Oh, that glorious day when you finish your manuscript. You close your laptop, pop a bottle of something bubbly, and imagine your name on the bestseller list. You’re finally done.
Erm… I hate to break it to you, but the day you type “the end” is not the end of your journey, not by far. I mean, go ahead and pop the bubbly. You finished a freaking novel, after all. You deserve to celebrate. Sticking with a book-length manuscript all the way to the end is hard work, and I congratulate you.
But your work is not over.
What are the next steps after you finish your manuscript? Well, here’s what you should not do. Please, please, please do NOT immediately start querying agents with your freshly-finished book. That’s a mistake I made, and it’s a big one, and you can read all about my embarrassing stupidity here.
Instead, after you’ve properly celebrated, follow these next steps:
#1 Let the manuscript rest.
As much as you might want to jump right into a revision (or send the manuscript off to potential agents – no!), you need to walk away. If it’s a short story, let it rest for a week or more. If it’s a novel, don’t look at it for a couple of months at least.
Often, by the time I type “the end,” I hate my manuscript so much I never want to see it again anyway. Other times, I’m so in love with what I’ve written, I’m blind to what’s not working. Whatever the case, immediately after you finish your manuscript, you’re too close to be able to assess it properly. You’re not going to see its faults, or if you do, you’re not going to know how to fix them. Plus, there are sure to be many darlings in your newly-written novel that will need to be killed, but chances are you don’t have the heart to delete them yet.
Come back to the manuscript in a few months and look at it with a fresh pair of eyes. You won’t feel as attached to it (or repulsed by it), and you’ll see it in a more objective way. You’ll be able to give it a much better revision.
So what do you do while you’re letting your novel rest? See steps 2 though 5!
#2 Start on a new writing project
I know this might sound crazy. You just spent months/years writing a novel, and now I’m telling you to write another one?
Not necessarily. Write a short story or a poem or a blog post. Start research on a new novel you want to write. Write in your journal or do writing exercises. (I suggest the ones in Ursula K. LeGuin’s book Steering the Craft).
Or, yes, maybe start a new novel. Because, chances are, you learned something writing this newly-finished novel, and now you can put what you learned into practice. Maybe you’ll write something even better this time. In fact, there may have been a new idea nagging you while you were trying to finish your book, and now you can give it the attention it deserves. But, before you jump into writing a new novel, might I suggest brainstorming first?
#3 Start researching the publishing industry
Maybe you already have an agent you love. Maybe you have already self-published a book(or published with an indie publisher) and you’re happy with the results. Yay for you.
For everyone else, now is a great time to do some research on how this book you’ve written can eventually get published.
If you’re interested in traditional publishing, you’ll need to find a literary agent, and now’s a good time to start figuring out who you’ll eventually query. Get on Twitter and search #querytip and #MSWL. Start following agents, editors, authors, and other writing-type people (like me!) Explore the Manuscript Wishlist site and other agency websites. Start making a list of potential agents (but don’t query them yet!)
If you’re interested in non-traditional-publishing, check out what Jane Friedman has to say about self-publishing. Or, research small, independent publishers that accept manuscripts directly (no agent required).
#4 Read other books like yours
Ideally, you should read books that have come out in the last five years so you can be knowledgeable about what’s currently being published in your genre. This will also help you find potential comp titles so that when you finally do query an agent, you can mention that your book is similar to certain other titles.
And here’s a thought. If you really like a book, write a glowing review of it. Maybe-just-maybe that author will return the favor some day and write a nice blurb for your book.
#5 Find a workshop group and/or beta readers
If you haven’t done this already, find other writers, either online or in person, to give you feedback (in exchange for feedback on their writing). You can often find critique groups at your local writer’s center or library, as well as online through writer websites and facebook groups. Going to a writing conference, class, or seminar can also be a great way to meet potential critique partners.
Writing for kids or teens? SCBWI (The Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) can match you with a critique group or partner, and the facebook group KidLit411 Manuscript Swap helps writers find beta readers for their manuscripts. (You’ll just need to ask to join the group first.)
You can also take the next step and hire a paid manuscript consultant to give you feedback on your draft. You tend to get more (and perhaps more useful) feedback when you pay for it. I do manuscript consulting for YA, Middle Grade, and the occasional adult book, or you can find someone through the Editorial Freelancers Association website.
#6 Start building your online presence.
While you’re letting your novel rest, take the time to build up your online presence. This could be something little like starting a Twitter account, or something big like starting a blog or website. Join some writer facebook groups (there are groups for YA writers, Sci-Fi writers, Romance writers, etc.), and check out what other writers are doing and saying online. For example, Kristin Kieffer of the Well Storied website and podcast holds a Twitter conversation for writers called #StorySocial every Wednesday night. Check it out and join in!
#7 Start a revision
Finally! It’s been a few months (at least), you’ve gotten some feedback, and now you’re ready to revisit your manuscript and do a big picture revision. (After that, you’ll do the nitty-gritty line-editing. Or maybe you’ll let the second draft rest before doing a third revision!) Remember, you want your manuscript to be as good as it’s going to get before you send it to agents. Check out my guide to how to begin the revision process with a simple set of reflection questions.
Revising can sometimes be just as hard as writing the manuscript. Don’t give up. You can do this. And I can’t wait to read your book when you do!
Have you finished writing a novel recently? Are you about to finish your manuscript? What next steps will you take? Let me know in the comments!
This is good stuff–and runs counter to what Hollywood tells us what writing looks like. Thanks for sharing.
Rick Adelmann says
It looks like I’ve made the same mistake as you. I started sending out my query letters to every agent who likes mysteries. The end result was feeling like I was a terrible writer and would never be published.
I joined a critiquing group to get help and found that I wasn’t that bad. I got my self-esteem back in order and got busy setting up a platform. I set up a blog with all the short stories I’ve been writing. Finished two more novels for the series, and now waiting for the right time, agent, and a near-finished revision before sending out the queries again.
Sounds like you’re doing it the right way now. Keep me updated!
This is awesome! Thank you. I literally finished my first draft yesterday and feel at a loss today with what to do with myself.
I’ll pop it in a draw and let inspiration carry me to the next idea… 🙂
Congrats on finishing a draft!
Gary L Orleck says
I have a 50K word finished manuscript edited by a professional for $20K . Also I paid for a line edit and a professional query letter -$1,000 . It took 5 years to write the manuscript and one year to finish the rest . I had the opportunity to travel with the son of the richest man in the world at the time . In 1967 over 12 weeks we drove 20K and forms a bond of friendship unbroken over a lifetime . You experience things that most people can only dream about , as we meet the elite of London society including the man who was responsible for EVERY successful musician that came out of the London Music sense including the likes of The Who , Elton John and even the Beatles . We sleep upon the only street in the world with no name in the house with no number and meet his sister a force of nature in London . Learn how he turn a ship around in the middle of the ocean because we arrived late to the port . how he got us to dine with Kings and Queens , while he explain the inner works of the Iranian government as he grew up 4 doors from the Shah of Iran and his Jewish father was the Economic Minister of Iran so we see the corruption along with in site of why the Shah regime was doomed to failure . We have a $100,000 dress made of Emeralds for Soraya The Royal Princess of Iran sent to my mom , we visit Paris during the student riots which causes marshal law to be declared , we get rescued by Shirly Temple Black the Jr. ambassador at the time of the invasion of Checkeslovokia after we were arrested and handcuffed at the border . We have high tea with Princess Soraya and dine and gamble with her and the Shah of Iran . We see The South of France thru the eyes of my companion visiting exotic and exciting places no one ever heard of .
Even as I learned of the wealth of his family I am unable to process the extent of their wealth and world wide reach like owning The Israeli Diamond Exchange , The Swiss Israeli National bank along with one percent of every major city in America. We meet his uncle who is committing his personal fortune of about 8 billion $ to build his own city in Israel to move the entire Jewish population from Tehran to Israel . Just how close he came and the one reason it did not happen is included ! Also included is his execution along the with a copy of the trumped up charges by a kangaroo court of the Revolutionary Guards and why he was chosen . Maurice my companion and soon to be brother is an Enigma of a character who charms ever one he meets , is the center of attraction in any room he enters while showing us the life of the Rich and Famous . How a nobody from R.I. met and was requested to travel with this fabulous wealthy man of class character and elegance is include along with them growing from boys to men during this true but extortionary trip.
Please believe me because I did not do this for fame or fortune but only because its a story that should be told . I have a story second to none , I have the proof its all true . But I have no agent and I have no plan to navigate what I call is a minefield called the publishing industry !
As one human bein to another can you help me or at least point me to someone I can trust to help me .
IN ADVANCE THANK YOU FOR LISTENING
P.S. Did you know 9 studio’s turned down Jaws the movie while stating who would want to see people eaten by a shark ? However it made Universal Studio the powerhouse it is today !
That Walt Disney was refused a loan by a bank which he later bought and replaced the management .
It sounds like you have a completely fascinating story! What about the person you paid to critique your query letter? I feel like, for that price, they should give you some suggestions about how to research agents. Have you checked out the Manuscript Wishlist website? Your next step should be to research agents then query those that seem like they might be a good fit for you and your manuscript. Or you can always self-publish. Good luck!!
Denise Hrivnak says
Hi Eva! This is so helpful! Do you have any opinion on using Bookbaby.com for line editing? I am doing as much research as possible before pulling the trigger. Thank you in advance!
Hi Denise! I don’t know much about Bookbaby. But good luck!! Tell us more about your book — are you self-publishing?
Thank you for this!! I finally finished and had no idea what to do next!
Congrats to you for finishing! That in itself is a huge acheivement. Have you considered entering Author Mentor Match? Check it out — the application deadline is coming up soon, I think!
I appreciate that!! I will take a look at it.
Larry H. Johnson says
I have been working on my manuscript for over 30 years; I have finished it many times. It began as a poem which sat in my file for many years until I used it as a base for a short story. Several years later I wrote several other short stories relating to the same circumstances. These were in turn transformed into a novel. One character, Lydia, was brought in as a victim. Her character was too strong to be kept in check. She became the leading character full of strength to help out the other characters. In short, a story about a young man and PTSD was transformed into a story about a young girl and her struggles to return home. Step away and then rework the piece; you never know where the words you write will take you. It is almost finished, again.
I love this! “It’s almost finished, again.” So true! Thanks for sharing!
Robert Stocks says
Very useful and helpful information. Gotta start somewhere with revisions. Robert stocks
Thanks! And good luck with your revisions.