a few other writers.