So you've written a book ...
So, you’ve written a book. The hard part is done. All those months or years of toiling over the most minuscule details of your book are over. You can kick your feet up, pat yourself on the back, and wait for the book deals to roll in, right. WRONG!
This was my mentality six or seven years ago as an aspiring new author, so don’t feel bad if you’re assuming this is how the process works. (don’t worry, you’re not alone.)
In reality, this is how that first paragraph really looks.
So, you’ve written a book. (or at least you think you have). Congratulations. The easy part is over. Now you just have to figure out how to get it out into the world. Do you need an agent? What’s an agent? What does an agent do? How much do they cost? Should you just submit to publishers? Which publishers? Where do I find them? How do I get my book to them? How much does it cost? Should I self-publish? How do I do that? How does the world get to see my book? How much does it cost?
Pump the brakes just a minute with me, I feel like we missed some steps, like rewrites, editing, editors, proofreading, beta readers, more editing, rewrites, did I mention editing?
So let’s go back to the beginning. You’ve written what you think is a book. Congratulations! That’s a great accomplishment. You’ve probably spent months or years working on a manuscript that’s finally finished. But is it really?
As a submissions coordinator, I see all the initial query emails as they come into our agency before the agents even see them. While it doesn’t happen all the time, there are occasions (I would say weekly) in which an author sends a retraction email asking to replace the previously submitted submission with a new, better, revised version of the manuscript. While this in and of itself may not push you into the pass pile, it could, and I’m sure it does at some agencies. With agencies receiving anywhere between I would say on average fifty submissions a day, hundreds a week and thousands a year, invariably, authors who might appear to have “jumped the gun” might be setting themselves up for a “dear John” email response.
So how do you avoid the embarrassing retraction scenario above? You make sure your manuscript is the best that it can be before you start even thinking about submitting it to agents or publishers. Often, new or overly excited authors (myself included) forgo some of the most important steps in the process and jump right to submissions.
Instead, here are my recommendations for having the best possible manuscript.
1. Let it rest!Take a break and gain some perspective on what you’ve just spent countless hours (and tears if you’re anything like me) working on. I’ve seen a break time of anywhere between 60 and 90 days, which can seem like FOREVER. In my experience, I felt like 30 – 60 days was more my speed. By taking a break from your work, you’ll gain perspective and a fresh set of eyes when you sit down for step number 2 (and gives you time to start thinking about your next project!)
2. Read it all the way through!After your manuscript has rested and you can come back to it with some distance and objectivity. If you can read it in one day, that’s best. Really try to be able to get through the whole book in a few days, no more than a week for sure. And what are you supposed to be doing during this read-through? You’re taking in the story as a whole, looking at the big picture. Are there gaps in the storyline, are there any major changes that need to be made, have all the questions your reader may have asked been answered, can you make the story better. Some writers like to read with a notebook as they read, but I prefer to make inline notes either on the page or on the accompanying page or if I’m reading a digital copy, I use comment bubbles.
3. Revise. Revise. Revise.Now, you can go through your notes, however, you may have made them, and make the necessary revisions. I like to make a chapter by chapter outline of what I have, which I find makes it easier to spot plots holes or unanswered questions. Some writers I know like to use a highlighting method, one color for this and one color for that, which turns a manuscript into a rainbow by the end of this step. I found that to be a little overwhelming. However, you decide to do it, revise, revise, revise. (later in the month we might touch of the differences between editing, proofreading, and things like editorial or developmental edits and my forte!!!)
4. Read it again –out loud!This will help especially with your dialogue.
5. Make final revisions.
6. Get feedback. Every writer needs a team (and there’s plenty of us out there). Join a writing group, secure an author mentor or coach, apply for a writing fellowship, pull up a chair to an online writing course or community. I have several friends who are avid readers in my genre and I know I can count on them to give me their honest opinion about my work because they have. Whatever it may be, get feedback.
If you’ve completed some version of the outline above, you’re probably ready to move on to the next step in the process, but just in case you’re not, we're going to spend a few days talking about structure, plot and how to hook your reader (and an agent’s attention) from the first sentence.
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