Today I’m excited to begin a new mini-series of posts exploring the traditional publishing process! I’ve written a lot about traditional publishing and querying, but I haven’t really provided an overview and explained the process from beginning to end. So, in this series of posts, I’ll try to break down each step for those of you who may not be familiar with the specifics. I’ll also link to some of my related posts for further reading on these topics.
Keep in mind that all of this is based solely on my own experience. As both an author and an editor, I’ve had the opportunity to see the process from both sides, but it can vary wildly from house to house, editor to editor, and book to book. Therefore, you should consider this representative of my experiences, but not necessarily everyone’s.
With that in mind, let’s look at the first step in the process: writing and revision!
Surprise, right? It turns out that the first step in publishing a book is writing one. And if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that writing a book is easier said than done. But there’s no magic shortcut here; there’s no way to avoid all of the work required to write the book. (In fact, you should probably be writing right now instead of reading this post.)
But assuming you know all of that and are prepared for the work ahead of you, where do you begin? If you want to write a book, how do you start?
Here are my suggestions for beginning the writing process:
It’s so important to read as much as you can, both so that you can learn craft from other writers and familiarize yourself with the market. Read broadly, so that you know what’s out there. Read specifically in the category or genre you plan to write in and familiarize yourself with it. Become an expert on what’s being published this year. Read the books that everyone’s talking about, and the ones that no one’s talking about. Visit your library so often that the librarians know your name. Read.
- Get inspired
If you’re like me, all that reading will probably give you plenty of inspiration for your writing. But if you find yourself stuck for ideas on what to write next, it’s time to find out what else inspires you. I’ve written a post about finding inspiration here.
Once you know what your book is about, start doing the research. What do you need to know about your setting? Maybe you need to study medieval castles or sixteenth-century China or icecaps in Antarctica. Or how about your plot? If you know it will involve fight scenes, for example, you might need to research weaponry or martial arts. And don’t forget about your characters—what are their hobbies and interests and areas of expertise? If your character is an expert in something, you need to be, too. You’ll also need to do the research about experiences or identities your character has that you don’t; these are the most important details to get right.
But do be careful about doing too much research. It can be a really great way to procrastinate and never actually write your book. At a certain point, you have to set the research aside and start drafting. Remember that you can always come back to the research later.
- Study craft
If you’ve been reading my writing craft posts, then you’re already doing this! And I’ve found that reading other author’s blogs can be a great way to learn more about writing craft. There are also tons of great craft books to try. Studying writing craft is something you should be doing constantly, throughout the process, and it’s not something that ever stops once you’ve written one book. There’s always more to learn.
This is the part where everyone’s process is going to be completely different. Some writers outline first; some don’t. Some like to edit the draft as they go; some don’t. Some write only at night; some write first thing in the morning. Some write longhand, some use MS Word, some have programs like Scrivener. There are no right or wrong answers here. What’s important is that you find the method that helps you get the words on the page, then sit down and write.
Again, I can’t tell you exactly how to do this, since every writer (and every book) is different. What’s most important is that you’re aware that your book will need to be revised over and over again before it’s ready for publication. Please, please don’t submit your first drafts to agents or editors. No matter how good your first draft is, it can always be improved. And if you aren’t sure how to improve it? That leads me to the next step…
- Find critique partners
At some point in the process, you’ll probably want to find critique partners or a critique group to work with. Some writers prefer to have a critique group as they write, to provide support and encouragement. Others like to bring in critique partners after they’ve finished a draft. And some don’t work with them at all. Personally, I’ve found my critique partners to be an invaluable resource, and I can’t imagine writing a book without them. I generally recommend that writers try working with critique partners if they haven’t before, as it could be incredibly beneficial. But, as always, do what works for you.
- Let it sit, and revise again
After each round of revision, take a break from your book. Read, or do more research, or study craft, or work on something else, but don’t look at your manuscript. Then, when you’re ready to return to it, you’ll be able to see it with fresh eyes and find issues you didn’t notice before.
- Find beta readers
After you’ve worked on your book for awhile, both you and your critique group are probably sick of it. Which means it’s time to bring in fresh perspectives. Seek out beta readers who are familiar with your genre and get their feedback. You may also want to get beta readers who are familiar with some of the subject matter in the book in order to consult them and make sure it’s portrayed accurately. For more about what to ask your beta readers, see this post.
- Revise, revise, revise
Take all the feedback you’ve received and revise again. Let it sit. Revise again. Repeat.
As for how long you should continue revising, it really depends on the book. Check out this post for more discussion on whether a manuscript is “ready” or not.
Also, if you’re feeling stuck with revisions, you may want to consider hiring a freelance editor at some point. Obviously I’m biased, because I offer freelance editing services, but I think some writers can really benefit from the additional guidance before they start querying. It’s certainly not a requirement, but it is an option worth considering.
Phew! If all of that hasn’t scared you off yet, then stay tuned for the next post in this series, where I’ll talk about querying!
What do you think? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments!