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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