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.)
If you’ve been following the steps I’ve outlined, by this point, you’ve written your novel, taken a break, rewritten it twice, had a friend or editor look over it, and rewritten it with their guidance. (Although you probably haven’t done it all in the past month or so that I’ve been posting these.)
There are two steps this week, because they’re tied together pretty closely.
First, you should go through and read your entire manuscript again. This time, make changes as you go. Fix any spelling or grammar errors you see, reword things so that they’re more clear, etc. This will be your fourth pass through the book, but there are sure to be quite a few mistakes left to catch.
The main purpose here is to get any low-hanging fruit. If you can fix things yourself, you should try to do so, because the next step is to ask someone for help again.
Before, you had them go over big picture things: character development, world building, and plot. For this readthrough, the focus will be on smaller issues. Does this scene work? Do all my characters sound the same when they’re speaking? Do my sentences make sense? What they’ll be helping you with is copy editing.
Just like last time, you need someone who doesn’t already know what you’re going for in that particular passage so they can tell you places where you’ll confuse your reader. This is where people will generally hire a professional editor so that they have someone who can go through and make the needed changes. Otherwise, find a good friend who will be willing to go through your manuscript and flag all of the issues he or she can find. Hopefully, they will also be able to suggest corrections.
The guidelines I gave last week on choosing someone to help with developmental editing are true here as well, but be aware that you’re asking for a much more significant time commitment from this reader. It’s possible for them to be the same person, but unless you’ve hired a professional, that’s probably going to be too much to ask.
For this, you’ll almost certainly want to use Microsoft Word’s Track Changes. Even though it’s not proofreading, your reader will want to mark spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors throughout the process, which can easily be corrected by the reader rather than simply marking them for you to fix yourself. After all, they are reading through and marking things anyway, so it isn’t a significant amount of extra work. They’ll also be able to put obvious changes in, but you’ll be able to see exactly what they’ve done so that you can do it differently or even reject the change if they misunderstood what you were going for. If for some reason they don’t use Track Changes, Word has a compare feature under the “Review” tab that you can use to see everything which is different between two versions of a document.
When you get your manuscript back, you’ll go through all of their marks and corrections and make the necessary changes to your document. This shouldn’t take as long as the rewrites; you’re fully editing at this point. Double-check every edit that was made, even if you hired a professional. I frequently find out from clients that a particular sentence had the wrong word in it, so when I adjusted it to make sense, it said the wrong thing. With changes tracked, that kind of thing is easy to see and the adjustment serves as its own flag that there’s a problem.
I heard a story a while back about an author who got his romance
novel back from the editor (at a vanity press) and didn’t read it very closely.
At the end, when the main character was choosing which woman to spend the rest
of his life with, the editor had actually made it so that he chose the wrong
one! The author found out when someone who had bought the book messaged him to
complain about the ending. So make sure you’re double-checking everything that is
changed in your book. Ultimately, the final product is your responsibility.
But you’re almost done. After this, you’ll be ready to share!