Writing Your Book, part IX: You’re Finished! Now Get to Work!

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The last several installments of the “Writing Your Book” series have dealt with issues related to the end of your novel.  We’ve discussed the end game, the climactic scenes, and the closing pages that come after.  Now, we’re going to move beyond that, and talk a bit about what you should consider doing once you finish that first draft.

First of all, congratulations!  You’ve finished your novel.  That’s terrific.  Seriously.  I know I’m prone to snark, but this is sincere.  There is no downplaying this accomplishment.  Writing novels is hard.  Here at MW we write a lot of posts about the pitfalls and difficulties of completing a novel.  The fact that you’ve done so, or are about to, is no small thing.  Faith has said before (paraphrasing here) that it’s fine to say that you write, but you don’t get to call yourself a writer until you finish something.  I agree.  You’ve done that now, or will very soon.  Excellent.

But finishing the first draft of your novel is merely a single step in a long and difficult process.  An important step, yes.  But there remains plenty for you to do.  Let’s do this in list form.

1.  The first thing you should do is take a day or two off.  Again, I say this in all seriousness.  Whenever I finish a novel I give myself a couple of play days.  I’ll go for hikes with my photo gear, or I’ll start reading that book I’ve had on my night table for the past six weeks, or I’ll just laze around.  If you write in your spare time and can’t afford a day off from the real job, at least give yourself a treat in what would otherwise be writing time.  The important thing is to acknowledge the accomplishment.  We writers beat ourselves up when we don’t get the work done; we should reward ourselves when we do.

2.  The other thing you should do immediately is put the book away.  I mean this in a figurative sense, since the book is probably on your computer.  (Oh!  FIRST thing to do:  Back it up!!!  Put it on another hard drive, a thumb drive, a disk, print out a hard copy.  Not one of these; all of them.  Seriously, back it up.)  But you want to get some distance from the book.  You want to think about other things — work, life, love, other writing projects — and clear your head.  Eventually you’re going to read through it again, and again, and possibly again, but not yet.  Give yourself AT LEAST two weeks.  Four would be better.  Six would be ideal.  You want to be able to read it fresh, and you simply can’t do that if you start your read-through the day after you finish.

3.   Start to line up beta readers.  Ask people you trust if they would be willing to read it for you.  When I say people you trust, I mean a couple of things.  You don’t want them to be so brutal with their criticisms that they leave you a useless, quivering lump of insecurity, but you also don’t want them to be so concerned with sparing your feelings that they hold back.  You have to trust them to be sensitive, but honest, tactful but thorough.  When you find the right people, and they agree to read the thing, tell them the book is coming, that they probably won’t see it for a month or six weeks, but that they’ll have it eventually.  Give them some sense of the length, so that they’re not shocked when it arrives.

4.  Start researching markets.  Read in subgenres, figure out where the book you’ve just written fits in, so that when you’re ready to start shopping it around you know how to pitch it.

5.  Start working on your pitch.  Yes, you’re going to revise your book, but you know what it’s about, you’re learning where it belongs in the market.  It’s never too early to start working on your presentation.  You should be able to say in a single scintillating sentence what the book is about.  The one line pitch for my newly completed book, Thieftaker?  “It’s Harry Dresden meets Samuel Adams.” Or, “It’s Harry Dresden set in pre-Revolutionary Boston.”  Or, “It’s a historical fantasy, with mystery elements, set in Colonial Boston.”  The Harry Dresden versions are for industry insiders — agents and editors — who are familiar with Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden series and, more to the point, Jim Butcher’s sales figures.  The third is the cocktail party version, for people who might want to buy the book once it’s in print.  You should also start working on your two minute pitch, for when someone hears the one sentence pitch and says, “Sounds interesting.  Tell me more.”  This second, longer pitch should NOT be a recitation of the major plot points.  You can’t possibly do the book justice that way, and chances are your listener won’t be able to keep the plot points straight.  Rather, it should fill in a bit more about why the book is worth buying and reading.

“The book is called Thieftaker, and basically it’s a murder mystery set against the backdrop of the Stamp Act riots in 1765 Boston.  My main character is the eighteenth century equivalent of a private detective, but with magical abilities, and as he investigates the murder he comes into contact with historical figures, including Samuel Adams, James Otis, Thomas Hutchinson, and Ebenezer MacKintosh.  It’s the first book of a series, but each volume stands alone as a mystery.”

There is much more I could say about working on your pitch, but Faith has covered this before (see the link above) and will again, I’m sure.  This, at least, is a starting point.

6.  Start writing something else.  I know, I told you to take time off.  And I meant it.  But then you have to move on.  You finished your novel; you’re a writer now.  Writers write.  You can start working on the next novel in your series or story arc.  I often do.  But you will be making changes to the manuscript you just finished, and those changes might have some impact on the next book.  So you should think about writing something completely unrelated.  Write a short story.  Start a new novel.  You’re using the time off to clear your mind and create some distance between yourself and your completed novel.  Writing other stuff is a great way to do that.

6a.  Sometimes, after finishing a novel, I simply can’t bring myself to write anything else.  I don’t like to cater to this impulse, but occasionally I have no choice.  In fact, when I finished Thieftaker, I had just recently written Robin Hood, rewritten my urban fantasy, and completed a couple of short stories.  I was on the edge of burnout, and so instead of taking off a few days, I took a break of several weeks.  If when you finish your book, writing is out of the question right away, do other things that will let you feel productive — jump into the market research and pitch work I mentioned earlier, work on your web site (that’s what I did), do some research or worldbuilding or background reading for another project.  The important thing is to get that distance from your book, but keep yourself in a creative mindset.

7.  Did I mention that you should make sure the completed novel is backed up . . . ?

I’ll go into greater detail about the read-through in my next “Writing Your Book” installment.  In the meantime, let’s discuss the items on this list.

David B. Coe
http://DavidBCoe.livejournal.com
http://www.DavidBCoe.com
http://magicalwords.net
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36 comments to Writing Your Book, part IX: You’re Finished! Now Get to Work!

  • Mikaela

    Oh, I know I can finish things. My problem is that I don’t trust myself to do the right changes when I edit. sigh. So, I guess I need someone to beta read it, but my problem is that I cannot find anyone. Urgh. Which in turn make me more insecure. Yes, it is a negative circle, and I need to break it.

  • BACK UP THOSE FILES!!!!!! (just thought I’d stress your point once more)

    Taking a break from the novel is so crucial. A few weeks away and when you read it again, it can be as if you are reading someone else’s work. For me, that’s a great feeling. That’s the way I can see what’s working and what isn’t because I’m approaching it like a reader and not the guy who loves this sentence or that scene. I can be brutal to my writing because I have this distance.

    So, however painful it might be to wait, let me say to our MW readers, trust David on this one — wait 4-6 weeks, if you can. The payoff is worth it.

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    Nice advice, David. It’s interesting…sometimes when one finishes one is just dying to get to a new project, and sometimes one has a long dry period during which the imagination is recharging.

    Thieftaker sounds really good. Does it have a street date yet? Or is it not to that point yet?

  • As David said, writing and finishing a novel is hard. As I draw to a close on my first complete novel, I have a new found respect for all authors who can achieve it not only once but multiple times.

    I have two questions in regard to this subject:

    1) Most published authors say that they wrote many “throw away” novels before they landed one with an agent/editor. How do you know when your novel is a ‘throw away” and when it is a “keeper”?

    2) Ever hear of the Snowflake Method for novel writing? Infro Here. What do you think about it?

    Thanks!

  • Back it up. Back it up. Back it up. I burn a disc, put it on the thumbnail, and send it to mom to lose on her PC. She would never find but I would. I also send a copy to the hubby.

    Mikaela, there might be beta readers here. In fact I distinctly remember two other people bemoaning the lack of fantasy beta readers. Okay people, as my mother used to say when I was growning up, “Here’s your chance. Get off your backside and do something about it.” Write to Mikaela. Exchange novels, set a deadline for read throughs to be done and … hmmm. We need to do a *Here’s how to be a good beta reader post* here. I’ll think about it for Wednesday.

    And, I think we need to do another workshop here at MW on the pitch. I have a couple of posts written or nearly so, but a day will come soon when I’m feeling lazy and will say, “Today is the day. Lets hear your 20 second pitch.” Not this week. But soon.

    There was something else I wanted to say, but I need to get get a shower and pick up my dad for lunch. David you have done a masterful job with these *write you book* posts.I think all set into one section of the MW How-To book they will make great reading.

  • David> Thanks for this! I mostly followed it along. I’m almost done editing a book I finished it in February, I think, and put it aside for a while (4 weeks, maybe more) and then went back to it. I’ve got it backed up in several places. 😀

    Mikaela> I’ve sometimes had a hard time finding beta readers. I am a member of a critique group, which works well. It is an online thing, and we’ve got two quite successful authors–both now with multiple books–they were close when I joined, but it has been fun watching them grow (and a little jealousy inducing at moments) and I’ve learned a lot from them.

    That said, if it is okay with the MW authors, maybe some of us here could look into forming a critique group–it would likely have to be online, because we’re all over the country, but I’m sure there are enough of us here for at least one group, maybe two (depending on writing interests. I admit, I’d probably be a less than ideal audience for hard sci-fi, for example). I don’t know anything about starting things like yahoo groups, but it can’t be THAT hard. 🙂

  • Clearly I was writing when Faith posted… but yeah, I’d be happy to set up a beta reader group or some such thing. 🙂

  • I have 6 copies of my current WIP between my iPod and 3 computers and a thumb drive plus on MozyatHome. My biggest problem is finding beta readers, and I don’t know how to go about finding them.

  • I think starting a critique group would be awsome. I would love to Beta read anyone’s work on here.

  • Yahoo groups are easy to set up. I’ll set up a MWBeta Group this afternoon. Details to follow.

  • Great advice, David. I like the idea of the MW Beta group too. As to Mark’s query about how you know when you’ve writtena throwaway: I’d say when enough people tell you to throw it away… 🙂 Esp. if they are agents/publishers.

  • MagicalWordsBetas is now an official Yahoo group. I’ll get it customized today. Be thinking of rules you want to follow. This is your group, guys.
    Group home page: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/MagicalWordsBetas

  • Great comments, all! And yes, using this space to set up a writing group for those of you looking for beta readers is a wonderful idea.. Mikaela, Emily, Mark, Wade — you all would have much to offer each other as critical readers. I hope that Faith will post about beta readers at some point. I’ve never had a good writing group experience and so would be hard-pressed to post about the topic, but Faith would have a lot to offer.

    Stuart, thanks for emphasizing both points — backing up and putting some distance between yourself and the manuscript. Those may be the two most important bits of advice in the post.

    Jagi, thank you. I believe Thieftaker is tentatively scheduled for June 2011, but we both know how fluid publishing calendars can be….

    Mark, thanks for the comment and the questions. I have never written a throwaway novel, and I’m not sure I believe in the concept. Personally it sounds to me like a nice way of convincing oneself that writing something unpublishable wasn’t a waste of time…. Until proven otherwise, I think that you should assume that your novel is a keeper, and one that should eventually see its way into print. If any of my fellow MWers care to disagree, I’d welcome their input, but I just recoil at the idea of “a throwaway novel.” Seems just wrong to me. As to the “snowflake” method. I’ve never heard of it. I’ll have to look it up and get back to you (the link isn’t working)

    Thanks, Faith. I’ve sent all the other “Writing your Book” posts to Ed. We’ll see what he does with them.

    Emily, well done! Distance, back-ups, rewrites. Sounds like you’re on top of things!

    Wade, looks like a beta group might be forming as we speak. Hope this proves helpful.

  • A.J., I agree with you about the throwaway — see my comment above. And Faith, you totally rock. That took you — what? — three minutes?! You’re amazing.

  • Mikaela

    *blink* Wow. That went fast :D. Good thing, since I am editing a novelette right now. Hopefully it will end up as a novella.

  • Great material, David. With all the writing advice out there, this is a topic that doesn’t get much attention. Typing the words “the end” is anythng but the end. Glad (for so many reasons) to see you cover it so well.

    I also have to second David on the one and only amazing Faith. Need a beta-readers group? Bang! She creates one. Amazing.

    I have seen the Snowflake Method. It’s basically a step-by-by-step outlining process. If you like working by a formal outline, it’s worth a look.

  • Mikaela, yeah, no kidding. Faith really is incredible.

    Ed, thanks. Upon finishing Thieftaker, I had so many things I wanted to do immediately to improve the book. And because I edit as I write, I tend to wind up with fairly clean manuscripts. There is always so much to do after the book is written.

    And thanks for the clarification of the snowflake method. As I say, I need to learn more about it.

  • Beatriz

    Wow, Faith! You’re incredible!!

    David– another great post, and one that ties into the previous post about balance. Stepping back from the finished work allows you to gain perspective and some balance back into your life.

    I’ll be interested in reading the beta-group rules and someone’s (Faith’s?) post on How to Be a Good Beta.

    Suddenly I have images of fish swimming in my head. *ducks and runs*

  • L. Jagi Lamplighter Wright

    Mark,

    You find out by sending it out. If you like it enough to send it out, it’s ready to go. If it sells, great! If it never sells, it’s a throw away novel…but only if it never sells because no one would buy it…and not if it never sells because you did not send it every place worth sending it!

    There are other kinds of throw away novels…I threw out over 1000 pages of my current work before finally hitting my stride and getting exactly what I had always been hoping for on paper…but I threw it out because I knew it did not make the cut. If you’re getting to the end and you’re happy with what you have, you have already left that kind of ‘throw out’ behind.

  • Mikaela

    Oh, and thanks for the post. It made me decide to edit one of my old drafts. It is a story about Robin Hood and his Merry Men. The main focus is on the merry men, not Robin Hood. 🙂

  • Thanks, B. And here’s hoping that our readers get along better than Betas do….

    Jagi, right. You don’t start by trying to write a throwaway. It becomes one if no one ever buys it.

    Mikaela, my pleasure. I hope that you like what you find when you go back to edit the Robin Hood book.

  • Pshaw… 🙂 Thanks, Y’all.
    I’ll get content started today, then the first thing we want is for interested people to join and suggest rules.
    1. How do youw want critiques to be done?
    2. What do you want in each critique?
    3. Maxium word count for each post.
    4. Adult subject matter — how do you want it handled?
    5. Moderated posts or not? If moderated posts, then you have to pick a moderator. Not me, but I’ll set up someone if you decide who.
    6. Membership must be approved by Moderator, who must agree that only MW members will be part of the group. This is only fair to the other members. If you don’t pick a moderator, then I’ll do this part.
    More later.

  • Thank you for the–yet again–timely post! I finished a first draft of a novel almost a year ago and put it aside for about two months. During that time I started writing short stories and novelettes. Unfortunately, I didn’t stop writing those and really put revisions on the novel on the back burner. I had no problems editing/revising the short stories and novelettes, but I have a much harder time just making myself work on the novel.

    I have a great alpha reader, but am sorely lacking on beta readers. It’d be great to have a MW beta reader group! Thank you Faith for getting the ball rolling on that!

    So, I followed some of the advice, but really took the advice of putting it aside and writing other things…but to the detriment of my novel. Thank you for the timely post and guiding me back to my novel!

  • Faith Quote: “And, I think we need to do another workshop here at MW on the pitch.”

    That’d be keen. I recently managed to beat mine down a bit and I could rattle it off in 20 seconds–memorize it too if I need as I’ve memorized more–but it’s still a bit long. I probably don’t need as much info in it as I have.

    @David:
    You gave me a reason that actually made sense to me to compare your novel to others out there. I’ve always had a personal issue with comparing to something already out there. But from a sales comparison standpoint it makes great sense.

  • Bata reading forum is operational now, with 7 members so far. You guys have a self run forum. I’ve restricted membership to make sure all members come from MW. This is for your protection and protection of your material. New members apply and I’ll approve membership fast.

    Once you’ve studied David’s post and made comments, lets move Beta reading discussion to the site. Sorry about hijacking your post, David.

  • Glad you found the post helpful, Alistair. It’s easy to put the book away and not want to go back to it. Revising/editing can be fun, but it can also be daunting. I certainly understand the impulse to ignore the book once done with it. But just as you wouldn’t want unfinished wooden floors in your home, you wouldn’t want an unedited book with your name on it going out to editors and agents. It’s a critical part of the process, and quite rewarding when done thoroughly. Best of luck with it.

    Daniel, the pitch is all about marketing — finding yoiur niche and telling the agents and editors you want to interest in your book how they can make money off of it. So, yes, comparing it to high-profile books/series is often a very effective way to pitch the work.

    Faith, thanks for setting up the forum. And no worries about the hijacking. I’m glad some good has come of the post.

    For all concerned, I’ll be posting next week about how to self-edit and revise, as “Writing Your Book” continues….

  • Sarah

    Oh, bless you guys. Really and truly, for two things especially. First, just before I opened my MW daily email I got a gentle nudge, but still a nudge, from my boss that I’d better get my butt in gear to produce more scholarship. WAHHHHHH!! All I want to do is finish the WIP. It’s comforting to remember that all the rest of you have jobs too, or did before you got to selling books. I’m glad I’m not alone in this boat. Second, thank you for the beta forum. As I read David’s post I thought “Easy for you to say. I’ve tried that around here and everybody is either too busy or too nicey nicey and not the right audience.” And before I got to the end of the comments, there was already a beta readers forum. Hooray!

  • Sarah, thanks for the comment. I would never say that any of this stuff is easy. Believe me. And finding readers least of all. I’ve never been part of a successful writing group, and I am often stuck without beta readers for reasons similar to those you cite: There are few writers in my area and none of them reads what I write. It’s very hard. I hope that the forum proves helpful to you.

  • Tom G

    I’ve never been good at waiting that 2, 4, 6 weeks. I want to jump right back in, but since I’m so close to the novel still, I don’t really see the problems. Very frustrating.

    I like the whole Beta Reader Forum that’s now up. I joined, of course. Like David, I live way out in the country. Finding a critique group, much less getting to the meetings, is difficult. I like the idea of the Beta Forum.

    I joined an online critique group once, many years ago, but it quickly turned into a social chat site. Fingers crossed.

  • Okay, I’ve got two manuscripts and a few short stories (one published) finished, so I guess I can call myself a writer.

    I think I handled “taking a break” badly, though. I finished in November, tried to resurrect an old project while going to local NaNoWriMo meetings … and maybe it was the holidays, but things ground to a halt. I didn’t even read much, and I barely wrote more than a thousand words in two months. I got feedback from beta readers at the end of January, which was heartbreaking because I’d put so much work into it only to realize how much more I have to do, so I decided I needed more time, and then proceeded to continue work on the resurrected project.

    But in the meantime I’d been reading a few more industry blogs … and I posted a single line on Miss Snark’s First Victim, and now an agent has requested a submission … once I’m finished. And so I’m working on the revisions at a *way* slower pace than I’d like to, while batting a rough MS attack that is affecting my vision and balance. Nothing like reading enlarged text with one eye. But I’m still here, and still writing.

    But I still wish I’d not taken as long of a break, if only because I felt like for a good month or two, I gave up and didn’t even try. I took my burnout and ran with it, probably way too far. Leaving the manuscript alone? Good idea. Stopping writing so drastically? Not so much. I lost some momentum there that I haven’t quite gotten back.

  • Tom, I understand that impulse to jump in. Sometimes taking the time away from the manuscript is easy — we welcome the break. But other times, tearing ourselves away from it can be tough. Trust me though: it’s a good thing to do. I hope the beta group is great for all of you. As you say, fingers crossed.

    Moira, sorry to hear that you’ve had a rough time of it with this book. It’s easy to get sucked into one project to the detriment of another; I’m still learning how to balance more than one project at a time. I hope your health issues improve with time and that you’re back at the first book soon. Best of luck with all your projects.

  • Alan Kellogg

    Twelve members last I looked, I’ve signed up under my nom-de-web of Mythusmage.

    Didn’t quite read all of the original post, but the bit about backing up your work makes a lot of sense to me. As does taking a break from writing, no matter how short. Get out, explore, get involved in the world again, and watch as the ideas bubble up from your id. 🙂

  • Alan Kellogg

    On Beta Reading

    In my case make your manuscript available as text or RTF. PDF is neat and all that, but it’s a bitch to edit. I can also handle .doc format, but Nisus Writer takes forever and a holiday weekend to translate it to RTF.

    What will you get from me? Tons of parenthetical comments, along with lots of proof-reading and copy editing. Remember that I do it for your own good.

    Mistakes to avoid

    “their” for “they’re”
    “your” for “you’re”
    “it’s” for “its”
    “As you well know, Bobby…” for “I’m still trying to figure it out, but I think…”

  • Thanks for the comments, Alan. Hope you enjoy the beta group.

  • Thanks, David. They’re putting me on steroids for the rest of the week, which should clear it all up. Sometimes mandatory sick leave can be good for prioritizing what’s really important.

    If nothing else, the down time has given me a chance to make forward progress!

  • […] Magical Words: ♣ David B. Coe reminds us that finishing the novel is only the beginning, ♣ Misty Massey talks about finding the perfect place to write, and ♣ AJ Hartley discusses […]