You’ve made it to the literary finish line! Huzzah and pop the champagne! But before your book is published, you need to ask some crucial questions about your manuscript. Then you need to polish, polish, polish. So, what are those crucial questions?
Is it a first draft?
A first draft and a manuscript are not the same things. To quote Hemingway, “The first draft of anything is sh!t.”
It’s a big deal to finish a novel, but you’ve only conquered phase one–writing down the bones. Phase two is editing the heck out of it, beating it into something marvelous. Personally, I despise the editing process, but without it, it would be like eating at a five-star restaurant in your pajamas. Sure, you’re dressed, but you could do so much better.
Take a much-needed break. This will give your brain time to digest. Then, read through the whole thing again with fresh eyes. This time, have a lens on your craft. Use this post to give yourself some key items to look for. Tweak your findings as you go.
Did I write too much? Too little?
The first time I wrote what I thought was a novel, it was just under 40,000 words. I thought, wow, I just wrote a lot of words! Ladies and gentlemen, I made a book! Then I did my homework–I had barely written a novella. The industry doesn’t usually stray too far from these numbers and neither should you. Use the information below to gauge where you are in terms of your final word count:
Short Story: 1500–30,000 words
Novellas: 30,000–50,000 words
Novels: 50,000–110,000 words
Young Adult: 50,000–80,000
Middle Grade: 25,000–40,000 words
It goes without saying, if you have less then any of the above, write more. If you have a whopping 300,000-word count, consider either breaking it into a series or get a box of red pens and start slashing.
Has my manuscript lived in solitude on my hard drive?
If you think you’re done and no one has seen what you’ve written, red flags should be popping up. You, Charlie Brown, need involvement. Have anyone read it. Obviously, people most likely to put your work on their fridge with a magnet will not help you with writing craft. But, they will make you feel better and that’s worth something. Writer’s groups, other people in the industry, people who like to read a lot are all good places to start.
Also, don’t underestimate reading your manuscript out loud. This sounds silly, but it really works. Your brain is no longer focusing on all the behind-the-scenes stuff that went into writing the passages you’re speaking. It’s now focused on the words. Mostly, just the words and how they sound, along with what’s happening in the action. That’s what a reader experiences.
I read every chapter out loud to my husband as I was writing my first book. He probably didn’t listen after a while, but that didn’t matter because I found so many errors on my own. You don’t even need to have anyone listen. Just go on and read it out loud. Yes, you’ll feel silly, but give it a try!
Have I run my manuscript through a proofreading helper?
Most writing programs and apps have their own built-in grammar and spell-checks. However, some proofreading programs give you more–a style check. This option spots things like passive voice, the dreaded adverbs, overusing the same word to start a sentence, or your word frequency.
Word-usage-frequency was something I had never considered. Words like the, and, a, is, etc. are bound to come up a lot. But some words, you don’t want to overuse. For example. I found myself using the word bloom over and over again. Bruises bloomed, realization bloomed, sweat bloomed–I think I was writing a lot in the spring … Anyways, this over-usage can get distracting.
A program like Slick Write offers style check options that will give you something to work with. You could do a chapter at a time and see what you’re writing from a proofreader’s standpoint.
Best of luck to you, writer. And remember to celebrate your achievements. You wrote a manuscript! Congratulations!