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!