I Finished My Manuscript- Now What?
I Finished My Manuscript!... What Do I Do Now?
Congratulations! You’ve completed your first draft! That feeling is amazing. It never gets old, no matter how many books you’ve completed. After all of the emotions (or maybe the stunned sense of loss since that goal was achieved and it has been your focus for months – that’s a normal feeling too) fade, you get to decide what steps to take next.
Many people suggest letting a manuscript rest. Resting a manuscript means stepping away from it completely for 3 weeks-months or so in order to look at it with fresh eyes. This is a good idea if you have time to do that. But, let’s be honest – a lot of us are on a tight schedule or are trying to complete rapid publishing to establish a fan base and get some recognition. So, here’s my personal list of recommendations. As with anything in publishing, it’s not a one-size-fits-all recommendation, but rather a general framework. I have it in two sections: Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing.
1) Let it rest if you can. If you can’t, skip to 2.
2) Do an overall edit for typos, continuity, etc.
3) Send to your most trust Beta Readers.
4) Receive Beta Reader feedback - All small things to fix? Go to 6. Lots of things to fix?
5) Consider a developmental editor if: there are a lot of plot holes, continuity errors, side plots that never get resolved, or beta reader feedback says something undefinable is missing, characters don’t make logical choices for their personality.
6) Make edits and double-check for general typos and formatting.
7) Send to a Line editor, Copy editor, or proofreader if you are going to use them (highly recommend using at least one of those, ideally a line editor and proofreader). If that's simply not in the budget, have that one great writer friend look it over with the knowledge that you’ll owe them a similar favor.
8) Format that manuscript and give it a final once-over.
9) Prepare to publish.
Note that this list does not include all of the side things a self-published author has to do to prepare for a book launch. This is looking at the book manuscript and editing only.
1) Let it rest.
2) Research agents and create your spreadsheet/list/calendar of who to query, deciding on which ones to start with and noting their requirements and response times/if they respond to all (for some, a no is a non-response after a certain time frame).
3) Edit your manuscript.
4) Send to a few trusted Beta readers.
5) Work on your query letter.
6) Edit based on Beta Reader feedback.
7) Consider a professional query letter consult, beta read, or begin sending (revise again after getting professional feedback).
8) Handle rejections with grace and celebrate when you finally get an agent! If you aren’t getting an agent, re-work your query letter and consider how your first few pages read.
9) If this is your dream, don’t give up. Each agent has to choose carefully what books they represent, and each author also needs to choose carefully. Look over any offers with a critical eye (and/or a lawyer) and make sure you feel confident in the agent. It’s a big risk and time investment on both sides.
There are also smaller articles, shorts, and other sized writing that may take other paths (such as submission to a literary journal). This is aimed specifically at novella-novel length materials.
It's rare to find a fellow writer friend that can be an honest, accurate, and kind beta reader or critique partner all in one. Choose your writing partners carefully - if you can't find one, it's worth it to pay for a good beta reader. Not all writers, no matter how good they are at writing, make good beta readers. I've heard many horror stories of feedback from other writers that is harsh, mean, too nice and fluffy, or completely off-base (such as people who claim to know grammar rules but do not). Choose what opinions you listen to carefully. Being open to feedback is just as important as selecting the right feedback to be open to.
Once you find the right person to give you feedback - keep them! If it's a friend, be timely and accountable when returning the favor. If it's a paid beta reader, plan ahead and get on their schedule so you don't have to wait weeks or months for their next opening.