Writing the first draft of a book is a huge accomplishment. So, after you type ‘the end’ and presumably guzzle a self-congratulatory glass of champagne, what do you do next? This question’s come up multiple times in writings groups that I’m a member of, so it might be one that you’ve had (or will have). Here’s my best advice.
1. Take Time Away from Your Manuscript
You just finished your novel. The best thing to do is to let it marinate for a while. Take long enough so that the writing is fresh to you but not so long that you’ve lost interest in the project. The length of time varies author-to-author. Stephen King recommends working on something else like a short story between projects.
2. Next, Revise the Manuscript
When you do revisit your manuscript, it’s time to revise. Your goal will be to be your own editor. Look for plot holes. Flesh out scenes that weren’t as developed as you thought. Try to get your wording down. Check the pacing, character voice, etc. Make sure you didn’t accidentally change a minor character’s name halfway through the manuscript.
Try to edit your stylistic choices as well. In memoirs, I cannot tell you how often the writer starts in past tense and switches to first when the action picks up. I see this most often with writers who I’m coaching because I have privy to their first drafts. The writer will get to a moment in the story when clearly, whatever is transpiring, is traumatic or exciting or stimulating, and they will inadvertently switch to first-person.
3. After That, Seek Professional Help
Here’s where you might find major disparities in advice. Mind, there’s no right or wrong way to proceed. My advice at this juncture is to do one of the two things:
- If your goal is to traditionally publish, provided you don’t struggle with grammar / punctuation / technical writing skills, then query an agent. If you do, then hire a freelance editor to help unless you feel your manuscript is very good. In today’s publishing culture, your agent will likely have an editor or will recommend you get an editor to polish up your manuscript. Once upon a time, publishing companies had editors staffed to pretty-up a manuscript. Now that agents serve as the first tier of review in acquisitions, they also strive to ensure your manuscript is pretty close to perfect before pitching to publishers. Note that even after your manuscript is in the hands of the publishing company (and you’ve landed a book deal), you might still have to revise the manuscript to satisfy sales and marketing.
- If your goal is to self-publish, then you need to hire a line editor and a copy editor. You might need to hire two different editors, but if possible, try to find an editor who gets you / your style / your story, etc. and develop a relationship with that editor. Your manuscript might require multiple revisions. This could cost a few thousand dollars, but a good editor is well worth the costs. I recommend finding an editor who works with your genre. As a self-published author, you’re your entire business—your marketer, your financial team, your legal team, your sales dept., etc. Your editor will be like a lifeline, so find someone who’s not just a good editor; find someone who you genuinely could see yourself working with for the duration for your career.
Most writers dislike the editing process simply because it hurts. Your manuscript is your baby. You gave birth to it, and it’s beautiful and perfect. To have someone say that things need to be changed (what do you mean that character has to go?) is like calling your baby ugly? Having an editor advise that you need to cut your manuscript by half…is…offensive. Cork up the celebratory champagne and bring out the self-pity scotch. It sucks. A good editor, though, will be specific and helpful. They will also highlight the parts of your manuscript that excite them. Note that your editor should be able to pinpoint why something is or isn’t working. If they can’t do this, they’re not going to help you become a better writer.
After this stage, you should have a manuscript that’s free of errors, is focused, and is ready to roll. Your plot points are on point; the pacing is solid, and the characters are well-defined. At the point your book is as good as it can be, then it all comes down to packaging and marketing and getting it into the hands of the reader. Whether you’re directly involved in that process or not, your real job is to keep writing. How about starting that next book, yeah?
If you need an editor or have questions about writing and publishing, then contact me, Vonnie York. I’m a professional writer & editor with 10 years’ experience. I specialize in working with new authors, memoirists, and in author coaching.
As an aside, if you’re in the market for an editor, the Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) is a great resource for authors. I’m not saying that because I’m a member; I’m saying that because I know these talented professionals. They have years of highly refined expertise. Contacting the EFA with your writing job is completely free to you. You’ll literally get hundreds of responses to your job and will have the luxury of selecting the right editor for you.