10 Things To Do Once You’ve Written a First Draft
Publishing and selling your book can be one of the most rewarding events a person can experience. It can also be one of the main reasons for loss of hair, sanity and personal hygiene. Consider this: only ten percent of published (not just self-published) fiction authors in the U.S. make more than $10,000 per year. Of that ten percent, only about three percent earn enough to be considered making a living. Yes, that percentage appears to be changing slowly due to self-publishing, but it still takes a lot of work to get your name/book out there.
When you’ve written THE END, it’s only the beginning. First of all, take a deep breath and step back. Congratulations are in order—you’ve written a book! Pat yourself on the back and order champagne all ’round. Let the manuscript rest for a week, or a month. Get some distance before coming back to write the next draft. I’ll wait right here.
Done celebrating? Great. Now the REAL work begins. Here are my top ten things to consider once you’ve written the first draft of your novel:
1. Search for inconsistencies like changing your heroine’s hair color from one scene to the next without the benefit of Clairol, or having something happen on Sunday evening when it really should be Thursday morning;
2. Make sure your characters don’t all have names with the same first letter (e.g., Sam, Sandy, Selena and Stephen)—it confuses the reader (trust me, I know);
3. Check for grammatical errors, spelling errors, and overuse of the same words (apparently, one of my favorites is still. And apparently);
4. Check to make sure each scene and event flows realistically from one section to the next. Yes, this is fiction, and yes, you can make stuff up, but unless it’s a paranormal or SciFi or fantasy with different laws of physics than earth, it has to make sense and be within the realm of probability. For instance, if you wrote your heroine into a corner and you can’t get her out of the scene in one piece without her magically disappearing or conveniently finding a gun, then you’d better set up that superpower or plant that gun beforehand so the audience believes it could happen. Magical thinking aside, the old adage ‘fiction has to be more real than reality’ is a good rule to follow.
5. Read your manuscript out loud to yourself. Really. I guarantee you will find any sentence structure missteps, as well as rhythm and cadence problems this way. It’s great for catching clunky dialogue, as well.
6. Once you’ve checked your manuscript for the above and made the corrections, find at least three people other than your mother or best friend to read it through. Start with folks who enjoy reading the genre that you write. Ask these readers to make note of when/where the manuscript slows down, where/if it gets confusing, etc. Not that you can’t let your mother or your BFF read the book. It’s just that you’re looking for honest feedback and it’s rare that your family or good friends will give that to you. They don’t want to hurt your feelings.
7. When you’ve absorbed the first readers’ feedback and incorporated what you want of it into the manuscript, give it to three more people to read. These two sets of cold readers are what are known as beta readers, and they are invaluable. The more people who read your manuscript, the better, IMO. Each beta will give you diverse feedback, certainly. What you want to watch out for are similar comments from different readers. These are things you need to take a look at changing.
8. Incorporate whatever suggestions you agree with into the manuscript, and check again for spelling and grammatical errors, and flow. The next step is to send it out to be professionally edited. You’ll need to find someone for whom editing is either their profession or obsession. There are several good ones out there for hire, and sometimes you can find someone who will do a trade. This step is important. Like dear old Dad always said, you only have one chance to make a good first impression.
9. More than likely you’ll get your manuscript back from your editor with a lot of corrections. Let’s hope you do. That’s what you’re paying them for. Make those corrections and go over it one more time.
10.Write the pitch, or what’s also known as the back cover blurb for your book, and then condense that down to a one-sentence log line. Many times this is one of the hardest things for a writer to do. How the heck do you condense an 80,000-word novel to one paragraph, much less one sentence? It’s helpful to use other people as a sounding board. Ask them if the pitch makes them want to read the book.
Your manuscript is finally ready to send out for submission or format for upload, whichever route you choose! The rest is easy, right?
Uh, not really.
But that’s a whole other post.
DV Berkom is no stranger to reading and writing fast-paced, exciting stories. The author of two bestselling thriller series featuring strong female protagonists, Berkom grew up on a steady diet of spy novels, James Bond movies and mysteries. Her natural inclination is to keep the reader on the edge of their seat and guessing until the last page.
Raised in the Midwest, she received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes whenever she gets a chance.