You’ve written your first draft, but what next?
You’ve had a great idea for a story, you’ve grabbed your notebook and written it down. You’ve even got that story from idea to written book. Well firstly, YAY! Great job!
Sometimes the first draft really can be the hardest part.
But now what? How do you get from the first draft to having a book in your hands?
Well, I’m not going to cover every single step in the self-publishing process in this article. I’m going to focus on the very first, very important next step which is…
It’s tempting to start thinking about illustrations, but at this stage, I would caution against that. You need to get your story rock solid first.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start looking around for an illustrator, booking them in for a later time, or even getting a test illustration done. But just stop there for now, until that story is edited you don’t fully know what illustrations you need!
The first thing I always suggest you do is… NOTHING. Yep, that’s right, nothing at all. Put that draft away, for a few days at least and let it rest. Maybe even take a week before you come back to it. When you do, give it another read-through, with fresh eyes, as though it’s the first time you’re reading the story. Self-edit your first draft before you send it to an editor.
Editing has several stages, with roles that range from refining the story to fixing tiny mistakes and typos before the publication stage. Each of these stages is important for getting a polished final version of your book, so skipping a step would be ill-advised!
To start with you will want to do some developmental editing. This means looking at major structural issues that might be in the book, it looks at the book in an overview from start to finish and works to improve the story. It could include refining the character arc for one who hasn’t changed from the start of the book to the end, thus looking like they’ve been completely unaffected by the events of the story. It could also be a paragraph describing a similar event to one mentioned earlier not being necessary to go over in detail. The balance of the overall plot, writing style, and inconsistencies with language or dialogue style should also be picked up on in this stage.
This type of editing can cause a huge rewrite to the story, or large portions, but don’t let it dishearten you! It’s called a first or rough draft for a reason, it just means that the bones are good and now you’re polishing it!
Next up is your Copy-editing! This is where you start to get into the nitty-gritty of your writing, fixing those sentence structure errors and punctuation mishaps that will cause your reader to stumble as they read. Catching misplaced apostrophes, commas and spelling errors to make the sentences flow together and build your world without fault. Have your character’s changed their hair colour or eye colour between page 1 and page 12? This is something you should be picking up at this stage. If this is all you edit here, you might refer to this as a soft copy-edit. If you decide to start eliminating unnecessary sections from sentences, changing the way you handle numbers, capitalisation and cliches (for example), all of which have less hard-and-fast rules to them, this could be termed in several ways. You may have heard of line-editing, stylistic-editing or hard copy-editing, and that is what this is.
Whether you choose to go for hard or soft copy-editing, the key is consistency and accuracy, and the aim is to create the best book you can for your readers! Reading through line by line with a red pen very precisely will help you here!
Finally, you’ll need to proofread your book! I’m sure this will be a term you’re familiar with, and you may even have thought this is checking for those apostrophes and consistent eye colours mentioned above? Not so much!
Proofreading is the very last look at the very final draft of your manuscript. The last pass for spotting a punctuation error, catching a missing word, typo, or even an unfinished sentence (trust me it can and does happen!). Ultimately though at this stage your proofread should be checking for consistent and appropriate presentation, things like layout and indentation being consistent, rather than the line by line check through of the copy-edit.
This is your last chance to catch these things before you publish your manuscript, a careful proofread should catch any final problems and give you new book that finished shine!
I implore you, don’t skip or skimp on your editing! The best of stories and writers can be taken down by not taking the time to edit with care, it’s the final check before sending your book out into the big world, so arm it with everything you can to help it succeed out there!
Good luck, and happy editing!