It’s exciting to finish a novel, but it’s common that people don’t really know what to do next. Do they submit it to publishers? Do they post the whole thing on reddit or Wattpad? Do they print off a dozen copies and hand them to random people on the street?
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be walking through what to do once your novel is done. Like with writing itself, there are nearly as many different methods as there are authors. But the advice I’m giving here is what I’ve seen work for the most people, and, if you stick with it, is the most likely to give a satisfactory result.
(Note: Portions of this have previously been adapted into the FAQ on /r/writing.)
So now you’ve written your novel, rewritten it for consistency and story, and rewritten again for feeling and character development. Now what?
Now it’s time to ask someone for help. As I talked about last week, this is your story that you’re trying to get down on paper. You’ve struggled and sweat over it for a long time, but now it’s time to have someone else go over it for you, whether that’s a professional editor or someone you trust.
If you’re going with a friend/acquaintance, you’ll need someone who will be comfortable telling you that you’re wrong. If there’s a scene that you absolutely love, they need to be able to tell you that it doesn’t work in your book. They also, of course, need to know what they’re talking about. Someone with writing experience is good, but it’s equally important that they read a lot, especially in your genre. They need to know what the tropes of the genre are, what works, what doesn’t, and where the author’s voice is in a given text. If they don’t read your genre, they won’t be able to help. This is why the general advice is to reach out to someone in your writer’s group, rather than just a good friend.
When they get your manuscript, it will look very similar to the process you went through for your first rewrite. Except, of course, they don’t know your story when they start and they won’t know all of the wonderful pieces of worldbuilding that you are very excited about… but may have forgotten to mention while you were actually writing. They will be looking, like you did, for scenes which are out of place, things that are redundant, and places where you should add a scene explaining a particular event.
They will also be doing some of the character development work from your second pass, at least the big picture stuff. They will need to see whether your main character is believable, if all your characters progress rationally, things like that.
It’s very important that you have a second set of eyes review your story itself, because things that make sense to you may not make sense to another reader. You may think you’ve been setting up foreshadowing all along, but your developmental editor won’t know where the magical fairy rescuers came from. Or you may be expecting there to be a surprise reveal, and your editor will point out that you gave it away in the first chapter. (A book I once read gave away the twist in the title but spent ten pages in the middle acting like it was still a secret.)
The best process for this is to use Microsoft Word with Track Changes. That makes it very easy to leave comments where issues come up. Your editor may also write up a summary of the biggest issues; I always draft a letter that’s around two pages long with the most important changes and my reasoning behind them.
When you get it back, you’re rewriting again. Go through the notes, make sure you understand the responses, and then check with the editor if you have questions. Obviously, you don’t have to follow all the advice, but it’s a good idea to at least be sure you understand why it was given before you reject it entirely.
Wait at least a couple days after you get your manuscript back before you make any changes or try to discuss it with your editor. I frequently have clients who disagree with my advice when they first read it but change their minds after they’ve slept on it. In fact, it happens so often that I now schedule the calls to talk over my notes at least a week after I finish the project. It’s probably going to be hard to see some of the recommendations. A character you thought was hilarious might fall flat. A scene you loved writing might need to be cut. You want to be sure that you honestly consider the advice. After all, you picked this person because you trusted their expertise, so you should give them the benefit of the doubt.
Then rewrite. It may seem strange to do this a third time, but this time, you’re going through with someone else’s advice and making changes for the reader. The first two times, all of the changes are for you. You’re polishing your own story, for your eyes so that you like it better. Now, you’re smoothing it out so that the story will make sense to others and they can receive as much enjoyment from it as you do.