So You Think Your Story Is So Great
You have a finished first draft. What comes next? Look to spend more time now than you did writing. You are a fool if you think you are one and done and can publish this pile of words on paper. It is a rare first draft that is publishable as is. Going traditional? Not ready. Self-publishing? Still, not ready. Not even close. Self-publishing has a strong reputation of being poorly written and barely edited. You want to put your best work out there. You need to make sure you improve with everything you do. Work hard. Write hard. Don’t settle for okay. Everyone else can do okay in their sleep. You need to be extraordinary.
So, you’ve made it to the end of your draft. It’s your first draft. You know it’s crap. Unless you have the skills of, say, a Stephen King or a Patrick Rothfuss, you only have a crappy first draft. What is next? Edit. You have to edit. There is no perfect first draft – or it isn’t the first. A perfect second? Maybe. A perfect third? Possibly, but near impossible without editing. A manuscript is not a one person job. You have super skills if you can write and edit your own work and have it come out acceptable by the general public. Let’s not even address the issues well-read readers would have with an unedited story.
You will have at minimum three drafts before your story will be good enough for someone else look at it. You don’t have an editor or beta reader? Get one. Or two. Or whatever number works for you. The more the better but too many will be just as detrimental as none at all. The purpose of the editor is to make your story better and catch anything that slipped past your eye of scrutiny. An editor is not there to write the story for you. An editor will likely read several drafts before you publish, so make it worth this person’s time. Don’t just keep handing them crap; it’ll burn them out faster than a Colorado grass fire during a draught. Some writers go for the whole boat, others give out story in sections or chapters at a time. This is another call you have to make for yourself. If this is the beginning of a writer-reader-editor relationship, it will take time to get that groove, where all parties work in harmony to make this manuscript better.
Time is a valuable commodity. Factor in the time you spent writing, editing, re-writing, and so on. Your editors and readers will spend time as well. This is all time you don’t get back. Use it wisely. Have a deadline? Don’t slough off for weeks and then cram in an edit the night before it’s due. Your work will show the lack of care it needed and will again alienate your help. These people are here to help you. If they are paid, you want to make sure to get every penny’s worth of what services they offer. Some of your best readers will be the ones who do it for free. Unfortunately, you need someone with a keener eye than your buddy from the library who thinks everything he or she reads is the Great American Novel.
Having trouble finding an editor or beta reader? In today’s world of instantaneous contact and online communities, you can find almost anything you need. Build a network of people who are willing to help and who need your help. Another writer might be breaking out at the same time. He or she might be looking for a beta reader as well. Trade stories. Another set of eyes never hurts. Utilize writing communities. Use Twitter, Facebook, Google+, etc. Social media is a great outlet for this type of thing. Be wary; too pushy and you can again burn out your audience. Moderation is necessary as well as not everything is as golden as it appears. Tred carefully but strongly. References are very important. Don’t be a victim.
Back to the draft. Count on completing at least as many drafts after you pass it out as you did before. Think it’s done? Sit on it for a week, a month. If you have a deadline, put it away until a week before it’s due. Work on something else. Read (yes, writers still need to read.) Get out and meet people. Crawl out of the stinky dungeon of a basement you call your office. The sunlight will do you good. The refreshing change of scenery will help preserve your sanity. After living a somewhat normal life again, go back through your story. You will be amazed at how much you have forgotten, maybe to the extent of forgetting you wrote any of it. Go back and edit again. Put it back out one last time. Is it done yet? I doubt it, but this is better by leagues than your first draft. And your second.
If you feel really good, really ready to publish, send it out to someone else. This needs to be someone who has not read your story. You want another opinion, one you trust. This person liked it – why? Didn’t like it – why? As with any editor or reader, you want this person’s opinion. What is working in this story? What is not working? Liking or not liking a story is not good enough. Criticism is only helpful with details to back it up.
Done? Almost. Go back through it one more time. Line by line, word by word. Would you buy this story? Think like a reader. If you can’t sell it, you have wasted your time. If you are truly ready, then publish it. Where to publish? That’s another tale for another time….