Congratulations! Typing “The End” is one of the best achievements of a writer’s career!
No first draft is perfect (except God’s first draft), so now’s the time for the revision process.
If you haven’t yet read my first article, “I want to write a book and I have no clue what to do,” go back and skim through the resources listed there. There might be a few books, articles, or resources you haven’t seen yet, and they might be useful to you for tightening structure or deepening characterization.
The following resources are for the revision and submission process.
Do a little large-scale revision.
Often, even the best manuscript needs some larger scale revision—shifting scenes, changing character goals, rewriting the climax. The one thing I notice the most in manuscripts that I do for freelance editing is a need for more conflict in the story.
Most people avoid conflict in real life, but in fiction, conflict is what keeps a reader reading. The best books I read for figuring out ways to add more conflict and tension is Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook by Donald Maass. These two books really helped me ratchet up the tension and conflict in my novel, making it a better, more compelling story.
Do some detailed self-editing.
Popular fiction published these days is a little different from your high school and college English classes. Some things that are grammatically correct like dialogue tags and exclamation points are cut for more streamlining in the industry. One of the best books to understand these new "rules" is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers (2nd edition) by Renni Browne and Dave King. This will sharpen your prose to a more professional caliber.
The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman talks about many of the common mistakes seen within the first five pages of a manuscript that automatically send it to the rejection pile. It’s true—there are some types of writing foibles within the first few pages that make a manuscript seem less professional.
Know your grammar.
I didn’t include this in my previous article because sometimes, thinking too much about grammar can cramp a writer’s creativity. However, correct grammar is a must these days. Publishing house editors are not there to correct all your grammatical errors. Editors are often so swamped with submissions, that any indication the writer doesn't know the craft is a reason for the editor to send a polite rejection letter.
If grammar is a sore spot for you, take a class at the community college or dig up an old high school or middle school grammar textbook. As a writer, you should have an excellent grasp of the English language.
Elements of Style by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White. This is a classic grammar book for writers. The best part about it is that the original edition is available FREE online (http://www.bartleby.com/141/).
GRAMMARCHECK. This website not only has searchable archives, they also send out a free monthly e-mail newsletter detailing aspects of grammar. They are open to subscriber questions and will often answer them in each newsletter.
DAILY GRAMMAR delivers a FREE short grammar lesson into your email Inbox five days a week. I liked this because the lessons were quick, easy to understand, and in nice small chunks.
A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman is a good book for understanding punctuation. As Lukeman writes, “Punctuation reveals the writer: haphazard periods, for example, reveal haphazard thinking. Semicolons might indicate affectation; colons might denote melodrama; dashes might point to scattered thought.” Correct punctuation will mark you as a professional writer.
Join a critique group.
This can be scary, but in my opinion, it’s a must for any writer whether beginning or multi-published. Other people can often see things in your writing that you don’t see yourself. My critique partners catch all kinds of dumb mistakes in my manuscripts, even after I’ve done several rounds of revision on them.
In my previous article, I listed a bunch of writer’s organizations. Many of them offer critique groups, mostly online.
Critique groups are like dating—you have to make sure you have the right combination of people, because personalities and writing styles can either compliment or clash.
Don’t be afraid to try out a critique group for a few months to test how you like it. Many times, the group will help you grow in your writing more than you expected. If you’re having problems, don’t be afraid to switch to another group. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right group for you.
Sometimes you will find that you click with one or two people in a group, and you can often email them privately to see if they’d be interested in becoming critique partners with you outside of the critique group. Make sure you match on various levels—speed of writing (some writers can crank out a chapter day, others a chapter a month), critique style, general level of writing.
Make sure you have proper manuscript format.
There are certain things that you can do to make your manuscript look as professional as possible. For novelists targeting the Christian publishing market, I have an article, “Novel Manuscript Format for CBA Publishers.”
For writers targeting mainstream publishers, Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript is an excellent, comprehensive manual.
Read up on the submission process.
Before submitting your novel for publication, it’s a good idea to figure out how to do it correctly. However, THAT’S an entire other article. I’ll work on one.