Congratulations. You broke through your writer’s block and finished your manuscript. You’re done!
If your goal was to simply write a novel – to see if you could start and finish a book – then pour yourself a frosty mug of root beer and kick back. You’re done! If, however, you want to publish your novel – if you want to see it in bookstores and possibly write and sell more manuscripts – then there are a few more steps to take.
When you decide to write and publish a novel, writing is only the first step of a four-part process. The process looks like this:
- Write your manuscript.
- Edit your manuscript.
- Pitch your manuscript.
- Market your book.
By now you’ve learned some tricks and tips to help you fulfill step one. That leaves us at #2 – editing your manuscript. There are several ways you can approach this step. Some writers may need to work through each step 1-2 times; some writers might be able to skip some of the steps. There’s not a universal way that works for everyone because every writer is different.
Instead of viewing this as a checklist of items that you have to do, consider it more like a list of symptoms – you might have some but not all of them. That doesn’t mean, however, that you can ignore the symptoms you have. You still need to take action!
Without further explanation, here it is – editing:
- Step Away. Give your brain a break. If you move straight from writing to editing, you aren’t going to see it with fresh eyes. Your going to see it with tired, already-read-that eyes. Instead, put the manuscript away for a while, then start editing. You might be okay taking a week off or you might need a month. However long you need, don’t be afraid to take a break.
- Self Edit. After your break, you should perform the first round of edits (at least). That will give you the chance to make sure everything’s as good as you can get it before you ask anyone else for help.
- Get Critiques (from professionals). You don’t have pay someone to critique your manuscript but look for someone in the publishing industry who’s willing to give you an opinion. Family and friends tend to be too polite, and if they aren’t in the industry they don’t actually know what a novel needs to grab an agent/publisher’s attention. For the best result, work with someone who understands novel publishing.
- Read It Out Loud. You won’t really notice all of the clumsy lines you’ve written until you try to read them out loud. If it’s awkward to read out loud, it will be awkward for many people to read. Hearing the words lets you know where you can clean up/tighten your writing.
- Print It Out. I don’t understand the science behind it, but our eyes see things differently on paper than we do on a computer screen. That means we’ll see mistakes on paper that we missed on our monitors. Yes, it takes some time and money to print it all out, but I print on toner-saver mode and reuse all of my manuscript pages to be as frugal and environmentally conscious as possible.
- Find Beta Readers. There are different camps of thought as to what a beta reader is/what a beta reader does. I know some people use beta readers for their first draft of a manuscript, but I consider that a critique. For my process, a beta reader is someone who reads your finished (or nearly finished) manuscript to provide feedback (to learn more about my definition of beta readers, go here). If you think you’re ready to submit to an agent, find a beta reader first. He/she will help identify any problem areas.
- Hire an Editor. If you’re an unpublished novelist (articles and non-fiction books don’t count, sorry) or if you’re switching genres, you need an editor. No, the publisher won’t assign you to an editor to fix your story – your story needs to be as near to perfect as possible before you submit it. Gone are the days of publishers taking a lump of coal manuscript and spending time (and money) crafting it into a diamond. These days you need present a diamond. Then the publishers will help you clean up the edges and polish it. I’ll talk more later about why you need an editor and what kind of edit you need, but for now I’m asking you to trust me – if you haven’t published a book before, you need an editor.
No, it won’t be a fast process. No, it won’t be easy. Yes, you may have to go through several versions of your manuscript – the manuscript I recently sold went through 6-7 revisions before I submitted it to my agent. Then I worked through two edits with him. Now the publisher’s editor is marking it up. Edit, edit, edit.
The process can be long, but it’s worth it! When you’re working with the right people, you’ll end up with the best possible version of your story.
Now go relax for a day/week/month, but then get back to work! And if you get stuck, stop back again in two weeks to find out why you might need to consider hiring an editor.