I threatened to do a series of posts demystifying the publishing process. Now I guess I get to follow through on that.
But where do I start? When the manuscript is accepted, or perhaps even before that? No better place to start than the beginning, so here we go. Welcome to the first in a series of Behind the Curtain posts aimed at explaining the publishing process step by step.
Behind the Curtain, Part 1: The Manuscript
Publishing has to start somewhere. And it all starts with the manuscript.
You’ve probably got one, or you’re working on one, or you’ve thought about working on one. You’ve got characters (hopefully engaging, flawed ones); you’ve got a plot (dear god, you do have a plot, don’t you?); you’ve got conflict and pathos and drama and possibly even a great biff-pow action scene somewhere. You’re all ready to go with this thing.
Uhm, what now?
Everyone’s writing process is different. Everyone’s writing process should be different – if we all wrote the same way, we’d all probably turn out dreadfully similar stories, and things would get boring awfully quickly. Some people write for 30 minutes a day, no more, no less. Some people turn out entire epics after a week of solid work (and then need IV fluids and a series of very thorough showers). Some people write standing up. Some people write while in Downward-Facing Dog.
Hey, whatever works for you. I’m not here to judge.
Because once you’re done writing that manuscript, however you do it, you’re not done with the manuscript. I don’t care how great your story is and how excited you are about it, you need to put that sucker away for awhile and go do something else. Give it some space. Let it breathe. Don’t be codependent.
After a little cooling-off period, come back. Say hi to your manuscript. Introduce yourself politely. Take it out to dinner, and get to know it – not as its writer, but as its reader. Bring a fresh eye to what you’ve written, and explore it like a reader coming to it for the first time would. Odds are, you’re going to find things you don’t like – and things you love. Fix the bad stuff; emphasize the good.
Sometimes, rewrites like this, the first round of edits, take no time at all – you’ve written something great right off the bat. Most of the time, though, you’re going to be tossing chunks of story left and right, ripping things out and putting others in and generally reconstructing the whole thing. But when you’re done…now the fun begins.
Now you get to introduce your newly refurbished manuscript to other people.
That’s right, the dreaded “other people.” They need to see your manuscript before you go sending it out into the big, bad world. At a minimum, three other people – folks whose taste in literature you trust – should read and comment on your manuscript before you submit it anywhere.
Why, you ask? It’s the Great American Psychotic Vampire Detective With a Heart of Gold novel! Hell, it even has ponies. It’s perfect! Some publisher is going to snap it up and it’ll get made into a five-book series with motion-picture tie-in starring some starlet whose name I can’t remember but who seems to have trouble remembering where she put her knickers!
That may all be true, but it still needs to get read by other people. That’s sort of the point, isn’t it? You want your work read by other people, not just you and your cat. (Besides, the cat doesn’t really care. He’s just wondering how to get into the tuna stash.) So why not start now, with getting others to read and comment on your manuscript?
Pass it on to those few trusted beta readers. Ask them to be brutally honest with you – you need to know what works and what doesn’t. This doesn’t mean grammar, although good grammar is important. This means content. Pacing. Plot. Characterization. Is there a plot hole you could drive a Mack truck through? Did Chekov forget his pistol? Does someone suddenly have an unexplained gender change in the middle of chapter six? Does the vegan Hindi actress randomly devour an In-n-Out double double animal-style? Your beta readers will be able to tell you when you’re not making any sense. Hopefully they’ll also clue you in to any excessively florid passages, unnecessary convolutions, massive cliches, confusing bits, or just plain wonky prose.
When you’ve got all those notes in from your trusted readers, it’s time to revise again. This revision, too, could be small and fast…or lengthy and soul-devouring. You won’t know until you open yourself up for comment. And you should always be willing to take those comments with an open mind. If you’ve chosen your beta readers right, they’re not making these critiques to hurt you – they’re doing it to help you polish your manuscript into the gem it can be, something worth sending out to The Masses, something you’ll be well and truly proud to point at and say, “I wrote that.”
Once all that is done, once you’ve addressed all the issues you can find, it’s time. Time to send your precious manuscript out into the world. Whether this means submitting to an agent, submitting to an indie press, submitting to a Big Six publisher, or self-publishing, only you can decide.
Next time on Behind the Curtain: Prepping your pitch.