Congratulations on your first draft! Ready for the real work?
Here’s your in-the-trenches Wednesday post! As I’ve said before, writing tens of thousands of words is not hard. Sorry, it’s just not. And like the last time I said that, the muffled sound you just heard was a herd of angry authors setting their laptops down to come pummel me to the ground. But it’s true: the ACT itself of writing is not difficult to do. What IS hard is having the time and discipline to write. Harder yet? Having the skill to do it well. And the hardest? Being able to distance yourself enough from your manuscript to truly face what sucks about it—being open to changing even your most beloved sections for the greater good. So, indeed, congratulations on your first draft! Below are the minimum steps you should take before submitting your sixth, seventh, or twentieth draft to your carefully selected agents or publishers!
1) First Draft: Self-Editing
Self-editing is a hugely important process. No one—and I mean no one—should give you recommendations for revision in before you’ve done this step! You’ve finally gotten the first book-length batch of words—now it’s time to make that text worthy of review. Your reviewers/beta readers, some of whom will be your trusted friends and family reviewing your book for free simply because they love you, aren’t going to have the wherewithal to review version after version of your manuscript, so you should use them where their feedback really counts. This means you should do everything YOU can do to revise it—until you’re at your wit’s end—before getting beta readers. This round of self-editing should be to fix major structural (organization, continuity, logical movement) issues of your manuscript.
2) Second Draft: Take a Break and Get Back to It!
You’ve successfully blown through your first draft, have fixed the major structural issues and continuity issues, and can confidently say you’re on the second draft. Great! Good work. Go get yourself an cup of tea (long island or unleaded—whichever tickles your fancy!) and relax! You’re done—for now. You’ve been so immersed in your manuscript that you actually can’t do anything better with it right now. You’re in the woods without a map, and the overcast clouds are covering the sun so you have no idea how to find true north! The solution? Wait it out. Give it a day (or, in manuscript world, one or two months) to rest. The sun will come back one of these mornings, and you’ll be able to find your north. Seriously–you’ll be able to see things so much more freshly after a few weeks’ rest. In your second round of self-editing, you’ll hopefully be able to interpret things you couldn’t in your first round of structural self-editing, such as redundant passages, ineffective transitions, and sentence-structure issues.
3) Third Draft: Beta Readers
Great work on your first two drafts! Now it’s time for some beta readers. This is the time to tap into your (trusted) family and friends for support (maybe two or three). It’s best if they don’t know each other or agree not to talk about it—you don’t want them to influence one another’s feedback. They should not be reading the book as an editor, but as a reader. Emphasize this to them, or they will over assume their role! When they happen to find misspellings and typos (which I can guarantee they will), then great, but this is not their main function. You’re looking to have them read it as they would any book they might pick up at a bookstore. The idea is to get them to highlight the places that trip them up in the phrasing, structure, organization, continuity, transitions, etc. They should even highlight the places they got a little bored, because that indicates a pacing issue on your end. Because you know how it all works in your head, the messages in your manuscript might be perfectly clear to you, but you might not be articulating the messages perfectly to your readers. After you’ve gotten their feedback, don’t take every piece of advice you get; rather, always take it with a grain of salt. People love giving their opinion, but too often they go overboard and give incorrect advice. You should, however, make sure to pay attention to the places where advice was consistent among reviewers. If more than one person comments on a clarity or pacing issue, you definitely need to fix it.
4) Fourth Draft: More Self-Editing
After entering the feedback you received from your beta readers, it’s time for YOU to try to read it as a reader. Read the manuscript in the same way they did. Smooth out those last big things you find so you can feel confident going into the next stage. . . .
5) Fifth Draft: Professional Edit
At this stage, you’re ready for a professional editor. You’re on your fifth draft, and your book has been carefully tried and tested! It’s a good idea to use a freelance editor who comes recommended by a true publishing professional or an editor you know has worked with a number of published authors and publishers. The editor should be able to show you examples of their work, and should be able to provide more than one reference. After the editor provides recommendations for you and fixes the necessary mistakes and style issues, you’re ready for . . .
6) Sixth Draft: Submission!
Congratulations! You’re ready to submit your manuscript to publishers or agents! Make sure you target those who fit your book and your genre.
Reminder: FREE FEEDBACK CONTEST #2!
Don’t forget about Hanna’s free feedback contest! The next submissions are due on Friday, October 26, 2012 and the winner will be announced Monday, October 29, 2012. Click HERE for submission guidelines. For questions, email Hanna at WriteWithHanna (at) gmail (dot) com!