Writing a book is one thing, editing another, and publishing yet another thing entirely. Throughout roughly the past ten years of my life, during which I’ve considered writing my career (monetary input notwithstanding), I’ve gathered some information and experience that may be helpful to other writers. Here are answers to some common questions about what comes next after you complete that first draft, and how to get it ready to share with the rest of the world.
What do I do after finishing my first draft?
Edit, edit, edit. Preferably after you’ve given your manuscript some time to breathe, a couple of months, maybe longer—it really depends on what works for you. When you’re ready to dive back in, make sure you take the time to look at your story from a macro level—Are my characters consistent? Does the plot flow organically? Are there any continuity problems? Is this really the best POV for the story? Is my voice consistent?, and a micro-level—meaning sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, consistency in naming conventions, etc.
Edit the whole damn thing, then edit it again. Join a critique group. If you don’t know where to find one, try Meetup.com, night classes at a local college, your local bookstore, or online. Take the good feedback, leave the rest.
Edit it again.
Think you’re done?
One more time.
And it won’t be your last. If you’re serious enough to seek a publisher, you’ll be editing the manuscript a few more times with them. If you’re self-publishing, seriously consider hiring an editor (if you’re looking for an editor, try upwork.com) before you publish, no matter how good you think you are. If you’re really experienced and have workshopped your full novel with other eagle-eyed, experienced writers, then perhaps you don’t need an editor before attempting to publish, but it (usually) never hurts.
How do I publish?
There are dozens of articles out there on how to get your book published, and what works for you will depend on a number of factors such as who your audience is and what you want and expect out of having your book published. Are you in it for the money? For fame? If so, you’re in the wrong industry, my friend. Yes, big successes do happen, but they are few and far between. Are you in it because you love writing, love your story, and want to share it with other people? Good. Keep reading.
I’ll tell you a little about how my process works once I’ve edited my book to death and finally deem it ready to be put out into the world. First, I gather a list of agents I think may be interested in representing the book. There are various agent databases out there—I find the Poets and Writers Literary Agents database to be one of the most current and informative. Then I write a query letter. I send that letter off to the most fancy-pants agents likely to reject me first, then move down the list. My list also includes small presses—for Saint Fox and The Independence, my first novel, my query letter received a few requests from agents for the full manuscript, and ultimately ended up being accepted by Unsolicited Press, a Portland-based small press whose motto is “No Bullshit. Just Books,” and who I had a great experience working with.
How do I write a query letter?
Read other query letters in your genre. Subject yourself to the pain and beauty of the Query Shark blog. Post your query on agentqueryconnect.com for feedback and critique from other querying authors.
How long should my book be?
As with most things, there’s some debate on this. So far the novel-length works I’ve written have been sci-fi, and I’ve previously read that you don’t want your sci-fi novel to be less than 80K, though recently I’ve come across articles saying that shorter works in the range of 60-70K are now in vogue as our media-inundated attention spans shrink. My first longer work, Subterran, was a novella at 57K—too short for agents to look at. Do some research on word counts for your desired genre—YA and middle grade, for instance, will have shorter word count expectations, while epic fantasy will naturally be longer.
Do I need an editor?
If you want your book to be good, then yes.
Do I need an agent?
Again, it really depends on what you want out of it. I always encourage shooting for the moon, but it is a notoriously tough industry, and a lot of time and energy can be spent on something which may never come to fruition. Know your worth, take stock of how long you’ve been writing and how much you’ve improved over the years, listen to your teachers who should be able to tell you honestly if your current work has a shot or not. Guess what? If this book doesn’t hit, it was a learning experience. The next one may be the one that takes off, but be aware that you will put more time into it than what you might expect to get out of it. Understand it’s the long haul, learn to appreciate the process, and leave room in your self-development for your expectations to change.
While self-publishing has its pros and cons, which have been talked about at length all over the internet, it is easy enough for anyone to do, and, if you’re good at marketing, you just might make a bigger splash on your own than if you go the traditional route, which, word on the street is, ain’t what it used to be. If an agent sells your book to a publishing house, yes, they’ll put together a marketing campaign for you, they can help you make a beautiful book, but many have full client rosters already, and the new clients they take on are a microscopic slice of a statistical pie. If you know your audience, you might just want to try going it on your own, at least for the first book. Hire an editor, an illustrator, a graphic designer, a computer assistant if you’re not too computer-savvy. I was lucky enough to have a small press behind me for my first go-around, but you can essentially build your own press, and sometimes for less money than you’d expect. I’ll say it again—it depends on what you want out of it.
Where do I find a publisher?
Your agent finds a publisher. If you’re submitting to small presses, you don’t necessarily need an agent. Whatever you do, don’t go to vanity publishers—these are places like iUniverse that charge you high amounts to do something you can do yourself and will publish any book as long as you pay them. Do your research. Read reviews on agents and publishers—agentquery.com is a good resource both for finding agents and looking up experiences and statistics from others who have submitted to those agents. Talk to other writers.
As always, be open to possibilities, to connecting with others, to learning. Though it may seem intimidating, there are more options out there for publishing than ever before, just be realistic, and be grateful for any opportunities that may come.
Best of luck,
CORIN REYBURN is from Northern then Southern California, and now finds themselves in Corvallis, Oregon where there are better trees. Corin enjoys transmuting cosmic energy, cats more than people, and the use of unconventional instruments in rock n’ roll music. Corin holds a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Critique and is now working on an MFA in fiction, both via Oregon State University, where they also teach writing composition. Reyburn has work featured in Medium, M-BRANE SF, Subtopian Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Jersey Devil Press, and The Gateway Review, and co-produces the speculative fiction podcast SubverCity Transmit. Corin’s debut novel The Rise of Saint Fox and The Independence, about passive warfare by means of digital commerce infiltration and the sweet sweet sounds of the electric guitar, was released by Unsolicited Press, and is available through Amazon and other retailers.