In the last few weeks I’ve come across a number of message board posts from new writers wondering how to go about getting published. And some of the advice they’ve been getting scares me. It ranges from the self-serving: “you need to get it professionally edited – I charge $x/pg,” to the disheartening: “you don’t need a pro editor, if you can’t make your book perfect all by yourself, you have no business being a writer.”
So, I thought I’d use today’s post to go back to the basics. After all, it wasn’t that long ago I was that newbie writer wondering what to do with my manuscript.
*NB, this post details the process for fiction manuscripts – non-fiction is a whole different process.*
So, here goes:
“I wrote a book. Now what?”
First, congratulations. You’ve done what lots of people dream of doing, but never manage to find the time for. You should give yourself a big pat on the back, and maybe celebrate with cake.
However, if you want to get that book published, you’re not done yet. Your first step is to get some distance. Take a break. Walk away, and don’t look at what you’ve written for at least a month (more if you can). This cooling off period can help you feel less attached to your precious words and more able to fix the flaws (I promise you, there will be flaws).
While you’re getting some distance, you can use your time to learn a bit more about the process of revising. There are lots of good books on writing and revising (Second Sight, by Cheryl Klein, Writing Irresistible Kidlit, by Mary Kole, On Writing, by Stephen King, Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maass – are just the first few that come to mind.) Most are available at public libraries. There are also a ton of blogs devoted to writing advice Writability by Ava Jae, kidlit, by Mary Kole, and y’know, this one – to name a few.)
Once you’ve cooled off and learned a bit more about crafting a story, get in there and make it as good as possible. This means revising. And revising some more. And, maybe one more time for good luck.
All right, you’ve made that bad boy as good as you possibly can. Time to send it out in the world, right?
The next step is to get someone else to look over your work. And I’m not talking your spouse, parental unit, or BFF. Why? Because if they value your love/friendship, they probably won’t give you an honest opinion. (And, trust me, if they do speak honestly, you aren’t going to like them very much afterwards.) But really, you want someone who knows about writing, who can comment intelligently about plot development, adverb overuse, and/or dreaded clichés (among other things).
So, you need to find some other writers – preferably those writing in the same or similar genre to you (If you’re writing a Picture Book, find other PB writers, Adult Mystery, other Adult Mystery writers – or at least suspense, etc, writers). How do you do that?
Well, The Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) organizes critique groups for members. They also have message boards that anyone can join – you could try finding a critique group through them. Absolute Write (another message board) has boards to help you find critique partners (for children’s and adult writers). And, though I’m not an expert in these, most Adult genres have some kind of association (eg. RWA – The Romance Writers of America) which may offer message boards or critique groups (I don’t know for sure, since I don’t write those genres).
Now, if you are anything like I was at this stage, you’re probably thinking one of the following things:
- But, my book is good, I don’t need help.
- I’m not ready to show it to other people
- I don’t want anyone to know I’m doing this writing-thing until I have a published book to announce
Let me just say: 1. No, it’s not, and yes, you do. 2. What do you think editors/agents are? and 3. hahahahahaha (Sorry, that last one was a bit mean). Seriously, though, it’s often difficult to separate yourself from your work. It’s kind of like having kids – you pretty much always think your kid is the cutest/best-behaved/smartest kid ever, and it takes another parent pointing out to you that, actually, most 9-year-olds don’t still wear diapers to realize that maybe they’re not so perfect after all. Every writer has different strengths and weaknesses, and critique partners can help point these out to you.
Plus there’s the extra bonus of critiquing – learning. Seeing something that’s not working in someone else’s manuscript can help you avoid making the same mistakes in your own.
Okay. This is post is getting long, so I’m going to split it in two. Tune in next week to PART 2 to find out what to do once you have a polished (by critique partners) manuscript.