Sunk Cost Fallacy

I’m almost finished with the first draft of my novel.  This first book has been an incredibly valuable learning experience throughout. I’d never trade it.  As part of the experience and in preparation for the next steps, I’ve been using some of my time to research the editing process.

Right now, I’m planning six different stages of editing to work through the entire process to get the manuscript ready for beta readers.  I imagine, based on what I’ve learned in writing the first draft, that I’ll learn volumes more about the pitfalls and joys of editing.

The big question I have yet to answer is, “Do I give the completed manuscript to beta readers?” I seem to be getting more and more feedback from critique groups and friends that I should start planning how to get the book released.

When I talk about finishing the book with both my writer and non-writer friends, I get a smile from the different responses I receive from those groups.  The non-writers usually ask, “So, when can I read it?” The writers ask, “So, what are you going to do next?” The writers make me smile because they know that if they ask to read the manuscript they’re in trouble. I would immediately put them on my beta reader list.

Being a beta reader, for those of you who haven’t, is a big job. You’re signing up to read a novel at least twice and take the time to provide as much detailed feedback as you can stand to give.  A book in beta is often lacking some polish as I’m sure mine will be when it gets to that stage. That’s not to say it’s drudgery. In my opinion, there’s great joy in taking part in the creative process that helps launch someone else’s work. But it is a big commitment of time and, depending on how close you are to the author, a fair degree of emotional energy.

The real question in my mind and the seed for this post is the one I asked above, “Do  I give the completed manuscript to beta readers?” The few of you that are reading this as I post are probably shouting things at your screen. “You better!” or “I’ve been putting up with your emotional drama for how long with this novel? You’re sending it out.” or “Every writer has doubts about sending out the manuscript. Don’t let fear put this manuscript in the proverbial trunk.”

Here’s the thing. I wrote this first book just to learn how to write. I wanted to use it to get better. I’m accomplishing what I set out to do by finishing the first draft and subsequent edits. I don’t need to send this first book out to accomplish the goal.

I know there are major problems with the book–character motivation, plot holes, setting and world building inconsistencies. Many of these I intend to work out in the editing process but, at this point, I’m not sure if all of them can be fixed. And that’s okay.

Enter the sunk cost fallacy. The misconception is that a person makes rational decisions about the future value of a thing. The truth is that we all make emotional decisions based on the investment we already have in the thing.  Good money after bad.  With this in mind, the rational decision would be for me to never take this first novel past the point I originally intended.

I’m planning to go down the traditional publishing path.  Should I try and use the first finished, polished manuscript to find an agent? Is it the best first impression I could make on a business partner? When are my emotions driving my decisions instead of my plans? When does planning start to look like self-doubt?

Time will tell on the decisions I make with this first book.  I’ll let you know as I continue down the path.



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