So you’ve written a book. Now what?
If you have completed a first draft of a book, congratulations! That is a huge feat in and of itself. You may be wondering what to do next. Search for agents? Write a query letter? Consider self-publishing on Amazon? Before you do any of those things, I want to draw your attention to the sixth word of this post: first draft.
That’s right, you have completed the first of what will be many drafts. How many? No one can say. But it will require several. Why? Because as Ernest Hemingway said, “…writing is rewriting.”
Perhaps you slogged your way through 80,000 words and you are ready to move on to the next step. That’s great! But the next step is not finding an agent nor a publisher. It’s digging back into that novel you just wrote.
First of all, let’s talk about word count. Why did I say 80,000 words? Because commercial and literary novels typically fall between 80,000 and 110,000 words. Why is that? There can be a variety of reasons, but in part that is generally a length readers have come to expect because that length gives room for development and resolution without being conflated with too many meanderings and excesses.
Have you not reached that 80k threshold? Not to worry; that’s what editing is for. Have you gone over 110k? Not to worry; that’s what editing is for.
Now that you know what length to aim for, let’s get into what to do once you have that first draft written:
Yes, I’m telling you to take a break from writing. Or at least take a break from your work in progress (WIP). Work on other stories and ideas, but don’t look at your WIP for a set amount of time. How long? That’s up to you, but if this is your first novel, I recommend giving yourself at the very least one month, but preferably a few months. If you’re on a deadline, perhaps you can only take a week or a day, but time away is essential. Your mind needs space to process the story on the subconscious level. And you need distance to forget some of what you wrote. When you go back, you will have fresh eyes to see the text, characters, plot, and grammar in new and necessary ways.
While you’re not actively concentrating on your WIP, continue reading about story craft, the creative life and editing tips. Here are four of my favorites (along with a quote from each):
On Writing by Stephen King
“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot. There’s no way around these two things that I’m aware of, no shortcut.”
Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
Story Genius: How to Use Brain Science to Go Beyond Outlining and Write a Riveting Novel by Lisa Cron
“In a nutshell: A story is about how the things that happen affect someone in pursuit of a difficult goal, and how that person changes internally as a result.”
Manuscript Makeover: Revision Techniques No Fiction Writer Can Afford to Ignore by Elizabeth Lyon
“Many writers seize inspiration and run with it, until the flow of imagination stops… The art of creative writing demands both: maps or blueprints as well as riff-writing. Revision is the same: planning, implementing knowledge of skill and techniques, and seizing new ideas.”
Once your allotted time has passed, open up that document and start reading. I recommend on the first read-through that you make notes along the way, but don’t make detailed edits yet. Read the entire book from start to finish, paying attention to the overarching story, characters, plot and structure, making notes and asking questions in the margins that you’ll come back to later. If you focus on revising sentences and paragraphs, or reworking characters early in the text, you may find they need to completely change again later on. So, let yourself read the story through once. Then go back, ready to roll up your sleeves to make changes.
On your next pass, focus on getting the characters, plot sequence and overall structure in place. Then, with each additional round of revisions, go one layer deeper and more detailed, saving sentence structure and grammar for the end. There’s no sense in fussing over a comma placement early on if the sentence is only going to be discarded because it no longer applies.
Once you have worked through revisions so that you think you are done, repeat the process. Walk away from your WIP. Let it rest before revisiting it. Then revise again. And again. Keep going until you truly believe this story is the best version it can be without anyone else’s outside input.
So, you’ve written a book, now what? Do a happy dance. Then close the document. Put it aside. Forget about it. And rest up because writing is rewriting, and rewriting takes time, and lots and lots of revisions. But for now, celebrate your accomplishment…and give yourself permission to take a nap.
This is part two of the Ask the Author Series. Read last week’s installment of So You’ve Always Wanted to Write a Book. Now What? And stay tuned for more.
Are you a writer who is stuck and doesn’t know how to move forward? I can help! I offer story coaching to help stuck writers get unstuck. Click the button below to check out my Reedsy profile for more information.