Finishing the first draft is an awesome feeling. Seriously awesome. There’s nothing quite like the relief at having a finished piece of work in your hands (or on your hard drive).
But if you’ve been writing a while, you’ll know that the first draft is only the beginning.
As much work as you’ve put in already, there’s a lot more to go. Now don’t think I’m trying to put you off! I’m not, at all. You’ve done great to get here, but just know that the journey’s not over yet. I wanted to share some resources that can help you in the rest of the journey.
First of all, leave your first draft alone for a while. The idea behind this is that it will give you some distance and allow you to read your work with a clear mind, without feeling as connected with it as you do when you’ve recently finished it. Some people recommend leaving it a year, but I know I sure as heck can’t wait that long. Depending on the length of the piece, try to leave it at least a week, preferably a month or more.
Once you’ve given yourself that time, go back and reread it. At this point you’re trying to get a feel for the shape of the story, not getting into the nitty gritty (though if you do spot any typos, go ahead and make notes). If there’s anything immediately obvious that needs changing (plot holes, superfluous scenes) go ahead and make these changes. It’s a good idea to use Track Changes, so that you can go back to them later.
Get a beta reader. Not your spouse, or a close family member. Preferably not a close friend, unless you trust them not to pull their punches. You don’t want to hear how great your story is – well, you do, but you need more from a beta reader. This is a sort of unofficial editor, and you need to know what’s wrong so that you can fix it. Try and get more than one beta reader if you can; multiple people will see different things, and it can really help tighten up your work.
Once you’ve made changes as suggested by your beta readers – note that you don’t have to make changes on anyone’s say so, but it’s a good idea to keep them in mind – then it’s time for the full edit.
Professional editors are expensive, I know. Perhaps prohibitively so. But if you’re serious about your writing then you should at least consider it.
There are various different types of edit available.
The line edit or proofreading is a more technical kind of edit. Here, it’s the grammar, then sentence structure and verb tense that’s concentrated on (your editor of choice should be able to give you a detailed list of exactly what they’re going to look at).
The structural edit looks more at the story itself. The editor will look at the plot as a whole – the structure, the pacing, things they thought did and didn’t work. A good editor will tell you why they thought those things, so that you can better consider how to improve.
Sometimes both of these will be included in the editing package; sometimes you’ll only get one or the other. Be sure to check before agreeing to anything. As for which one to go for – that’s up to you. It depends on what you need, and what you can afford (a complete edit will, of course, be more expensive).
Just remember: you want to get your book as good as it can be before you publish, and editing is a key part of that.
Next time we’ll look at the next stage of self-publishing, including formatting and covers.