It’s perhaps the greatest moment in an author’s life, the point when the last full-stop is keyed, and the manuscript is finished. Writing novels can be a long, lonely road, littered with all kinds of frustrations that only the strong and the dedicated will endure. When you get to the end, you’ve more than earned the right to savour the moment.
But is your manuscript’s journey really over? Don’t panic – I’m not about to pour cold water on the celebrations! What I would like to offer are some thoughts on what happens next. Unless you’re one of the few, with an agent waiting patiently to take over the editing of your manuscript, there are still a number of steps you have to take, particularly if you’re about to self-publish.
There are all sorts of services out there offering a variety of professional support. The descriptions vary from basic proofreading (spelling, grammar correction etc.) to full-blown editing (which might suggest rewriting or re-constructing some parts of the story). Sure, they want your money, but there are a lot of good people who’ll do a thoroughly professional job. I’m not about to knock them – in fact, if you can afford it, shop around and see what’s on offer. Some will charge reasonable fees for going through your first three of four chapters. That way, you can see their end product without shelling out too much of your hard-earned cash.
But that’s not why I’m drawing attention to the post-finish alternatives. These guys can advertise for themselves without any help from me! No, I’m looking at the vast majority of indie writers who’ll take on their own proofreading, editing, cleaning up, or ‘tightening’ their work.
There’s nothing wrong with the DIY approach – but it has a lot of pitfalls. There are a few basic pieces of advice which have been passed along the line by a series of successful writers, and which I would recommend highly.
The first is a bit dramatic, but perhaps the best advice of all. As soon as you’ve finished the manuscript, try locking it away in a drawer (or hide it in the documents folder of your laptop) for at least a month. Yes, ONE MONTH!
What do you do in the meantime? Start writing another book – that’s what you do; you’re a writer aren’t you, not a one-book wonder?
A month down the line on your second book, resurrect the first book and start reading it from scratch. I’ll bet you’ll see more of what needs to be ‘tidied’ than you would have done had you launched into an immediate run-through soon after you’d originally finished it.
And don’t treat the exercise as a necessary evil! Approach it with dedication and resolve. This is a major opportunity for you to quality-control your work before showcasing it to the public (okay, there’s a lot of business jargon in there, but you get the gist). Take your time by, for example, going through four or five chapters only at each sitting. Writers tend to know what’s coming up as they scan their work, and this allows their subconscious to trick them into seeing what’s not there! Try to retrain your brain to behave like a reader, not a writer.
Here’s another idea. If you can ‘pair’ with a fellow author, each reading through the other’s work as you go along, you’ll get regular feedback and an assurance that you are heading in the right direction. I know it’s not easy to find someone with whom to match, but it’s worth the try.
I’ll let you into a little secret. For the past year I’ve been ‘paired’ with fellow author, Brad Fleming, an old buddy from our days as working journalists. We trust each other implicitly; we are both unafraid to say what we think; and we regularly bounce ideas off each other. In that time I’ve completed two full-length novels and one short story. Brad’s one step ahead with two full-lengthers and two short stories.
If you can’t pair with an author, try a friend or family member who’s an avid reader and willing to underline in red ink anything which ‘jars’ their reading. If you go down this road, it really is better to drip-feed them a few chapters at a time.
I now have excellent people looking after the editing side of things for me, but that doesn’t mean I can afford to be sloppy. Before I send them anything, I will have gone through the entire manuscript at least twice – and that doesn’t include the numerous times I will re-read individual chapters. Professional pride demands no less.
Far too many people rely on the spellchecking and grammar suggestions highlighted by software such as Microsoft Word. These are nothing more than cursory tools and won’t ‘catch’ the use of an inappropriate word, or a word used too often in the same sentence. I could write a separate blog on this subject.
For those of you going it alone, the same principle applies. Before putting your work in front of readers, don’t risk their perception of you by failing to spot some obvious typo mistakes, or by letting slip through a few sentences that really should have been cleaned up in advance.
You’ve worked too long and too hard to get to the point of publishing. Don’t spoil it all by rushing the fences in the run-up to the finishing post. The months and months of making your novel all it can be, deserve a bit more of your time.
In the long run, you’ll be glad you did.