Giving Birth to Your Book, Part I: Clean It Up!

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You’ve worked for months or years and finally, it’s done. You’ve accomplished your dream and finally created “new life.” But new life is just the beginning. Yes, your baby–your book–is created, but how do you start the delivery process and get your baby out into the world?

1.  Save a copy. And I’m not just talking about saving it on your personal hard drive-that’s a given every time you write. But in addition to your hard drive, every time you make a change to the manuscript file, you should save it to the Cloud, back it up on an external hard drive, and/or on a memory card. I can’t tell you how many friends have been working on manuscripts and lost them because their computer crashed or they hit a wrong button. (I’ve come really close a few times myself!) And even though those files can often be salvaged, you may experience a lot of stress–and sometimes a lot of expense–to retrieve them.

2.  Put it away. Yep. Close the file and put it away for a while. Work on another writing project, take a vacation, or set aside a week to visit friends who’ve given up on ever seeing you again. Or, like me, you can begin to attack the stacks of unopened mail, half-eaten meals, and very important papers that have accumulated on your desk while you’ve been in the throes of writing. Just do whatever you need to do to get your mind off the manuscript. (Yea, I know. Easier said than done.)

3.  Begin the rewriting process. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know you’ve probably been rewriting as you wrote, but believe me, that is not the same as final rewriting. After you’ve been away from the book for a while, start it again with fresh eyes. You’ll eventually find a way that works best for you. For me, I read through the book from beginning to end, looking for plot problems, timeline issues, and slow sections.

4.  Dig in for a deeper rewrite. At this point, I read the entire book aloud, looking for areas that just don’t work. I check for cadence, realistic dialog, and the right balance between description and action. This would also include searching for telling where I should be showing, eliminating weak verbs and sloppy use of adverbs, and making sure there are no extraneous uses of the word, “that.” Make every word count. Make it earn its keep. It either does the job and does it well, or it needs to be outta there! Check spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Done right, this rewrite could take months.

5.  Get feedback from other writers. Sure, you can let your mom and your kids and your best friends read the book, but you really need a group of serious critiquers who are familiar with writing for publication. You need people who will be honest and tell you when they’re bored with your words, when the plot feels contrived, or when the dialog doesn’t ring true. Ask them to analyze your opening paragraphs for hooks, setting, and time placement. Ideally, you’re also doing this as you go through the initial writing process, but this time it needs to be read with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. If possible, get critiques from writers who write in the same genre as your book.

6.  Do another rewrite. Based on the responses from your serious critiquers, you probably will need to do another formal rewrite.

7.  Get feedback from readers. Once you’re sure you have it as good as you can make it, then get readers from your target audience to read your book. If you write for children, get readers in the age range you write for. If your target audience is young mothers, locate some young women who will commit to read and honestly give you feedback. Stress to them that they are not helping you if they simply tell you how great your book is. In addition to looking for typos and general mistakes, ask them if the story kept their interest, if they felt a connection to your characters, and if they felt the dialog was on target. If you write non-fiction, you need to know if your explanations were clear, if you drew in the reader, if your words motivated them to change or taught them something new. You wouldn’t believe some of the feedback I’ve gotten from my readers. I especially look forward to hearing from a few of these hardnosed readers–even though I know they’ll send pages of comments. But that’s what I want and need! I’d much rather these readers catch the problems now than for an acquisition editor catch the problems later–and promptly reject my book!

8.  Rewrite, yet again. And yes, it’s probably time for another rewrite. Depending on the readers’ responses, this could simply be an editing process or it could be another complete rewrite. But either way, you need to address the issues that arise through this feedback. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been saved from serious problems by having readers in addition to my critiquers. If your writing group reads your stuff frequently, it’s sometimes hard for them to catch things that have been revisited several times. Your readers will see it with fresh eyes, often discovering new areas that need to be addressed.

9.  Put it away again. If possible, allow time for the book to settle again for a few days.

10. Read it aloud again. After a few days, read it aloud again, critically looking and listening for any areas that may still need work.

So there you have it–the first steps to getting your book delivered and out into the world. It won’t be easy, but it’ll sure be worth it. Remember, you have one shot to make your baby pretty. You don’t want to miss your opportunity because you were tired of cleaning her up. ;-)

Be sure to come back next week for Giving Birth to Your Book, Part II-All Cleaned Up, Now Where Do We Go?

Have a blessed day!

Vonda

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  • Julie Garmon

    Good stuff, Vonda. Thanks! And now to rewrite that chapter again.

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      I can’t wait to read your book!

  • http://susanstilwell.com/ Susan Rinehart Stilwell

    I’m bookmarking this :) Hopefully someday soon…

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      So what are you waiting for, Susan? :-)

  • Meredith Dangel

    This is terrific, Vonda! Thanks!

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Thank you for stopping by, Meredith. I’m happy it helped. :-)

  • Megan

    Vonda,
    I am going crazy trying to finish my first book. I am doing it through ICL. I wanted to have it done this summer. I feel like it is never going to be finished, now that I am so close to being done. I am afraid to actually send in the proposal. I have worked on it for over 2 years now and everyone acts like I should be finished with it by now. So tempted to quit. I am now asking the Lord’s guidance every day. Thanks for the great post. Megan

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Megan, please don’t give up. But at the same time, you need to take a serious look at your book and make sure you’re not simply afraid of sending it in. I recommend that you have someone you respect as a professional, published writer to read it and tell you honestly if it’s ready. And if it is, take in a deep breath and…and hit SEND! :-)

      • Megan

        Thank you Vonda (and Cathy too) for your comments and your recommendation. I will take your advide to heart Vonda. Thanks for caring. Always get good advice here. :) Have a blessed day, Megan

    • Catherine L Young

      Megan, I know how that feels — been writing the same “paper” for over 3 years and the expectation is that it should be done. Well it’s not. But I know in my heart that God will help me finish in His time and that it’s coming up soon. The burning desire grows stronger each day. So keep moving forward and trust his leading. Blessings, CAT

      • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

        Cathy, I’m so glad to see that the burning desire is growing. Satan would love for you to let that hang over your head and stop you from having the time to write what burns in your heart. :-)

  • RobinBryce

    Rewrite. Rewrite. Rewrite. Then do it some more. What fun playing with words! Thanks for the motivation.

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      I really do love the rewriting process…again and again…

  • http://www.facebook.com/lafreeland Lori Karvasale Freeland

    Ahhh…another neurotic rewriter. I love you, Vonda! I’m on my third major rewrite after feedback. My own personal inner editor is harder than all of my beta’s combined. She needs a vacation so I can FINISH this book :)

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      You neurotic rewriter you! :-)

  • Marilyn

    Vonda, Very nuts-and-bolts blog which defines the real work behind writing a book. As I read your post, I mentally checked off my to-do list, and found that I’ve done them all except for letting readers read it. That scares me more than having my critique partners read it. Dan Walsh told me he also has “readers” who preview his books. I’m just not sure whom I would ask to do this for me.
    And I can so relate to cleaning up my desk and reconnecting with friends at some point. (I say this as I look at a plate and glass on my desk:)
    Thanks for the help, as always!

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Thank you for your encouragement, Marilyn. I’m glad you found it helpful!

    • Catherine L Young

      Just a thought — a group of readers could be: a Sunday school class, Bible study, bridge club, Toastmasters group, try to pick one that is appropriate for subject manner. If it’s a kids book, check with an elementary school / church school class about offering the book for the students to read for free with a simple survey for them to fill in. Maybe offer the kids an autographed copy when it’s released for their help.

      • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

        Good advice, Cathy!

  • Tim Knopp

    Great reminder that “finished” isn’t necessarily FINISHED. I’m in the process now, and I think every tweak makes the writing a little stronger.

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      You’re absolutely right, Tim!

  • http://www.sandykirbyquandt.com/ Sandy Quandt

    Thanks for these great insights. Especially for items 8, 9 & 10. An excellent reminder that it isn’t finished ’til it’s finished.
    Sandy

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Great way to say it! And that’s one of the most difficult things for writers to do–fight the urge to send it in before it’s ready.

  • http://cherylbarker.net/ Cheryl Barker

    Vonda, I hadn’t thought about having a group of readers give feedback, too, after the crit group has given theirs. Sounds like a very good idea. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Glad to help!:-)

  • EdieMelson

    Vonda, great post and good insight into the real work behind producing a quality product!

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Yes, work is exactly what it is!

  • Catherine L Young

    Thanks Vonda — know time to go write. CAT

    • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

      Hahaha! Can’t wait to see what you do.

      • Catherine L Young

        Chapter 3 of my dissertation sent to professor. Now back to Chapter 2…

        • http://www.VondaSkelton.com Vonda Skelton

          Good job!