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A few days ago I finished the first draft of my current novel project after a few months of work, finishing at 83,212 words. Now what should I do with it?

So obviously I need to edit it. Should I jump in right away with the editing? Should I let it sit for a few weeks to get some distance? Should I send the rough draft straight to my beta readers? Should I work on another project?

What are some practical, immediate suggestions for what to do after finally finishing that first draft?

  • 9
    First of all - congrats! :D – Standback Sep 19 '11 at 4:30
  • 2
    Start contacting Brad Pitt for the movie role? – LarsTech Sep 19 '11 at 15:07
  • I'd say a substantial night of drinking to celebrate. Kudos. – TheIrishGuy Sep 19 '11 at 19:48
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John Smithers' advice is good, but I'd add a few details (and leave it for longer than three weeks!)

Before you put the MS away, make a first pass at your query letter, as well. This is good because the query needs some time away from your eyes just like the MS does, and because writing the query can really help you figure out what the book has going for it, and what it's lacking.

So, after the query and MS have rested and you've forgotten about them, come back with fresh eyes and look at big stuff, first. Write your synopsis now, I'd say, and look for pacing issues (too many chapters with no action, or too much action all the time, etc.) Make sure the book you have matches the book you wrote about in your query, and if it doesn't, change it. Check for character consistency, development, etc. Make sure your plot structure is solid (rising action, climax, satisfying conclusion, etc.). There are entire books on editing out there, (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne and King is one good one) so I can't give you the whole story, here, but you get the idea. Obviously you also need to look for style issues, and typos and mechanical errors.

Then send the book to betas. While you're waiting for them, you can start looking at your publishing option. Steven Drennan will probably be by shortly to recommend that you self-publish, but you may also want to consider getting an agent and going through a publisher. You can find suitable agents by finding the agents who represent your favourite books in the same genre as your MS, or by using sites like Query Tracker. You may want to post your query at the AW Water Cooler or other sites that offer query critiques, because writing queries is an art in itself.

Once you've got responses from your betas, look them over with an accepting but critical eye. If more than one person has a problem with a certain aspect of your book, take a hard look at it. Even if only one person finds something, give it a good look. But don't let your betas rewrite your book for you. You're still the author, this is still your book, and you have the final decision on how you want it to go. If you make significant changes, I'd recommend letting the MS sit for another chunk of time before coming back and deciding whether the changes work. Make sure you keep copies of all versions of your work so you can revert as necessary.

When you've finally got the MS in the best condition possible, assuming you're not self-publishing, send out a batch of 5-10 queries to agents. Don't query them all at once, because sometimes your query won't be as good as you think it is, and you don't want to burn bridges (once you've queried, you can't re-query the same agent with the same project, generally). You may want to include your first choice agent and a few mid-level guys in the first batch, leaving your second choice agent out of it; that way, if you decide your query wasn't strong, you can send your revised query to your second choice agent and still have a good chance at a good outcome).

If you can't get a bite on an agent (and I'm talking about after a couple hundred submissions), you could try to submit directly to the publishers who accept direct queries, but there aren't many. You could also look at self-publishing. There are lots of how-tos out there on how to do a good job, but be prepared to invest some significant cash in cover art and professional editing. You may also want to consider writing under a pseudonym; if you couldn't interest any agents, and if you're serious about writing more, you need to seriously consider that this effort really isn't good enough to be published. (It's also possible that it's great quality but in a weird niche, or an over-crowded genre, or something else). But once you've published under your name, your book's out there, and if you later come to realize that it's poor quality, it's too late to save your name.

Some of this is genre specific, of course. If you're writing erotic romance, you could jump straight to the e-pubs without an agent.

TL;DR version: You've only just begun! But congrats on an important first step.

  • 3
    Good answer. All I will add is- editing itself is a multi-pass process. So you edit/rewrite your 1st draft, then put it away for a few more weeks, come back and edit it again. You continue this way till you have the best draft you can write, and only then search for beta readers. – Shantnu Tiwari Sep 19 '11 at 13:16
  • Shucks, Kate, you're starting to make me feel like I'm being stereotyped, but I appreciate the mention! ;) – Steven Drennon Sep 19 '11 at 14:26
  • Great answer, especially for the Self Editing book suggestion. – Craig Sefton Sep 20 '11 at 11:59
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Let it sit and start a new one.

Do not touch it for at least two weeks. Maybe even longer, you have to get distance. Do not give your raw draft to your beta readers. You do not want to let them point out all the obvious mistakes, which you can easily find yourself when reading it with that distance. Because it is likely that they will stop there (not reading, but telling you) and you miss the deeper problems.

Make the novel as nice as possible for your beta readers. They should concentrate on the story. You can also think about questions you want to ask them. You probably have some chapters where you are not sure if they really work the way you want. But don't show them the questions before they read the book.

But this you have to do after the two weeks. Start now a new project and make a list of publishers/agents you want to show your work. Read about self-publishing, prepare the next step. That creates distance to your work.

And congrats :)

  • 3
    2 weeks? I usually leave them at least three months! Really put some distance between you and it. – One Monkey Sep 19 '11 at 9:32
  • At least, @One Monkey, at least. It really depends on the writer. I forget things pretty fast. Here it is an advantage ;) – John Smithers Sep 19 '11 at 9:53
  • Don't even bother beta until an agent is interested. – Joshin Sep 19 '11 at 19:54
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    @Joshin: I wholeheartedly disagree. How do you want to convince an agent (or publisher) if your work wasn't checked by beta readers? All the problems they will find (and you as author are unable to do) are still in there. You ask for a rejection. – John Smithers Sep 20 '11 at 11:33
  • I suggested working the first three chapters because this is what MANY agents want first. THAT is what they will read. Making betas plow though chapters that might never sell is not "endearing" unless you want to pay them. If you want to work yourself and betas to death- be my guest. Most agents start with the synopsis and either ask for more or reject you then. (My experience. Yours?) – Joshin Sep 20 '11 at 19:24
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This is one of those questions where everyone is going to have a different opinion, so ultimately the final answer is up to you. We can help you consider options, but you have to make the final choices. The options presented so far by Kate and John are very good and get right to the main points: 1) set it aside, and 2) work on something else.

As for setting it aside before editing, the amount of time is up to you. I agree that you should give it at least two weeks, but longer may be even better. If you have a spouse or family member who might be willing to help with this, then you might have them take a pass at it first. I would ONLY recommend this if you believe that person will truly look at it with a critical eye and not just tell you what they think you want to hear.

As for working on something else, Kate and John kind of differ there, but we all agree that you should move on to something else. Whether it is writing query letters or working on a new project is really up to you. Understand that if you are planning to go the traditional route for publishing, the query letter and synopsis are things you are going to have to do anyway, so you can work on them now. My caution there would be that you might find yourself tempted to check your manuscript for main points you would like to include in the query or synopsis, and that might lead you to start editing before truly giving it some time to sit.

Once you do start editing, take at least a couple of passes. Read through once looking for typos or content problems, then read through again looking for plot issues. The order is again up to you, but don't try to do both at the same time. You'll find yourself getting frustrated and too easily distracted from one task or the other. Once you have finished editing, then you can send it to your beta readers.

I don't know how many beta readers you have, but if it's not at least three or four, you may want to consider using a site like Critique Circle to get more feedback on your story. I have found that some of my beta readers tend to be less critical, but I can count on the folks at Critique Circle to be more honest about potential issues. While your book is out with the beta readers would be a good time to work on the query letters and synopsis.

After you get your responses back from everyone, go through them and decide on any additional editing or rewrites you need to do. While you're at it, you can continue sending out query letters, and look at them to see if they need revising as well. If you have to do any level of rewriting, it may impact the content of your query letter and/or synopsis, so be sure to check both of them as well.

From there, you are no longer working on writing. Now your focus is on getting published, and that is a whole different ball game. You have plenty of options to consider here as well, but for now, you need to concentrate on getting your story completely finished!

1

Keep in mind that "rewrite 'till it's good" is just one opinion. It's also an opinion that doesn't work well for a lot of authors. I might be unpopular for saying this, but my advice for your first novel is to just fix typos, fix mistakes, and start mailing/self-publishing(at a slightly higher price than you think you should). If it's bad and get's rejected like crazy, well, what do you have to lose? You don't have a good reputation to tarnish yet. Also, do you remember the name of the author that wrote that story you read a year ago that really stunk? I don't.

Why would you want to do this? Because no amount of rewriting is going to fix a fundamentally flawed story. If your story sucks people will stop reading it and you'll have to rewrite it from scratch anyway.

Conversely, if your story is awesome people will buy it/publish it even if it's not "the best it can be" (I would argue that it probably is, but that's another topic).

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    This is the kind of flawed logic that has caused self-publishing to get a bad name. Because it has now become so much easier to self-publish, everybody who thinks they have a story to tell has decided to jump out there and publish it without any consideration of whether or not it's worth reading. If you aren't going to take the time to make your story worthy of being read (not necessarily "the best it can be"), then nobody is going to waste their time reading it. – Steven Drennon Sep 19 '11 at 19:20
  • @Steven Drennon: I don't mean to say that writers shouldn't hold their work to a high standard. I wanted to show that rewriting is not always the best option. Do you think that if someone has written a bad story (because they are inexperienced) that their inner editor(also inexperienced) is going to do a much better job when it comes to writing an engaging story? That's why my advice is to start over if it turns out that the story is not so good. – Gagege Sep 19 '11 at 19:49
  • Sorry, I misread your response and thought you were suggesting that the writer should not EDIT, when actually you were suggesting they should not REWRITE. My mistake! I agree that a rewrite is rarely necessary. You may have to revise or rewrite portions of your story, but that is not to say that you should spend a lot of time in rewriting the entire story. Sorry! – Steven Drennon Sep 19 '11 at 19:58
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    No problem! I read what I wrote again and it does kind of sound like I'm saying "just publish turds and they'll sell!" I'm not. If your first reader(or beta reader, whatever) hates it, start over! Don't try to do major surgery! – Gagege Sep 19 '11 at 20:09
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    "Also, do you remember the name of the author that wrote that story you read a year ago that really stunk? I don't." - I do. I never read his books again. "You don't have a good reputation to tarnish yet." - Yes you do. Once your name is linked to bad books, it stays that way, unless you use a pen name. Bad advice – Shantnu Tiwari Sep 20 '11 at 9:39
1

Your fun has just started.

Look at the first three chapters. Look at the first sentence. Look at the first five pages.

Each of these are critical if you want to sell it. Do not even bother with a re-write of more than the first three chapters until you have an agent/publisher interested.

All of the above are what will keep you from getting into the slush pile/or rejection pile.

You know the genre so you need to identify the agents/publishers who might be interested in that genre. Find them.

Craft your synopsis and query letter.

When all of the above is done send letters and wait. With luck some agent might ask to see the first three chapters. If they do you can send that. If they ask for that then bust ass to get the rest in shape. Learn patience.

If you want to re-write the whole thing with your fingers crossed you'll at least have something to do. Sending queries and synopsis might be a better use of time and effort. Your time and effort.

But then this is what I do because I have friends who are published writers and this is what their agents advise. Same with the agents I know. Maybe others get other answers from their agents or their friends' agents.

1

Rewrite completely, immediately, and start looking into query letters.

I disagree with any idea of "not rewriting" the first draft, or only correcting spelling and grammar errors.

Definitely rewrite, completely, from page 1.

Quite often, the experience of writing a single book has made the author better than they were when they began, they've been forced to think about writing for several months. The common advice of many famous authors (including Stephen King) is to plan on writing several books before one gets published, because the process of writing makes you a better author. So when you rewrite, unlike the person that begin the book, you have completed a book and should be a better writer for it.

Secondly, by the time I finish a book, my protagonist is far better known to me, and the relatively cardboard char at the beginning can be much better written at the beginning. Perhaps as you were writing you discovered more about their personality, abilities, likes and dislikes: Hints of that can come forward earlier. I had a character I thought needed to be brutally ruthless, but as I wrote I kept finding ways to let her be ruthless when she needed to be, but compartmentalize that "work" side of herself and balance her brutality with kindness and humor.

The same is true for other characters: Perhaps at the time, you thought one of your characters was a bit player, but the plot drove you to make them more important: Then they deserve a little more screen time in the beginning.

Or the opposite: In one story I wrote, I thought the protagonist's brother would be an important player in the book, as it turned out, he never really was. I toned him down quite a bit from what I had in the beginning, while somebody else in the story "naturally" fell into the role I had planned for her brother.

Perhaps there are character developments later in the book you can foreshadow early; a character that dies (and how), a future failure or betrayal.

Thirdly, the finished book is a far more concrete story than any outline or plan of a book (if you did that at all; I don't write with a plan). So in the rewrite, you can use the knowledge of your world, the setting, and the thousand decisions you had to make, in order to make your book consistent. To cut away extraneous exposition. To recognize repetitive descriptions and get rid of them.

Fourthly, now you are reading instead of writing. Many writers write a thousand or two thousand words a day, an average reader (200 WPM) can consume that in five or ten minutes. In 30 minutes you can consume 6000 words, about 20 pages. This is much different than re-reading while writing, and makes you much better able to spot problems difficult to spot while writing, like pacing, repetitiveness, clunkiness, bad transitions, and unclear passages. By the time you finish, you have forgotten much of the "mental context of the story" that was in your head when writing, so now you can see how it looks to the reader that did not HAVE your mental context, and see that something was unclear, a scene change seemed abrupt, and so on.

Start looking into query letters.

Now that your story is complete, you can also start looking into writing a query letter, choosing publishers to contact, and so on. You can write a synopsis or one liner of what your book is about. Write (or rewrite) your outline.

But take the time you were writing regularly to finish the book to rewrite the book, make it consistent from start to finish. You can make it better writing.

0

Another option: Write the screenplay adaptation.

I know you haven't sold the thing yet, but if you start working on the screenplay, it will help you identify weaknesses in the story, and it will definitely help you uncover points where there is "telling" but no "showing".

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You should let it sit for at least a week before editing. The more time you wait before editing it, the clearer your head will be and the better you'll be able to edit it. I would not advise, however, leaving it for more than two months: You don't want your head so clear that you forget most of your plot.

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This is my methodology, right now.

  1. Write a pitch and/or query letter. You need to anyway and if you can't it likely indicates you need to do more work in the revision phase. Trying to write a query will hopefully tell you if your book is any good.

  2. Did you outline your book to start? If the answer is no, now may be a good time to do it so that you have a high level view of your book. This may immediately point out inconsistencies. Take notes as you go. If you did outline, figure out if you match. I am turning my novel into a treatment from the outline (see my post history).

  3. Now you need to know if your book is working. If you can't tell you need an honest resource who knows a thing or two about good books and story telling.

  4. Sort your problems by importance and start fixing what you can. If you've got a goal in mind (pitch/query), stay on target.

  5. Proof read and/or get an editor.

  6. Shop it out by pitch and query. Plan to submit 200 times before giving up. Start working on the next one.

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