If you are an author, you are familiar with the sigh of relief when you reach the end of a manuscript for the first time. So what happens then?
Well, besides celebrating, it all depends on what type of writer you are, how complex your book is, and what type of endgame you want to create.
There are several types of writers – and there are readers aplenty to fit your game, no matter what it is. But, at the same time, depending on what your endgame is will depend on what you do after the 1st draft is done. I’m going to discuss two types of authors, of which the second is who I am so yes, it will be more in depth.
If you are what a former publisher of mine called an author of “Marginal works”, your first draft is pretty much it. You might hand it over to a beta reader or two, but there won’t be any major changes to the plot or story. None. There will be a few editing tweaks and then it will either go into production or to a publisher. Let me state, I am not making judgment calls about what you write. There are readers by the tens of thousands for marginal works, which should tell you its a heavy duty market. An author of marginal works can, if they’re a speed demon, get 2-4 novellas out a month if they want. If self published, those books will be out in the market within 3-6 weeks after the first draft is complete. If published by a small publisher, it could be 3-6 months from submission.
Then there are authors who write far more complex plots. I have always looked at writing a book in this way: Each one will make me a better writer. A couple years ago I decided I was going to start writing books with far more in depth plots with sub plots. To do that, I had to change from a pantser to a plotser. (Basically I had to go from writing without a plan to writing with one.) Making that change took over a year and at first, I almost forgot how to write – that’s how jarring the change was.)
As someone who plots my manuscripts, I’ve found a few things – it makes the editing process easier and more complex. Let’s start with something the first group of writers doesn’t do. It’s what I call filing your manuscript away.
He might not know it, but I’m a mentee of Stephan King. His books might scare the pants off me, but I love his writing and when I read his book on writing, so many points hit me. One of the things that hit the strongest was that as an author, we need time away from our own works to look at them objectively.
Anyone else’s mind light go on? I’ve seen other authors proclaim with pride that they can finish a draft one day and go to editing it the next. It makes me cringe every time I read that because I know they believe what they’re saying. I did at one time. In 2012, I did the same thing. Wrote. Finished. Edited. Released. I look back on those works now and push them under a bucket. Yeah – they’re that bad.
The thing is, that distance King says we need? It’s TRUE! As authors we retain much of what we write for quite some time. Wording choice, plot turns, dialog changes – they stick with us. And if we want to truly look at our manuscript with new eyes, we need to file it away until we’ve forgotten ALL OF IT. Then, we can read through with an objective eye and find the plot holes, things that don’t work, things that need more description, things that need less, character quirks that need changing or brought out more… And if we don’t give ourselves time to walk away, we’ll never see them.
You might think “Well, that’s what my beta is for.” *BUZZER* Wrong. Your beta is not you. They will read through the book with a different eye, that of a reader. But they won’t get the insights that pop into your head as you read, the nudges from your muse, the new idea that might make you rewrite the entire damned thing because it needs to be right.
Think that’s crazy? I have two long novels I’ve written. The first – Fan the Embers (113,000 words) – will be released in November. I wrote it originally before the plotting changes. (The first draft was 86,000 words) So, my first rewrite was literally rewriting the full thing after creating an outline that made sense. My second was 6 months later. And my third 4 months after that. Not to mention my fourth 6 months later. I rewrote the manuscript 10 times until it finally flowed and all the plot points were perfect in my head with no holes in sight. The other long novel, which doesn’t have a release date yet, is something I’m prestigiously proud of – and it was re-written 4 times before the complex plot points were perfect. And each time, I took months between to forget what I’d just done. Which can get annoying if you get tired of it and just want to get the thing done. So go for a run, a jog, have a drink – anything to calm your mind.
And then came the editing. Which brings me to an important thing I’ve found. Editing is far more complex than we can imagine. I’m not talking the rewriting type of editing. Let’s just discuss copy editing. Sounds simple, right? But if you have just read the book? Your eyes will slide right over grammar issues with ease you don’t know is happening. And if you’re a perfectionist like I am, that’s a pain in the royal backside. In Fan the Embers, the book has been copy edited by me and others so many times I lost count.
I remembered why it’s so important to look at things in a different way in this last edit. Every type of edit is seen differently by our brains. On the computer – and I use both Scrivener to write and rewrite and Word for final copy edits – our brains look at the words one way. Our minds will literally skip over words and we aren’t aware of it.
So how about a second type of edit? Put the book in ebook format and read it on an ereader. I found that was an exceptional way to find problems I would not have found on my computer. But there’s a third way that I will use from now on, one that I highly suggest after using the previous two, and that one is reading it in book format. Paperback book format to be exact. Especially if you are writing complex prose or plots. Sci-Fi especially is good for this, I think. In Fan the Embers, the Figorians have no gender. They have an entirely different 3rd person pronoun than we do. Now, keep in mind, I’ve rewritten and edited this book so many times I lost count. I hoped, more than thought, I’d found all the pronoun issues. While going through a paperback proof, I found around 40 problems, 37 of them were pronoun based.
As frustrating as constantly finding more he/xe issues is, I’m glad to know I’m closer to having a perfect endgame for this book.
Now, I know that other authors don’t have the same goals and endgame than I do and that’s fine. After all, like I said, there’s a HUGE readership for marginal works and tons of money flows there. But for those like me who are working toward an intense and complex endgame of a novel, I would seriously take King’s suggestion of a 6 month separation between writing the draft and attempting the first rewrite. It can truly make you a better writer. And yes, it and the different ways to copy edit will lengthen the time for when the book can be released, but you should ask yourself.
Do I care if my book is it’s best?
If you are just wanting to get the book out there so you don’t think about it again, then no. Don’t worry about it. But if you want to continue to upgrade who you are as a writer and to bring each novel to a better place than you could have imagined, do it. Take a novel you’ve written and put it in moth balls for 6 months. Then revisit, and see how much better you can make it.
As a writer, this is the kind of works I attain to. As a reader, these are the types of books I love and will return to again. And again. And again.
As a publisher? It’s what I’m after.