You worked hard. You stayed up late, got up early, pushed through writer's block, and finally, you finished writing your entire book. Wahoo!
You're thinking, “I wrote a book! Now what?”
What do you do after you write a book?
If this is your first book, or first book that you've finished, you're probably asking all of these questions. You're not alone.
Do you look into self-publishing? Or maybe it's time to look for a literary agent? Or should you hire an editor to double check your formatting?
Should you do all of this? Or none of it?
All of these are important parts of the writing and publishing process. But you don't need to do all of them right away. In this article, I'll break down the next steps you should focus on now (and which ones you shouldn't focus on right now, but save for much later, or even not at all).
How I Finished My Book
Some years back, I started my first book. To incentivize me, my friends Jeff Goins and Tim Grahl and a few others challenged me to write a $1,000 check to the presidential candidate I despised the most on the condition that it would get sent if I didn't finish my book by the deadline.
I did, in fact, finish that book. But once it was done, I had to figure out what to do next.
Because when you finish writing your book, you're not really finished. In fact, finishing your book is just the beginning. And if this is your first time, you're probably looking for advice on what to do next.
In this post, we'll talk about what comes after you write a book.
But before we talk about what you should do, let's talk for a moment about what you should avoid after writing your book.
What You Shouldn't Do After You Write a Book
New writers are usually eager to send off their book or short stories as soon as they finish them. However, very few—if any—finished books are good books after a first draft.
For this reason, the first step you take after finishing a book is not announce you're done on social media before quickly heading to Kindle books or Amazon to self-publish it, or a publishing house or literary agency in search of representation.
There's still work to be done! You're going to want to make some revisions before that first novel, even if it's a decent first draft, becomes a great book.
In a nutshell, here's what to avoid after you write a book—for now.
Don't send your book to a publisher.
Good writing is rewriting. If you want to get published, don't send your book to any of the following people yet:
- Acquisitions Editors
Submitting your manuscript before it's ready could lead to permanently burning a bridge. Some literary agents even have a policy that a rejection on a manuscript is a rejection from the agency as a whole.
This is why busy agents will openly encourage writers to participate in programs like NaNoWriMo, but also politely ask them to not send their manuscripts to them as soon as November ends. They want to see your best work!
Revising needs to happen first.
I know you're excited about sharing your hard work, but there is still a lot to do.
Don't send your book to beta readers.
Beta readers, people who read your book and give you feedback before you publish, can help transform your manuscript from mediocre to excellent.
However, beta readers are best used after you've worked out some of the kinks in your manuscript on your own first. Otherwise you might get feedback that you're not ready for, or that even hurts your self-confidence as a writer.
We'll talk about the best time to send to beta readers in a moment.
Don't edit your book.
What most people do after they finish their book is go back to page one and start line editing from the beginning, fixing typos, correcting grammar, and polishing sentences until they shimmer.
This is a huge mistake. Because here's the problem:
After you finish your book, there are going to be major structural problems. There are going to be sections that need to be cut, other sections that need to be written from scratch, and some sections that need to be rewritten.
What happens when you realize you have to cut a section that you've spent hours, days even, polishing? At best, you've just wasted a lot of time, and at worst you might be tempted to leave a problematic chapter in your manuscript because you've become attached to it during the actual writing of it.
Instead, I have a better system that will save you time and result in a better book at the end of the process.
5 Next Steps After You Write a Book
Now that you know how to avoid the pitfalls after you write a book, let's talk about what you should do next.
I recommend five steps.
1. Let Your Book Rest
Not only do you need a break after writing your book, your book needs one too.
This is because after you finish your book, you have no perspective on it. You don't know what's good, what's bad, what needs work, what is good as is.
Letting your book sit for a few weeks, even a month, gives you time to regain perspective and start to see what your book really is about—or what it needs to become.
For me, I can let my books sit for two weeks, and only then do I start to feel ready to get started with the editing process.
And if taking a break is hard for you, remember that working on your book doesn't mean you have to stop book writing or growing as a writer.
If you're feeling antsy, head out to your favorite coffee shop. Marinate on some new book ideas, or read some of your favorite published authors or bestselling authors. Listen to your favorite podcasts on writing.
Keep up your writing habit and writing schedule with some shorter practice pieces, some focused practice writing sessions on skills you'd like to master.
If you want to see your whole book for what it is, you need to spend enough time away from it before picking it up again, this time with fresh eyes and a clear head.
2. Read Your Book
Before you jump into editing, read your book from start to finish. This is the second step in gaining perspective on your book, and while it's time consuming, it will save you dozens of hours because you'll see exactly what you need to work on for your next draft.
As you write ask yourself the following questions and take notes about what you find:
- What's missing?
- What's extra?
- What needs to be rewritten?
When I reach this step with any book, I'm both excited and a little terrified of what I'm going to find.
When you read your book you're almost certainly going to be surprised by how good some sections are. By how bad most of the rest is. But especially, by how different what you actually wrote is from what you had in your head.
There are some things you might have to grieve after you read your book. But this is also a chance to dream again.
What could your book become? How could you transform it into something new?
I tend to dream even as I'm writing a book, and I'm really excited to see how my dreams for the book change as I go through the editing process.
4. Revise and Rewrite for Structure
Now that you have a good idea about where your book is and where you want it to go, you're ready for the second draft.
Your second draft isn't about fixing typos and polishing sentences. It's about structure.
This is when you write new sections for those holes you found when you read through your draft. This is when you cut those sections that weren't necessary, and when you rewrite the sections that were but were broken.
This part can feel like excavation, chiseling away at your book trying to discover the treasure underneath the surface.
Once the overall structure of your book is sound, only then should you start to polish.
Depending on your comfort level, you might decide you can do this with self-editing. If you're less sure, don't be afraid to reach out to a developmental editor for direction and advice.
Need a professional editor to help you navigate your book's structure? Our team of developmental editors would love to help. Check out editing here »
5. Get Some Help
After your second draft, it is a good time to start to inviting other people into your book, including beta readers or even an editor.
Before this, your book isn't you enough, and if you get too much involvement from other people, you lose some of your personal vision. The second draft allows you to put more of you into your book.
But after you've been through the steps above, you're ready to build a team that can take your book to the next level. (And also catch some of those typos you missed.)
Then, at last, after all of these steps, your book is ready to be proofread, grammar checked, and polished.
When Your Book is Actually Done
It can be hard to tell when your book is actually done, which is why it's so important that you find a writing community and critique group that can push you through not one, not two, but at least three (if not more) revised drafts.
Only then, when your manuscript is the absolute best it can be, should you consider your publishing route. If your hope is to pursue traditional publishing, your next steps will involve tackling the submission process.
Some of the steps in the submission process are researching literary agents, writing a query letter, writing a synopsis, and querying your list of dream literary agents. You'll spend a lot of time waiting to hear back during this process, and in that break, you should consider what your next book is going to be about (or even start writing it).
Precious writing time shouldn't be wasted by doing nothing because you think you can't do anything while you wait.
You can learn more about querying agents in our upcoming article on how to write a query letter, or get an editor's feedback on your query letter here.
This Is the Hard Part of Writing a Book
As hard as writing the first draft is, I've found that editing is much harder. Most of my writing breakdowns have come on the second draft, not the first.
However, editing can also be the most exciting part of the writing process because at last you are watching this thing that you have created finally become a book.
A lot of people want to write books. Few ever actually finish one. It's a rare experience to be able to edit your book. When you get to this point, I hope you'll do your best to enjoy it.
Have you ever finished writing a book? How did it feel? Let me know in the comments!
Go back and find a practice you've written in earlier lessons. (Haven't practiced before? Here are our top 100 writing lessons.) Use step #2 and read your practice over, asking yourself the following questions:
- What's missing?
- What's extra?
- What needs to be rewritten?
Next, spend fifteen minutes editing your practice for structure. When your time is up, post your practice in the Pro Practice Workshop here. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback on a few pieces by other writers.