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What to do after "the end"

Updated: Jul 2, 2018

Esteemed author and editor, Robin Patchen, provides 5 useful, simple tools to self-edit your manuscript.

Getting a book from your imagination to readers’ hands is a long, arduous process, and it’s one worth traversing slowly and carefully. Ultimately, it’s the readers who decide if you’ve done it well or not. If you plan to ask them to trade their hard-earned money for your book, you’d better make sure that book is the best you can make it.

5 Tips To Help You Edit Your Manuscript

1. Walk Away

Close the document and do something else. For how long? That depends. For me, if I’ve spent, say, two months working on a novel, I’ll probably put it away for a week or two. If I’ve spent six months or a year on it, I’ll put it away for at least a month. Why? Because when you first finish it, you know exactly what you meant to say. Thus, if you reread it immediately, you’ll see what you’d planned for the reader to see. If, however, you step away and distract yourself for a while, then you’ll have a better chance of seeing holes you might have missed or plot threads that remain untied. Time away gives you better perspective.

2. Swap Hats

When some time has passed, take off your writer hat and put on your reader hat. Sit down with the manuscript and read. As you do, ask yourself some questions:

  1. Are my characters well-developed and consistent?

  2. Do my main characters have strong goals, motivations, and conflicts (both internal and external) that carry through the entire story?

  3. Does my plot make sense? Have I included all the plot points I’d aimed for?

  4. Have I tied up all the loose threads?

3. Critiques Are Life

Once you’ve fixed the issues you found in step 2, send the manuscript off to your critique partners. (If you don’t have critique partners, get some. Lots of national writing organizations have critique groups that meet online. This is one of the most important steps in your self-editing process and, if I may suggest, in your writing career.)

4. Review Your Feedback

Evaluate the feedback from your critique partners and edit the manuscript with their thoughts in mind. Be careful. Sometimes, critique partners are wrong. Don’t be afraid to reject a suggestion or ask other writer friends what they think.

5. Read It Again

After you’ve made your changes, read the book again to ensure you haven’t caused new problems with your plot and/or characters. Fix any problems you find.

Closing Thoughts

If, in the process of the above steps, you decide the story is broken and in need of extensive repair, then either dig in to fix it or start over with another story. Sometimes, especially if it was a first or second book, the best option is to take what you’ve learned and start fresh with something new. Those first few unpublished manuscripts aren’t failures but steps every writer must go through to learn and improve.

If, however, once you’ve gone through these steps, you decide the manuscript is strong, then it’s time to decide what to do next. If you’re seeking a traditional publisher and you’re satisfied with the manuscript, then write a proposal and pitch it to agents and editors. If you’re planning to independently publish, then now is the time to employ a professional editor, who will find things neither you nor your excellent critique partners found. (If you indie publish, you’ll need to employ a couple of editors who specialize in different stages of the process. But that is a post for another day)!

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