You type ‘end’ but is your book really finished?

It is perhaps the greatest moment in an author’s life, the point when the last full stop is keyed, and the manuscript is finished. Writing novels can be a long, lonely road, littered with all kinds of frustrations that only the strong and the dedicated will endure. When you get to the end, you’ve more than earned the right to savour the moment.

 It’s a special feeling – if you’ve been there, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re got some way still to go on your first novel, trust me, you’ll love it when you get there.

But is your manuscript’s journey really over? Don’t panic – I’m not about to pour cold water on the celebrations! What I would like to offer are some thoughts on what happens next. Unless you’re one of the few, with an agent waiting patiently to take over the editing of your manuscript, there are still a number of steps you have to take, particularly if you’re about to self-publish.

There are all sorts of services out there offering a variety of professional support. The descriptions vary from basic proofreading (spelling, grammar correction etc.) to full-blown editing (which might suggest rewriting or re-constructing some parts of the story). Sure, they want your money, but there are a lot of good people who’ll do a thoroughly professional job. I’m not about to knock them – in fact, if you can afford it, shop around and see what’s on offer. Some will charge reasonable fees for going through your first three of four chapters. That way, you can see their end product without shelling out too much of your hard-earned cash.

But that’s not why I’m drawing attention to the post-finish alternatives. These guys can advertise for themselves without any help from me! No, I’m looking at the vast majority of indie writers who’ll take on their own proofreading, editing, cleaning up, or ‘tightening’ their work.

There’s nothing wrong with the DIY approach – but it has a lot of pitfalls. There are a few basic pieces of advice which have been passed along the line by a series of successful writers, and which I would highly recommend.

The first is a bit dramatic, but perhaps the best advice of all. As soon as you’ve finished the manuscript, try locking it away in a drawer (or hide it in the documents folder of your laptop) for at least a month. Yes, ONE MONTH!

What do you do in the meantime? Start writing another book – that’s what you do; you’re a writer aren’t you, not a one-book wonder?

A month down the line on your second book, resurrect the first book and start reading it from scratch. I’ll bet you’ll see more of what needs to be ‘tidied’ than you would have done had you launched into an immediate run-through soon after you’d originally finished it.

And don’t treat the exercise as a necessary evil! Approach it with dedication and resolve. This is a major opportunity for you to quality-control your work before showcasing it to the public (okay, there’s a lot of business jargon in there, but you get the gist). Take your time by, for example, by going through four or five chapters only at each sitting. Writers tend to know what’s coming up as they scan their work, and this allows their subconscious to trick them into seeing what’s not there! Try to retrain your brain to behave like a reader, not a writer.

Here’s another idea. If you can ‘pair’ with a fellow author, each reading through the other’s work as you go along, you’ll get regular feedback and an assurance that you are heading in the right direction. I know it’s not easy to find someone with whom to match, but it’s worth the try.

I’ll let you into a little secret. For quite some time I was ‘paired’ with fellow author, Brad Fleming, an old buddy from our days as working journalists and sadly no longer with us. We trusted each other implicitly; we were both unafraid to say what we thought; and we regularly bounced ideas off each other. I miss him greatly.

Lately, I teamed up, quite fortuitously, with officer Brian Willoughby who spent his entire career in the Irish police force (An Garda Siochana). Turns out, Brian had read my first Boyle novel and liked it so much that he posted a flattering review on Amazon. I got in touch immediately and asked if he would ‘look over’ my second manuscript, which he did so to telling effect. He has since kept me right on police procedures, crime scene logistics, and relationships between personnel at all grades. As a result, I write with much more confidence – in the sure knowledge that Brian will pick up on anything that doesn’t look right.

I also use three other ‘proofers’ or beta readers who will go through my manuscripts and let me know what they think. If they say they didn’t like or didn’t understand something, I don’t argue. I change whatever was causing them to pause. After all, if I didn’t manage to convey to them the proper context or interpretation of what I was attempting to write, what chance others would be equally perplexed when the book is launched?

That’s why it’s important not to rush your fences. Bad grammar, misspellings, mixing up the chronology of events, or even inserting the wrong name of a character is a sure-fire way of losing readers.

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