Tools for Writers,  Writing Tips

Finished my first draft. Now what?

Congratulations on completing your first draft! Give yourself a pat on the back or a hug, for real. That is no easy feat. Smile, cry, laugh. Allow yourself to feel every emotion that wants to break through. It doesn’t matter if this is your first, tenth, twentieth novel. I don’t believe the feeling of completing a first draft ever dissipates. If it does, I feel like that means it’s time to step away and find the joy in writing again.

You may be exhausted. Step one is done, but now what do you do from here?

The steps for traditional publishing and self-publishing are similar for the most part, but this is a focus on self-publishing. 

Step 1: Step Away

Most likely, all you’ve known is this book. You’ve slaved over getting it complete. Take this time to break away for at least a week or two. Read another book, work on a new project, completely walk away from writing or reading altogether. Try not to think about it.

Step 1A: Write down questions 

I say this as an amendment because some people already know what they need to focus on. If you’re unsure of how to tackle revisions, sit and think about the times that gave you difficulty. Were there scenes you had to rewrite? Times when you had writer’s block? A character or two that really annoyed you or maybe felt incomplete?

Write these notes down. It’ll be easier to have a frame of focus when revising.

Step 2: Come up with a timeline

Do you want to publish this book at a certain time? If so, work backward from that date and start researching editors, and beta-readers, if you want them. Having beta readers is highly recommended. This should come before you hire an editor.

Give your beta-readers around a month turnaround to read and answer your questions.

Most editors are booking at least a month out. Figure out how many services you’d want from your editor and figure this into your timeline.

Do you want a little more help with your novel? If you do, developmental editing is perfect for you, and I would recommend, at least, a proofreading service afterward. This could be roughly a month and a half turnaround. Twoish weeks for the developmental edit, time for you to revise from the edits, and then have the proofreading service.

If you want just a line-edit or proofread, this could be roughly a two week turnaround. 

If you start researching editors and beta-readers and reaching out to them as soon as possible, it not only holds you accountable for completing your revisions, but it allows you, the beta-readers, and the editor to not stress about your deadline.

Be realistic, give yourself wiggle room. Life happens that’ll end up delaying you, so add room in for that.

Step 3: Revision

This will be the first time you will read your story all the way through. Give yourself time to revise. Really dig deep into the sections that maybe you skimped out on before because you just wanted to finish or you were afraid of diving in.

If you’ve created a list of questions or concerns, review them before you start revising. 

Have you created a set deadline? Work backward to see how many words or pages you need to revise a day to reach that goal.

Have an editor? Most require a deposit for that extra motivation, but if yours doesn’t, ask about putting a deposit down to help keep you focused.

Step 4: Send to beta-readers

Have that list of questions about your book? Write those up in a document and send them to your beta-readers.

Allow your beta-readers a month turnaround. Some incentives can be great as well. Maybe offer them a free copy of the book when it’s published.

While the book is with the beta-readers, this is a great time to either do another edit yourself or to reach out to cover designers to get the rest of the ball rolling.

Step 5: Make changes

Review and make changes that beta-readers suggest. Look over every consideration, but also be honest with your story. Sometimes beta-readers will offer ideas that are off-course, and other times, when there is something they suggest that we hate, it can be because the idea isn’t properly written.

Be vulnerable and honest with yourself.

Step 6: Hand off to editor

Once the book is in the editor’s hand, breathe a little and congratulate yourself. You’ll have two weeks or so to relax, start a new project, or start working on how you’ll promote this book. 

By this point, you’re only a few weeks away from being able to have a published book.

If you are formatting, then you don’t have to worry about this timeline. But if you aren’t formatting your own book, this is also a great time to figure out who will format. Maybe your editor provides those services. Maybe it’s someone entirely different.

If you haven’t already, work on your author bio, acknowledgments, who you’re dedicating the book to, and any other tidbits you might want to add to the book.

Having the last key services and dates set before your book is finished with editing will be helpful.

Step 7: Make changes

Go through the editor’s comments. If it’s developmental editing, do the same as with beta-reading; however, I’d take the editor’s comments a little more seriously. If you question anything, don’t hesitate to reach out to the editor to clarify. Both of you want to create the best book possible, so don’t worry about bothering them. However, do allow them a grace period to respond, especially if your service is complete.

Accept and deny changes for line-editing and proofreading too. Then, do a final read through yourself.

Step 8: Format and Publish

Once your book is edited, it’s time to format and upload it onto your self-publishing platform. By this time, you should have your cover as well, unless you’re not on a strict deadline.

After you’ve formatted and uploaded all the documents, make sure to order a proof. Proofs are crucial. You don’t want people buying your book for you to realize something wonky happened in printing. Order a proof and then publish once you’ve seen your physical book.

Step 9: Celebrate and Repeat!

CONGRATULATIONS! You have a published novel. Relish in the joy. Talk yourself up. Accept the compliments. Show and tell everyone about this. 

And then when you’re ready, repeat the process!

Image depicts a young lady hugging her laptop and looking confused.

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