You Finished Your Novel: Now What? The Five Steps of Revision
Writing a book is commendable, whether you’ve slaved away for ten years on a single manuscript or have a brand-new piece fresh from NaNoWriMo. It’s easy to coast on the high from finishing your work and think your book is ready to snag a 6-figure advance. It well might be one day, but you still have a long way to go. The road between completing your first draft and publishing is a bumpy one, but, man, does it have some great views.
Step One: Brag, Brag, Brag!
This is easy — celebrate! Tell your friends, your family, the clerk at your local bookstore. This will keep you excited about your project and build potential fans. When you’re further down the road these people will keep you accountable and give you support if you’re having a bad writing day. Trust me, you’ll need it.
Step Two: Put It Away
This is an often over-looked part of the writing process, but it’s so important. You’ve been up to your eyes in this project. You have been breathing nothing, but the characters and world. It’s time to step back, and for a while. Read some titles on your neglected To-Be-Read list and write reviews. Thinking about why certain aspects of others’ work appeals to you is a great way to hone your own craft. Try some new writing projects — bonus points if it’s a different genre, POV, or length than that of your manuscript. This will further remove you from your manuscript and give you much needed perspective. Work on building your author platform, network with other writers, and listen to what successful authors in your genre have to say. You might have plot or character epiphanies, and be sure to jot them down, but don’t open that document!
It’s hard to say when you’re ready to return to a piece, but my rule of thumb is at least a season — three months or so. The busier you have been, the better.
Step Three: Prodigal Project
You’ve read every book ever. You’ve followed 2170 people on Twitter and have three new projects that are seriously awesome. Time to return to The Manuscript. If you prefer hard copies print out your project — your local college should have free or cheep printing for large projects if you don’t have the resources to print at home. If you’re more of an e-book fan, convert your manuscript to the proper format (Calibre is a great resource for this) and send it to your e-reader of choice. If you want, make notes as you read, but don’t get bogged down with typos or sentence structure. This read-through is all about the big picture. Does the plot make sense? Is it realistic? Are your characters believable? Compelling? Do you have subplots? Have you avoided tropes? Make notes as you read, but don’t revise or edit until you’ve finished reading the project in its entirety — this is the beauty of reading on paper or e-book, versus the document itself.
Step Four: Breaking Bones
You’ve read your book. Maybe it’s good. Maybe it’s terrible. Either way, now you’re going to make it awesome. Open a new document. I love side-by-side revisions, rewriting the entire piece, but with the first draft as a reference. You can worry about genre, word-count, even filler scenes later. Those are the fat and skin of your book. Now you just need to worry about the bones. You might find that what started as a 120K word epic fantasy is now a 80K urban fantasy.
That’s OK. This is a good time to lean on your support network of other authors.
Breaking the bones will be hard, but it’s so worth it, and I promise your writing and The Manuscript itself will be stronger for it.
Step Five: Feedback
You’ve finished your next draft. Now it’s time to take your project out into the wide world. Find some Beta readers — reaching out through social media works well, and there are some great sites that help connect authors and readers. Trading with another author at the same point in the revision process is a great way to build readership and read undiscovered work. Find two or three people who read or write your genre and send your first chapter — after asking, of course! See if their critique works for you. Try to find people who are your desired demographic, but still diverse. You want as many opinions as possible. There are sure to be some false starts, but good beta readers are worth their weight in gold.
Remember, your writing will never be perfect and you will need to make changes, but also stay true to your intent and voice. Try to refrain from revising while your book is out with betas. Use this time as a second round of Step Two.
Finally, Lather, Rinse, Repeat.
Go back to Step Three. It will feel like you’ve re-written this book a hundred times. You’re going to feel like you’re fantastic one day and a failure the next. On bad days, make sure to take the time to do things that make you happy and ground you. You will start to hate The Manuscript and think everything you write is trash. DON’T DELETE IT. Read positive feedback and search for inspiration in your outside life. If all else fails, step away for a week or two.
Stick through it, though, because I promise it gets better. One day you’ll read through it and will realize it’s exactly as you want it to be.