You’ve typed The End. Congratulations! Celebrate! Live it up! Now you send it straight to the editor to fix, right?
Let it breathe or marinate or whatever term you’d like to use. The length of time for this varies for different writers. Some need to set it aside for months; others a few days. You definitely need some distance from it, but not so much that you spend all your time trying to remember who Frank is who shows up in the bar in chapter 4.
Authors and Their Books: A Bonding Tale
Once it’s the right time for you to pick it up again, understand it needs to be you. It’s of utmost importance that you take time with your manuscript without outside influence. Consider this your “bonding” time.
When a mother has a baby, studies have shown how beneficial it is for the infant to immediately be placed in direct skin-to-skin contact with the mom and left unbothered by medical personnel or others for a while in order for them to bond to one another. It’s a time for quiet, peace, reflection. It’s not a time for loud noises and barking orders and poking and prodding.
Hopefully I haven’t lost you in this comparison of mine because I can hear your counter to that last paragraph. You’ll see I chose this example intentionally in just a moment.
True: not every mother and child pair has that blissful, utopia-like experience. If we’re being entirely honest, I’d venture to say most—in the United States, at least—do not. And, yes, most of those children grew up just fine with no weird issues.
It’s the same with writers and their manuscripts. Many choose to ship it off to friends as soon as that first draft has hit the cold air of reality. And, many of them go on to land book deals and be authors for a long, happy time.
Why Is This So Important Anyway?
Here’s the reason I will always urge writers to take this first read and revision seriously. If you don’t know your book, really know it—what makes your characters tick, the purpose behind each scene, the driving and central force in the midst of the entire tale—how on earth do you think someone who didn’t incubate this idea as it grew into a fully developed and living story can know those things?
Now, critique partners are the most invaluable parts of a writer’s dream team. I will shout that from the rooftops, because I have some pretty doggone incredible ones. It is true that they can help you see some of those things when you can’t see them on your own. Developmental editors specialize in helping authors see how to strengthen the foundation of their story’s structure and shore it up to withstand the gale of any storm to come.
However, if you don’t know why you wrote what you did the way you did at the time you did, you may find yourself hopping on board with a revision that ends up altering your original intent and making the entire process far more complicated than it otherwise could have been. You should know what aspects of the story are most important and where its central theme lies. If you don’t know these details—or at least have a pretty good idea of them—you may find yourself jumping at whatever suggestions your developmental editor and your critique partners make, regardless of if they are best for the purpose of your story (which is something only you can know).
When this happens, you will find yourself four revisions in and wondering where on earth you took a wrong turn. Or, you could be even closer to publication and find yourself without much joy when it comes to your story, but you’re not sure why. Perhaps you missed the opportunity to bond with your book baby in the beginning.
When you deeply understand the soul of your story and the purpose behind it, your readers will feel its heart when they read it.
What Can This Process Look Like?
I urge you to be your very first reader. Do this without pen in hand. Just read. Soak it in. Enjoy it. Don’t beat yourself up over the bumpy parts. Ignore those typos. You’ll get to them. Just read.
Now, it’s time to self-edit. This is where writers will be different for sure. Because I can read a page in punctuation marks and notice typos at a glance, I’m going to do this at least twice before I send anything out. The first time should be big picture things that jumped at you on your initial read-through. Maybe a character disappeared mid-way through. Perhaps your timeline is more of a time graph that resembles a porcupine.
Beyond that, you may realize you have no idea what’s pushing your main character to do the things he’s doing. Believe me when I say, if you don’t know, your reader sure as shootin’ won’t! And that’s something you have to figure out. You don’t necessarily need to have the answer before you send your manuscript to others, but you need to be working on it. You should at least know most of the big questions.
And then, give it a cursory edit for spelling, agreement, punctuation. At the very least, run it through your spell check. This is just a kindness for whoever is taking the time to read your manuscript for you. Plus, it will result in a far stronger manuscript in the end for you. They will catch far more issues than they would if they had to hack through a jungle of typos to get to them. You’ve got the tools to handle most of those, so do it!
I’d love to hear about your process. Comment below or drop me a line today to share how you approach preparing your manuscript for publication.
Author, are you your story’s first reader? Why or why not?
Reader, what is it about books that linger with you that you love so much? Have you ever read a book where you just felt like the author was opening his or her heart to you?
For more tips and tricks, head over to the Logos & Mythos Press Editing Services page and subscribe for our quarterly newsletter. You’ll also receive my ten-page guide to self-editing and working with an editor for free! We offer manuscript editing services for Indie Authors, so you can learn more about those as well.