When you’re in the midst of writing a novel, it can frequently seem like you’re never going to make your way out of the weeds. How long do you spend on editing? When do you start? When should beta readers come into the picture? Taking those questions into consideration, I’ve drawn up a blueprint below of ten writing stages from the moment you first begin scribbling your novel to that final successful flush when you either submit to agents/publishers or publish the book yourself. Hopefully, if you’re unclear about the process or just feel like you’re missing a step, this post will help you navigate this long and winding road.
(1) Draft. Write like the wind. While there are no set rules in the writing craft, many writers hold that the most effective way to complete a novel is to blaze through the first draft and then go back and work through revisions once you have a more clear idea of what you’re trying to say. There may be times when you’re forced to go back and rework plot quirks or unexpected twists, but the goal right now is to get the bones of your novel down on paper.
(2) Rest. Once the first draft is done, give yourself some time away from the book. Some people take two days; some take two years. During that time, don’t obsess. Don’t even think about it for a while—trust me, your subconscious will still be working through all the twists and tangles you were consciously agonizing over during the drafting process.
(3) Solo Revision. Clean up your completed draft. Address any glaring plot holes. Let yourself sit with the novel for a while.
(4) Beta Read. Once you’ve finished your solo revision and before bringing in an editor, ask two or three trusted beta readers for their input. Let them know specifically what you’re looking for feedback on, whether it be pacing, plot, character development, dialogue, writing style, or all of the above. For more on how to effectively utilize beta readers, I’ll be doing a post this Wednesday on the successful beta relationship.
(5) Beta Revision. Armed with the feedback from your betas, it’s time to tackle another rewrite. During this particular revision, don’t obsess about making things perfect. If you find yourself stumped about how to address an issue your betas raised, relax. Do the best you can, being sure to make note of the challenges you’re facing and any concerns you have. Then, once the beta revision is completed, it’s time to bring in your second wave of defense.
(6) Professional Edit. Assuming you’ve followed the steps I outlined in my last Q&A on The Creative Penn, How to Find the Right Editor for You, you hopefully already have an editor in place. If not, no need to panic. Just go back, read that post, and start there. Then, send the completed manuscript, any questions or concerns you have, and whatever other materials your editor requests, to them. Wait. Take a breath. Don’t harass your editor. For heaven’s sake, don’t start rewriting the novel on your own. Chill out or, better yet, start working on the next book!
(7) Final Rewrite. When you get your manuscript back from the editor, it’s bound to come with a lot of red ink. Some of the suggested changes may be cosmetic. Often, however, if you’ve hired a content editor, the changes may require a comprehensive, structural rewrite. Don’t panic. A good editor should not only tell you what isn’t working in your book, but can help you come up with a plan to address the issues and make any necessary changes. If you find yourself stumped, talk to your editor and beta readers. This is why it’s important to purchase an editing package that includes consultations and revisions—it does you little good to have a comprehensive edit done and then be left hanging when it comes time to rewrite.
(8) Final Professional Edit. Assuming you’ve hired an editor who will do another pass of your manuscript after you’ve made changes, now is the time to send the completed manuscript back. Get back to work on that next book while you wait.
(9) Final Revisions. There may be one or more rewrites between your first and final professional edit, depending on how extensive your editor’s suggestions were. When you get the manuscript back after that final edit, however, there shouldn’t be a lot of red ink. Address what is there, eyeball the manuscript one more time, and pour yourself a glass of wine. You’re almost done.
(10)Proofread. The proofreader should be the last person to look at your novel. Some editors also offer proofreading services (we do here at Adian Editing), while some do not. Either way, proofreaders are crucial to the process. Make sure that you bring the proofreader in after you’ve made your last revisions. Once you have the proofread novel back, you are officially ready to enter the next phase: Publishing.
And that, my friends, is everything your typical novelist goes through from conception to publication — and that doesn’t even take into account the multitude of revisions and redrafts you’re likely to do on your own, in between betas and editors and proofreaders. Whoever said this writing business is easy was clearly fooling himself!