You just typed “The End” on the novel that you know the world has been waiting for.
That is a tremendous accomplishment, so first of all, CONGRATULATIONS! Take a few moments and pat yourself on the back, give yourself a little reward, or take a day off.
Because now, the hard work begins.
If you’re a seasoned pro in the writing and publishing industry, you probably have a pretty good idea what I’m talking about. But most first-time authors (myself included when I started out) have no idea what is truly involved in getting their manuscript to print, let alone making it a success in the marketplace.
Regarding the last: success is dependent on so many factors, but first, you have to have an industry-ready book. The best marketing in the world will only do so much for a poorly-prepared book, and it can never make it a bestseller. So let’s get the horse back in front of the cart and talk about how to make sure you’ve got a solid product before you start marketing it. (Though you should also be marketing it already. We’ll talk about that in a future post.)
This is a general framework for a process that I recommend and have found works for me. There are variations on this, but skip steps at your own peril—or under advisement.
First of all, understand that your book isn’t finished yet.
Your book is like a newly-hatched monarch butterfly egg. That little larva that’s squirming around has a lot of potential, but it’s nowhere near ready to go enhance the world. It’s got some growing and work to do.
In general, here are the steps I recommend you follow after finishing your first draft (a.k.a. The Cocooning Process).
Some writers prefer to insert a step before this to gain perspective on the story, which is to put it in a drawer and wait anywhere from a couple of weeks to a month.
I don’t. My books are often long, so by the time I’m finished, I usually have plenty of distance from most of the story. Or, in the case of writing short work on deadline, I may not have the luxury of waiting.
Do what works for you. But, whatever you do, don’t show another living soul your work (no matter how badly you want validation) until you’ve put it through a rigorous revision. Well, maybe show your mom, if she’s supportive (or someone else in your life that would fill this role). She’ll help you keep going so you actually finish the first draft. But no one else.
Most people are not professional writers and don’t have the ability to see through the problems (that exist, trust me) to give you advice that will actually help you. They can get caught up on details that you already know are a problem—but because of those details, aren’t able to see the problems you still don’t know about.
This can also be true of critique groups. If you choose to share parts of an incomplete manuscript with a critique or alpha reader group, make sure you know in advance the story you want to tell. If you can’t hold on to that and there isn’t someone in your group adept at drawing out their fellow members to find that out, you could end up revising based on someone else’s idea of what your story should be, and all you’ll end up with is a mess.
In a future post, I’ll talk about revisions and different techniques that work for me.
For now, I recommend that before you revise, you:
Examine your log line or original idea to remind yourself of the story you are trying to tell (another future topic).
Know what your inner and outer conflict is for the main character, as well as all your other key characters.
Examine every scene to make sure it has conflict, reveals new information, and moves the plot forward.
Make sure you have all your structural building blocks in place. (Get my free download to help with that.)
Share Your Work
This is the point where you get to let your friends and family or perhaps a professional give you feedback on your work. (Hint: friends and family charge less and can give you valuable feedback, even if they are not writers themselves.)
Start with beta readers. That’s what we call those folks who have committed to reading your error-ridden manuscript and telling you what jumps out at them as needing propping up or cutting. Ideally, your beta readers will include a few other writers with some idea about craft, grammar, and spelling. Other writers will usually trade beta read services with you, which makes them even more valuable as critique partners.
You can pay for beta reads, too. There are professional beta reader groups on Facebook, or you can tweet requests with #sensitivityreader, #betareader, or #critiquepartner. Be prepared to pay for this service if you are working with a stranger.
And if you find that super-honest, super-kind beta reader who gives you a ton of insightful feedback while asking very little in return? TREAT THEM LIKE GOLD. You don’t ever want to lose them.
Give your beta readers a reasonable amount of time to read your work, but give them a deadline. And know that not everyone who expressed interest is going to be able to follow through, for a variety of reasons. Expect this, and ask more people than you hope to get opinions from. (If you’re paying for a beta read, they better follow through.)
After getting their feedback, go through the whole “remind-yourself-what-story-you’re-writing” process, then revise again.
If your project required way more work than you realized, you may want to repeat this step. But don’t get stuck here.
Sometimes, you can or must skip the beta reader phase, either because of a deadline, lack of resources or friends in the writing community, or because you are already pretty confident that your story has got the goods. In that case, you can skip this stage and go right to working with an editor.
Hire an Editor
Your novel will have to go through several stages of editing before completion, and it behooves you to know what they are, what they’re for, and how much to expect to pay.
First of all, editors are professionals, and should receive a professional wage. There are many editors who will edit your manuscript for rock-bottom prices, and they are probably struggling to make ends meet. While this is their problem, not yours, you should also question why their prices are so low.
They may do a fantastic job and be very good at their craft, but they are just starting their editing career and are offering low rates to attract clients while they build a portfolio. Or maybe they struggle with retaining clients because their product is poor and are hoping that by undercutting more skillful editors, they can fill the void with new clients.
Whatever the reason and whatever an editor’s rates, be prepared that fiction editors need to eat. While they probably love editing, most decent editors will not want to gamble on your project with a low rate. They will set a rate that lets them keep doing this for a living. And these are the editors that will probably still be in the business for your next project.
Your manuscript is your passion project, not theirs. Editing is an incredibly time-consuming process. You are hiring them to provide a service, so be prepared to pay for the hours they put into it.
Ahem. Now that we have that out of the way, you need to decide what kind of editing you need. And if you don’t know? Ask an editor you are interested in working with. Most will request a sample and let you know what they think your manuscript is ready for.
You can see details about the different kinds of editing and what kinds of projects they’re good for on my Editorial Services page. Not all editors offer the same services, and some of them may package their services differently.
After every service you get from an editor, you’ll need to revise.
If you don’t yet know what your manuscript needs or want to save money on a full developmental edit, get a FULL OR PARTIAL MANUSCRIPT ASSESSMENT.
This will help you address problems like structural issues, consistent writing habits that will drag your story down, pacing, character development, and sometimes even consistent grammar issues for a fraction of the price of a full edit. And dealing with those now will save you a huge chunk of moolah when you get to the full edit later.
Not to mention, if you’ve fixed big problems before the sentence-level editing begins, your editor will be able to buckle down into more nitty-gritty details that would have been missed if the big picture were a disaster when they got your manuscript.
If you have a good handle on your story after working with your beta readers, you could skip this step.
When you are confident that your story is relatively solid and you’re ready to dive into the details to make it shine, get a FULL DEVELOPMENTAL EDIT.
This focuses on big-picture issues like structure and pacing as well as cleaning up the writing on a line-by-line, sentence-by-sentence basis. It makes sure everything is in the right order, and that you’ve communicated everything the reader needs to be able to fully immerse themselves into your story. (Again, some editors do not offer developmental editing, but they offer some of these other services on their own under names like substantive editing or line editing.)
Some editors, like me, offer a second pass included as part of the quote. If most of the issues were handled with the first edit, the second will focus on copyediting to improve clarity, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. If the second edit also required heavy substantive revisions, a third pass for copyediting is recommended.
Once the big picture is solid and you’ve had an edit to make sure your writing is immersive and riveting, you’ll need a COPYEDIT.
Copyediting focuses on consistent usage and correcting details like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It can include some light substantive editing to rearrange sentences for clarity. While it shares some qualities with proofreading, this is NOT proofreading.
If you are a more experienced author, you may be able to skip the previous steps and go straight here. Your editor will be able to tell you after reviewing your sample.
PROOFREADING is for checking a typeset or electronic proof for errors, as well as consistency in fonts, spacing, headings, etc.
So, in all, your manuscript could need anywhere from one to five rounds of professional editing.
Needless to say, this can add up, especially since these aren’t the only services you have to hire.
Other Professional Services You’ll Need:
At or before the time you are ready to send your manuscript to an editor, you will probably want to hire a graphic designer to make your cover.
People absolutely judge books by their covers. Accept this and invest in the best cover design you can afford.
Unless you are a graphic designer yourself, always hire a professional.
Your cover is probably your single most important marketing tool. If you don’t get that right, it won’t matter what other time, effort, love, and money you pour into your book. No one will buy it.
I highly recommend Fiona Jayde Media (http://fionajaydemedia.com/), who has designed all of my book covers so far as of this writing. She does truly stellar work. (Cover for my free historical science fantasy ebook The Waterboy shown. Want the book? Sign up for my newsletter.)
This is the person who will prepare your book for print or make it into an electronic book file that actually works.
This is one area that many indie authors choose to save money by learning to do it themselves. But be sure to do it well. A sure sign of a “self-published book” is an interior design that does not meet industry standards.
For resources about print book design, I recommend you check out Joel Friedlander. He’s got a ton of great resources on his website, but he’s compiled the process into a book, too.
I design my own eBooks in Scrivener, but I’ve hired my last two print book designs out to The Deliberate Page (www.deliberatpage.com), the business name of Tamara Cribley. Highly recommended. (She also does eBook design.)
Finally, you have a page-turning, polished manuscript. You have a cover that would make angels weep. And your interior print design is beautiful, classic, and completely invisible to the reader, which is exactly as it should be. You are ready to send your book out into the world.
How do you do that?
I’ll tell you in my next post, since this one is already long enough.
Talena Winters is a freelance editor, independent author, magazine writer, and tea and silver lining addict. As an editor, she specializes in making story magic with self-published authors, helping them develop their diamonds-in-the-rough manuscripts into stories that glitter and shine. See her editing services here.