Before You Get Published
Write Your Manuscript to the End
Without a manuscript completed, it is impractical to begin the publishing journey. But, you’re eager to get the book to readers. That’s understandable. Creativity spirals out from you, encouraging you to craft your art and reach across the noise of humanity to connect with others. You’re compelled by something bigger than yourself.
The best choice for your readers is to put it all down on those empty pages. Get that draft out.
Write. Don’t stop writing until you have a solid foundation to build your success on. Only once your first draft is completed should you review and rewrite.
Warning: If you’re in this for a quick fix of cash, or, if you’re not committed to becoming a better writer, publishing a novel is not the right track for you.
If you’re in this because you can’t stop writing or a piece of you will fade away, then know that you will get there. You owe it to yourself and to your future readers to pull that manuscript into existence. Set aside judgement and criticism right now, there is more than enough time for that later. Enjoy the process and get writing.
Edit Again. Edit One More Time. Proofread. Don’t Do This on Your Own
Editing turns your manuscript into magic. I may be partial to this stage as a professional editor myself, but ask any publisher, author, or editor. If you don’t think you need an editor, you need to re-evaluate why you are writing.
An editor is the magical portal key to your readers.
You are going to go blind to your own manuscript. You’ll stop seeing their, there, and they’re. You’ll stop seeing your characters’ names. Your mind will fill in gaps and miss sentences you were sure were there. Your editor guides you out of the labyrinth. More important, an editor will ensure your content is clear and reaches readers.
A professional editor will consider things you may not have thought about: trademarks and copyrights, fact checking, pacing, believability, structure, flow, character development, vernacular consistency (does the portrayal of language fit the time period or world), crutch words and phrases you don’t even notice you’re using. Hiring a professional editor (before it gets to a traditional publisher, or before you self-publish) is common sense.
However, like you, your editor isn’t perfect. After a couple of read throughs, they too will become unable to see similar things. I recommend to editing clients they have a different proofreader and editor, as well as a team of beta and alpha readers to catch as many errors as possible. Your proofreader will catch the majority of errors and concerns, but things will still get by.
Something else your editor will do is ensure your short story, manuscript, non-fiction work or article aligns with the appropriate style guide, dictionary, and writing conventions. These guides are used for formatting and for clarity and consistency, but can be dense and detailed. If you’re a fiction writer, your editor and publisher most likely use Chicago Manual of Style. If you’re a science writer, it may be Council of Science Editors Manual. Canadian journalism and businesses often use The Canadian Press Stylebook while The New Oxford Style Manual is commonly used for UK English works. In Canada, your dictionary is the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, in the United Kingdom it’s the Oxford English Dictionary, and in Australia it’s the Macquarie Dictionary. In the United states the dictionary your editor references is probably Merriam–Webster’s Dictionary. But, not always these are just many of the choices an editor has. If you’re not keen on navigating style and editing yourself, it’s best left to a professional editor.
For Traditionally/Conventionally Published Authors
If you are traditionally published (also known as conventional publishing) with a publishing house, your publisher’s editing department will be a key resource. However, they may also be working with dozens of other manuscripts, and, may or may not be the best fit for your vision of your manuscript. They are going to be focused on marketability and on meeting the style guides and standards of the publishing house requirements.
At this stage, ensure you’re open to criticism, and, to changing your manuscript to fit the publisher’s requirements.
Find Alpha or Beta Readers and Get Their Perspective
If you’re traditional/conventional publishing, your publisher will likely have reviewers or marketing experts established to assess your manuscript once the editor has worked with you. It doesn’t hurt to get another opinion before you send it to the publisher. If you’re self-published, Alpha and Beta Readers are going to be your lifeline.
Not sure what Alpha and Beta Readers are? I explain that here. Alpha and Beta Readers are a check-in with your potential audience, a marketing test, and a last catch for those sneaky errors that get past the editing phase. Your editor will also focus on reader experience, but it’s best to know before the novel is published if it is appealing to your target audience. Who better to do that than your actual target audience? You should have a target audience in mind before you even send your manuscript to a publisher or enter into the formatting stage. If you don’t, do some research about your topics, themes, settings, content, and consider your character(s) ages. Often similar works and character ages can assist you in narrowing your market down.
Hold up. Marketing? Audience? Wait. What?
Guess what. You created what’s called a product in this capitalist world. A book is a product. Let that sink in for a bit. You’re entering the world of sales, profits, and marketing. This will become one of the most time-consuming parts of your writing career.
Now, I’m guessing you want to be able to make a living off of your passion to write. To do that, you’re going to have to identify who your ideal reader is: age, gender, location, income, interests, goals, problems and concerns, fears, hopes and dreams. You need to imagine that individual, make them real in your mind. You’re going to solve a problem for that person or fill that person’s need with your novel. That’s what will get people to buy your book so you can eat and pay your bills.
Where do you reach your audience? People don’t like to be sold stuff, they like to make connections. Social media comes to mind as a good idea to reach your audience. You’ll have to consider all sorts of things like how people shop for your type of book and where. Alpha and Beta readers from the same demographics as your target audience can help too.
Alpha and Beta Readers should include professional, impartial (not your friends or family), and experienced individuals, as well as readers who enjoy your book’s genre and subject matter. If you’re writing a young adult novel, try and see if there are young adults that are willing to Beta Read your book. They need to offer constructive criticism, and, you really need to listen to them. If more than one third of your Alpha/Beta Readers say revisit something, you absolutely should. Help your readers along; give them five questions that will help you assess what they loved, hated, were confused about, or would change.
Format to Guidelines
Whether you need to format your self-published novel or you intend to traditionally publish, you’re going to need to follow guidelines prescribed by the printer/distributor or publisher. Always carefully read the requirements for formatting. You can hire people to do this for you, or you can do it on your own.
Submitting to traditional publishing houses? Figure out if the publisher allows multiple manuscripts to be submitted at the same time if you have more than one. Some publishers also don’t allow you to send queries to other publishers while they are reviewing. You could lose any offers you might get if they find out you submitted and received offers from additional publishers. This could tie up your manuscript for weeks, months, or even years as interns or students whittle down piles to get them to the editor who will decide what twelve out of thirty thousand manuscripts they will publish in the next two or three years. Yes, publishers are slotting books in years ahead.
If you’re self-publishing, you’re going to have to learn the style guide and requirements for your printers and distributors. Often each requires something different. I hire formatters for both internal content (print and eBook) and my covers (they’re called designers). Make sure your formatters are up-to-speed with your printer’s requirements.
Develop Catch Phrases, Elevator Pitches, Synopsis, and Query or Cover Letters
You’re going to need a one page synopsis, a cover letter, a query letter, a five-minute pitch, a one-minute pitch, a thirty-second pitch, and a catch phrase. They all need to summarize your novel in a way that makes people interested in your work. The query and synopsis should include the ending. Your agent and publisher should know how it ends.
If you are self-publishing, you’ll still need the pitches and catch phrase, but it doesn’t help to have a synopsis, cover letter, or query letter handy. With my coaching clients and mentees, I often get them to write this before or after the first draft. Why? It focuses your story and identifies your audience. It can be a crucial tool in the writing process, and it is necessary if you hope to publish.
Write or get Someone Else to Write a Book Blurb
The book blurb is what goes on the back of the book. It’s always good to have someone else write this for you. The purpose is to convey to future readers what the book is about, why they would be interested in reading it, and a hook to get them to read. While you can do this yourself (if you’re self-published), another writer can be an asset. Traditionally published authors may or may not have a say in what goes on the back of their books.
Start Building Your Platform on Social Media Before You Start Your Manuscript
Choose platforms that work for you, and provide regular updates on your process and experience writing. Building audience can create a valuable support network and potential future buyers of your novel. Remember, social media is where you can promote your novel, but it should be more than trying to sell your novel. It should be a quality connection and engagement with the community.
Budget and Put Your Business Hat On
You’re going to need marketing materials, travel funds, books (the publishers and printers don’t offer these for free). Look into grant money or fundraising or loans. Monitor sales and start treating this like a business. Track expenses, revenue, and make business plans to guess how much each subsequent project and event will cost, consider supplies you will need, research needs, and contingency. Get an accountant and a bookkeeper. Understand your tax requirements.
Media Training and Communications
Hire a media coach or communications consultant and/or a publicist. Get a marketing and communications plan in place.
You need media training. You need a marketing and communications plan. You will need to send news releases. Traditional publishing houses may have a team you can tap into for this, but you most likely will need to hire help. You’re going to be interviewed. You will meet more people than you ever have in your life. Even the most outgoing individual can benefit from media training. Even the smallest author needs a marketing and communications plan, no matter how simplistic. Write it down.
Network with Other Authors. Ask Them What Worked and What Didn’t
Other authors are not your competition. They are your rescue team; your strongest allies and supports on this writing-publishing journey.
They will offer experiences that can save you time in the long run and protect you from major downfalls. There are so many things you didn’t think of that your fellow colleagues will guide you and protect you from with their expert knowledge. Don’t hesitate to reach out to local author communities and associations, join a group that will best benefit your career. Consider joining writers’ guilds and associations, community groups, and clubs (book clubs, writing clubs). Attending workshops and conferences, using social media, and blogging are great places to start.
If you’re traditionally published, your publisher most likely has some professional reviewers. Probably. Maybe. And you’ll get maybe a dozen books to hand out to promote yourself.
Connect with family, friends, and coworkers to review your book. But, develop a thick skin and take nothing personally. Don’t respond to overly negative reviews, trolls, or ‘haters’. Be grateful and show it. Someone took the time to read and review your work. Learn to professionally handle negative criticism, and be open to it. Constructive criticism makes me a better writer and I look forward to knowing what people love and hate about my works.
If you’re self-published, hand out as many Advance Review Copies (ARCs) as possible before you publish. Use social media to connect with other authors and readers and promote reviews of your book. Why not exchange reviews with other authors to become better authors? Leave reviews for books you purchase. Sites where readers can leave reviews are anywhere people will be able to buy your book and book-focused social media sites like Goodreads.com.
Want to know more or want Catherine on your team (she’s an editor/Alpha/Beta Reader too!)? Contact her.