I’m wrapping up my “Before You Write” series today with a post that’s a bit of a cheat, since it actually has more to do with the end of the writing process than the beginning; that is, what you’re going to do with the finished manuscript when you’re done. It’s worth mentioning because, as I’ve said once or twice (or seventeen times) during this series, the purpose of pre-writing exercises and plans is to make it easier to sustain your momentum during the actual writing process. To that end, knowing in advance what you’re going to do with your completed novel when it’s finished can help you avoid the post-writing slump and take some meaningful action with the result of all your hard work. Having a plan for your finished novel can also help motivate you to stick with it when you hit those middle-of-the-book doldrums. Here are some suggestions for next steps you may want to have in mind on the front end of the process.
- Take your manuscript to a writers’ conference. Even if it’s not ready to be published, a writers’ conference can be a fabulous place for a manuscript to continue to take shape. Between writing workshops, opportunities for private critique, and chances to pitch your book to agents and editors, you can leave a good writers’ conference with some really helpful feedback and a better sense of what should actually be next for your manuscript. If you’re an experienced writer or a really fantastic first-time writer, you might come away with some good leads as far as editors or agents who might be interested in your book, and if you’re newer to the writing scene, you will most likely get some valuable direction for how to improve your pitch or your manuscript before seriously attempting to get it published. If you have a rough idea of when you’ll be done with a draft of your manuscript, get online and find out what conferences might be taking place around the same time– if you register now, you’ll be doubly motivated to stick with your writing schedule so as to get the most out of your money at the conference.
- Write a query letter and proposal for your manuscript. If you know your ultimate goal is to pursue traditional publication for your manuscript, you’re going to need a solid query letter and proposal at some point in the future, so why not harness the momentum that carried you through the writing process and get them down on paper right away after completing your book? You can always come back and polish/expand on a proposal later, but you’ll be glad you gave yourself something to work with before your enthusiasm/writing energy died down. In addition, having a proposal/query ready to go will make you more likely to take your manuscript to a writing group or conference because you’ve already created the documents you’ll need, and helps you to start to think about your novel in terms of the “pitch;” what the big-picture elements are that you’ll want to focus on when talking about your book to others. If creating these documents is part of your post-writing plan, add them onto your schedule/goals now so you don’t stop writing as soon as the manuscript itself is done.
- Distribute it to a trusted group of beta readers. I talked a lot more about beta readers and where to find them in this post from a couple months back, so I won’t repeat myself too much here, but deciding at the front end of the writing process that your first step post-writing will be to let a select few people read it and offer their feedback is a great first step in getting over the sometimes-terrifying hurdle of letting other people see and critique your writing. Newsflash: if you want to be published, you have to learn how to deal with the possibility that other people will read your book and will not like it. Even if you self-publish rather than pursue publication through agents and editors, you will eventually be in a place where people can access your work and make unlimited unsolicited comments about it. And I know that’s not an entirely pleasant idea, but it’s a LOT easier to get there via baby steps– starting out with two or three beta readers who will be honest but supportive before moving on to agents and editors who will be even more honest but potentially slightly less supportive before ending up in front of Amazon reviewers who will sometimes be honest and will occasionally be complete trolls– than it is to go straight to being judged freely by the Internet at large. If you don’t start out the writing process with a specific commitment, even just to yourself, to let certain other people see your work, you run the risk of chickening out once the manuscript is in your hands and shoving it in the back of a drawer for your grandchildren to discover once you’re dead. For extra accountability, inform/ask your beta readers now that you’re writing a book and let them know your target finish date so they will bug you for copies when the date arrives.
That’s it for the “Before You Write” series; thanks for reading, and come back next week when I’ll hopefully have thought of something else craft-related to blog about! As always, suggestions or questions for future posts always welcome in the comments.