Last updated on January 4, 2018
When you finish the first draft of your book, you might feel lost. What are the next steps? How long it will be before you can publish it? Here is a handy guide to getting your book polished and ready for publication.*
- Let it rest. Really. Put the manuscript away for a while. Maybe you can start a new project or work on a different one. Get some distance so that when you come back to it, you won’t be blind to your own mistakes. Six or eight weeks should do the trick.
- Self-edit. Now you can start self-editing and rewriting. The self-editing process varies for everyone. As great guides to this process, I recommend the books Self-Editing for Fiction Writers and Manuscript Makeover.
- Breathe. When you’re done, take a few days to breathe. Make sure you’re really finished with the second draft. It’s easy to get impatient and throw your manuscript at people the second it’s done. Your patience will pay off in the end.
- Send it to beta readers. Send your manuscript to several beta readers. Beta readers can be friends and family. However, the best ones are people who read regularly in your genre and who like to talk about it. Get more beta readers than you need. Reading and commenting on a whole book is a big commitment. Some readers will never finish. You can find free beta readers through critique groups or social media groups. You can also pay for professional beta readers. Paid readers have a good incentive to complete the job! Self-editing and using beta readers will also save you money at editing time. Editors charge on the basis of how much work is needed on your manuscript. (For more details, see my blog series on Saving Money on Editing.) If you are thorough and willing to learn as you go, you may be able to skip structural editing and lower your copyediting costs. In any case, your book will be better off for it! Don’t skip these steps!
- Revise again. Take your beta readers’ suggestions into careful consideration, but feel free to ignore some of them. Pay special attention to issues that have been flagged by multiple readers! If most of your readers are telling you the same thing, it would be unwise to ignore it. Repeat steps 2 through 5 as needed until you feel that you can’t do anything more with your manuscript on your own.
- Consult a professional editor. Many editors offer a free sample edit. During this time, the editor will go through a sample of your manuscript and make a recommendation about what kind of editing it needs. Feel free to get several sample edits. Go with the editor who is the right combination of fit and affordability for you. You will often pay more for a better editor, but get that sample edit to be sure that your editor is worth her price. (See my post on vetting editors.)
- Get developmental editing/make revisions. At this stage, you will be working with your editor on big-picture issues such as plot, theme, character, and structure. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or punctuation just yet. Don’t need developmental editing? Hurray! Skip ahead to step 8!
- Get copyediting/make revisions. Time to fix all the grammar and spelling mistakes and inconsistencies. Time to improve the flow of your sentences. Just as with beta readers, you can and should choose which edits you keep and which edits you toss. Just be thoughtful. Ask questions. Your editor should want your book to shine as much as you do, and it will make you a better writer.
- Lay out your book. Hire a book formatter or design and lay out your book yourself if you know how. Don’t forget to add front matter and a table of contents (a linked one for ebooks)!
- Get a cover designed. You can start this step earlier if you’d like. However, if you are self-publishing a paperback or hardcover version of your book, your cover designer will need to know the final page count to determine the spine width for the design. Yes, you can design your cover yourself. However, I only recommend this if you have graphic design experience and really know what you are doing. The cover is the first thing that a potential reader sees. Investing in a good cover designer will boost those original sales before reviews start to come in.
- Write your back cover copy and get publicity blurbs. While your cover is being designed, write and edit your back cover copy and use your formatted manuscript to solicit blurbs (good quotes!) for your back cover. If you’re not selling hard copies of your book, you still need good descriptive copy for your book’s sales page, so don’t skip this step.
- Get proofreading. You can complete this stage during cover design. Once your pages are laid out, have a proofreader check them to catch typos that might have slipped through or been introduced during corrections (yes, this happens). This is not the time for big changes or rewrites. They will only cause you to have to redo or fix the formatting. Get each format (ebook and hardcopy) proofread because there can be minor differences.
- Publish. Upload your files and publish at the vendor of your choice! There are many more choices and steps during this stage, but I’ll leave that for another post!
This post is a slightly more detailed update to an infographic I posted earlier.