The first step on the road to publishing, regardless of whether you traditionally publish or self publish, is to write a great manuscript. Unfortunately, this is the step that many people overlook. They’re so excited to have written something that they immediately begin dreaming about publishing it and making loads of money.
Rather than googling agents and publishers, they should be figuring out what they need to do to make their novel shine! To write a great manuscript takes a lot of hard work!
How to write a great book
I’m going to talk a lot about the craft of writing a great novel in this blog. At a high level, however, the basic steps to write a great novel are:
- Write a first draft. If you’re writing a trilogy or series, note that the first book should stand alone. Seriously, agent, publishers, and READERS hate cliff hangers. It’s one thing to have a large arc that will stretch over the series; it’s another to have a story that is not satisfactorily resolved. Each book needs to be a satisfying story unto itself.
- Get chapter-by-chapter feedback. Not Wattpad feedback. Not feedback from your mom, your teacher, or your friends. Objective feedback from skilled writers. I strongly recommend that you find long-term critique partners. Before that, you might try a site like Critique Circle.
- Evaluate the structure of your manuscript. Do key events happen when they should? Do plot lines and character arcs unfold and resolve as they should? How’s the pacing? Are there too many characters? Are there unresolved storylines? Are there subplots that can be tightened or removed entirely?
- Rewrite based on 2 and 3 above. If necessary, rewrite again. And again.
- Work with beta readers who will read and critique your manuscript as a whole. These are commonly readers in your target audience. Have them note where they got bored, where they skimmed, where they were confused, what they liked, what they didn’t like.
- Rewrite as necessary based on feedback. Yep, again.
- If you’re planning to self publish, consider hiring a professional editor at this stage. Don’t hire a professional editor if you’re planning to traditionally publish.
- Edit and polish. Tighten up the writing. Trim the fat. Cut the unnecessary words. Smooth the flow. Correct the grammar and the spelling.
When the manuscript is technically perfect — when the story is as good as you can make it and the writing flows and is free of grammatical and spelling mistakes — you are ready to move to the next step.
What that step is depends on whether you’ve decided to pursue traditional publishing or self publishing. I’m going to focus mainly on traditional publishing in this blog, because it’s the path I’m following for myself right now.