So, you’ve written your first novel. Congratulations to you! Such a heady feeling! You carried through on those dreams and goals, persevered through the doubts and fatigue, tuned out the naysayers, and just wrote.
Hundreds of millions of people say they’re going to write a novel. According to writer Joseph Epstein, in a NY Times (albeit old! article), “81 percent of Americans feel that they have a book in them—and should write it.” This figure always makes me laugh—I’d say it was probably higher.
Then there’s the statistic running around the Internet that says 97% of writers who begin, never finish a book.
That number is on blog after blog after blog.
Funny thing about that statistic though—I can’t find a single actual source of it! Such is the Net.
But, I would figure it to be very high.
Knowing I’m an author and a fiction editor, people tell me every day (yes, every day) that they want to write a book. And most of those, novels. People tell me regularly and often that they are writing a book. Mostly, writing novels, although memoirs come in a close second.
And years later, when I see or hear from them again, they’ve never quite finished it. Or, didn’t really get past the initial inspiration, or the first few chapters.
Writing, especially fiction, isn’t for the faint of heart.
So if you’ve finished the first draft of your novel, huge congrats from me! It truly takes great fortitude to do so.
But, what do you do now? How do you take the draft to a published book?
Ah, the fun’s just starting! So buckle up, and let’s talk about it.
Here are 10 steps:
- Set it aside.
Oh, how writers hate to hear this! But first and foremost, once you’ve typed The End on the first draft, take the entire thing and put it out of your sight and your mind.
For 4-6 weeks. At least. If you look at it before then, you’ll see it with the same eyes. And the goal here is to gain enough distance that you see it with entirely fresh and new eyes. That way, you can see what’s actually there.
- During that time, read.
You’ve been reading tons anyway, right? The number-one path to writing well is reading—a lot. Read in your genre, but also the classics. Read folks you love, and those you hear are masters. Just read, read, read.
- Study the great how-to books.
Now, I’m not a big proponent of these. The majority of them (yes, the majority) either give truly bad advice, or, you have to wade through 400 pages to get a nugget or two.
But, some great how-to books exist. Study these. Especially as you’re waiting on the cream to rise to the top of your manuscript.
- Join a writer’s group.
I say this with hesitation. Most of the online ones I’ve perused are composed of the blind leading the blind. And talk about terrible advice!
If at all possible, find an in-person group. Where you read your work aloud, and receive critique. Often, these have published authors in their midst. And the exercise of reading aloud, to others, helps you hear the clanging prose, feel where it’s falling down.
Again, use caution here—a lot of the critique will be meaningless or just bad advice. But some will be useful. And you’ll learn from the read/critique of other writers as well.
- Now, go back and read your first draft.
Read it with a critical eye, editing as you go, making notes, seeing where it goes off-track, finding what’s good about it.
Use the things you’ve learned in the last 3 steps to help you revise.
And re-write. This isn’t the polish stage, this is total revision, which means rewriting.
- Take your revised novel, read, and get critique from the writing group.
- Rewrite again.
- Work with a great fiction editor.
This is the time for a hard developmental edit, from someone who knows the ropes. Someone who can help you undo bad habits before they become ingrained. An editor who will delve into all aspects of great writing—characterization, plotting and pacing, organization and structure, flow, voice and tone, all literary devices and stylistic elements, and overall substance.
Work with someone who knows the market, and all the genres and sub-genres, and the specs for those.
And, so importantly, someone who functions as a coach and mentor as you go through revisions.
Writing well just isn’t learned in a vacuum.
- Rewrite, again.
Take all of your editor’s edits and critique, absorb all of that, and begin over once more—from word one.
- Send it back to your editor!
This should be a multi-part process with your editor.
You’ll then find out if your manuscript is ready to market, or needs more work. If necessary, revise again!
Yep, lots of steps in order to take that original inspiration, write it, revise it, have it edited, write some more, revise some more.
No wonder the number of people (which lord knows what that number actually is!) who actually finish a book is so small.
But you can do this, right? You’re one of the incredibly small number of writers who actually finish.
And doesn’t that feel fantastic?
Oh—and if you find the source of that 97% statistic, please send it to me!