Guest Post—Nadine Brandes “So you finished your book…now what?”
I really enjoyed this blog post by my friend, Nadine Brandes, on what to do once you’ve finished your novel. Nadine is a talented author who is also going to be teaching at the SoCal Christian Writers’ Conference that I’m directing in June. If you have finished a novel and want to figure out those next steps, the SoCal Conference will be a wonderful place to do so. I’m excited to share this guest post with you, which was first posted on Nadine’s blog in January.
What happens when you finish that first manuscript? When you complete your first book? When you finally write The End?
One of the most frequent questions I’m asked is, “I’ve finished my first book! What do I do now?”
All manner of itches will spring up–the itch to re-read it. The itch to start editing. The itch to throw it away. The itch to publish it immediately. The itch to give it to your mom to read. The itch to send it to an agent/publisher/editor in a giant manila folder. But which itch is the right one to scratch?
Well, here’s my advice.
1) Step Away
You’ve just completed the creation process. You’ll come to learn–as all authors do–that the first draft isn’t perfect. It will need some work later on, but for now it just needs to sit. It needs to age. Like cheese. Like wine. Which means that you need to walk away.
While your manuscript sits on that shelf, it won’t change. But you will.
Time away will allow the story to fade from your mind. (This is a good thing!) It will allow you to breathe, to dream of other stories, to recover from the creation process. And then, when you return to it a couple months later (yes, a couple months), you will see the story with fresh eyes.
2) Either take a break from writing OR work on something new
While your story is soaking up that shelf space, you want to give your creative juices a break. For some writers (like myself) that means stepping away from writing anything at all. I usually spend a good month reading whatever I want, or doing other creative pursuits like drawing or music or cooking.
OR….you can go start writing something new. Don’t go back and work on that same project, you need to completely step away from it. Separate yourself from it so that when you return to it you’re able to see it with clarity and a vision for how to tighten it. I know authors who will write a whole new book before they go back to the first one.
The key is to give your creative mind a break from that particular story.
3) Return to Manuscript #1 and read through it.
Okay, it’s been a few months. Your mind is clear, the first story has faded away a little. It’s time to go back and read it. I’ll give you a heads up: This step might create a whole slew of emotions.
Excitement. Horror. Tears. Confusion. THIS IS ALL NORMAL. The key is to read through the whole thing. Push through. And maybe start making a little list of things you’d like to tackle (character inconsistencies, plot weaknesses, tightening up some of the writing, etc.) Your brain has been resting away from this story. Once you jump back in, you’ll see things you didn’t before.
This is good. Sometimes it’s hard, and sometimes it’s exciting. Like when you find an amazingsentence and you think to yourself, “Wow. Did I really write that?”
This step is the beginning of your editing process. 🙂
4) Edit the thing
Now that you’ve read through it and you have your list of things to fix, go fix them! 🙂 Editing basically means going back through the story and fixing threads that you catch during your above read through.This is also a great time to start reading writing craft books. They can help point you in the right direction of what to watch for or what to tweak. Here are some of my favorite writing craft books:
- The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction by Jeff Gerke
- Rivet Your Readers with Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
- Go Teen Writers: How to Turn Your First Draft Into a Published Book by Stephanie Morrill and Jill Williamson
If you want to go crazy with the editing, I wrote a post about how I self-edit my manuscript. This is my process start to finish and should really prepare your manuscript for sending to agents and editors.
5) Get someone else’s opinion
I’m talking about friends, critique buddies, your mom, or your pet gerbil here. Get someone–anyone–to read it and give you feedback. Okay, maybe not anyone. Ideally someone who enjoys reading. Giving your book to someone who doesn’t even like reading is a recipe for disaster.
I know it can be hard to let someone else read your precious masterpiece, but you need feedback. Otherwise, how do you expect surviving sending your little paper dragon out into the big world?
This is a great time, also, to hire a freelance editor. I know that can be intimidating, but a freelance editor is one of the best ways to grow as an author and tighten not only this story, but every future story. If you’re interested in working with a freelance editor, just shoot me an e-mail because I have some fantastic recommendations.
6) Agents! Editors! Publishers, oh my!
It’s time. You’ve gotten your friend’s feedback and applied it after shredding a box of tissues. I’m so proud of you! So now, if you’re interested in pursuing publishing and become a published authors, you might want to start querying agents and editors. This, of course, is mainly if you are hoping to get traditionally published. But even if you’re thinking of independently publishing, it can be nice to get some professional opinions about your book from people who really know the industry.
But this, my friend, is a blog post for another day.