Finished Writing a Novel? Here Are the Next Steps

You’ve finished one of the biggest and most challenging projects of all time: You’ve written a novel! This is a massive accomplishment, and once you’ve taken a deep breath and reveled in the moment, it’s time to take the next essential steps.

Before diving into the long and complicated process of getting it publishing, keep in mind that it will require patience and perseverance. Novelists who get picked up immediately by a publishing house and make thousands the same year are all but one in a million.

Try not to get discouraged. Focus on making your book the best it can be, then follow these steps when you’re ready to see your hard work come to print.

Edit and Rewrite

After you’ve completed the first draft or maybe even the first three drafts, it’s tempting to start seeking to publish immediately. But your book may not be ready for readers just yet.

A good novel, of the type you find on the bestseller table at Barnes and Noble, has been through dozens of editors and even more drafts. “Make no mistake: The art of writing is in rewriting,” says Steven Gils, novelist and blogger.

Work steadily on your story, with an initial focus on the larger issues, especially plot. Are there holes that need to be filled? Does your ending deliver the message effectively, but not too obviously?

Are all your principal characters interesting and complex? Is the imagery gripping enough to keep your readers’ attention?

“…You must … apply yourself to the rewrite. Write and rewrite,” Gils says. “You will discover while doing so things you did not imagine about your work when you first sat down to create your initial vision…. When you master the process, you will know. Trust the process. Trust your instincts and your guts.”

Once you’re satisfied with the main shifts of the plot, then you can focus on the smaller but essential details: sentence structure and grammar. This may seem less important than developing an original storyline and compelling characters, but it’s something publishers expect to see, or they won’t stick with the manuscript long enough to appreciate the rest of it.

Consider Self-Publishing

At some point during your editing and rewriting process, you’ll probably develop the conviction that your work is ready for the world. Self-publishing could be a great option for you, though historically it has suffered a poor reputation.

Self-publishing does not necessarily mean you’ve given up or settled on a lesser option. True, most self-published volumes don’t receive the same level of attention or marketing support as more traditional approaches to publication.

But you can still make it as a novelist if you decide to self publish. According to blogger and author Anne R. Allen, self-published books may be your key to launching your own trend.

“All [self-publishing] means is you’ve discovered your work isn’t part of the predicted trend curve at the moment and may not be what corporate marketers think is the hot item for next season,” Allen says. “This is the point at which people like Amanda Hocking, Saffina Desforges, and John Locke jumped into self-publishing. And look where they landed.”

Allen also says that self-published books make great deliverables when you go to talk to publishers. A professionally-bound book you can present to a publisher can make a solid impression on them. Today, an e-book is another potential option.

Marketing becomes an even more critical facet of the process when you go the route of self-publishing. You’ll be personally responsible for spreading the word about your work, building a following, and generating sales.

If you don’t have a knack for that, you might want to hire a marketer to handle the promotion.

Draft Query Letters

Whether you’ve self-published your book or it’s still in manuscript form, drafting query letters is a critical task for getting published. Ms. Allen believes it’s the best way to understand the world of publishing.

A query letter is basically an introduction to your book. It’s a standard tool in the business with which the writer presents a compelling description of his or her book which entices editors to read more.

“In essence, a query letter is a marketing page that talks up your book, without overselling it,” according to a blog post from the New York Book Editors. “You must walk a very fine line between selling your manuscript without coming across like the parent who knows his kid is the best player on the bench.”

This can be a tall order, but you’re a writer, after all. If there was ever a time for you to let your talent with words shine, this is it!

Writing a complete novel is a huge accomplishment! You should be proud of yourself, no matter what the outcome of your efforts to publish it.