What to do after you've completed the first draft of your manuscript? Don't send it to an ed
TLDR: because it sucks.
It's a bit harsh of a thing to say, especially when many aspiring authors are very guarded and nervous about the quality of their work. I would advise such folks to stop it. Cultivate that thicker skin and let it grow until it’s calloused. It's difficult, yes. The ego of a writer is fragile and easily shattered. I would know; I am one.
Anyone's first draft of anything is bound to be terrible, and every editor I've met has had at least one person try to sneakily submit a first draft to them. Let me tell you a secret: we know it's a first draft. It's obvious. Why?
Because it sucks.
Because you finished it last Tuesday in an adrenaline-fueled craze and, with pride you’ve definitely earned, decided that it’s the Next Big Thing. That it will resonate with future generations for millennia.
Take a breath. Step aside. Put. It. Down. Play with your dogs, read a book, write something else. For one week, don’t touch the manuscript.
I understand that you’re excited that you’ve managed to write a whole book. I was thrilled, too! It was such an amazing feeling of accomplishment. I understand the desire to submit it to an editor right now. But don’t.
There will be plot holes. There will be excessive abuse of gerunds and/or adverbs, and many instances of stilted and stale dialogue, probably tagged in such creatively bizarre ways that you’d be laughed out of any self-respecting publisher’s office. (Hint: ‘said’ is practically invisible. Use any other attributions sparingly.)
If the author submits a first draft of a novel to an editor, that author had better be prepared to learn to wipe two buttholes after their morning bathroom visit, every day, for the rest of their life.
There are so many simple errors that every author makes, that there is a wealth of information on the don’ts of writing manuscripts online. So instead of sacrificing your confidence, first consider looking up what those common errors are. Find them in your manuscript. Eliminate them. Go nuclear. Learn to kill your darlings.
I’ve certainly had the experience of being given a first draft to edit. Most of the time, unless the author is willing to pay me what it would be worth to slog through endless cliché’s, poor grammar, crazy repetitions, redundancies, poor plot development, characters that don’t act like themselves (or anyone), I offer to evaluate the manuscript instead.
If you really, really want a professional to provide guidance for your first draft, you don’t want an editor. You want a manuscript evaluator. The evaluator provides a very valuable service. They will seek and find all those errors, tell you the sins you’ve committed against the English language and proper grammar, point out flaws in your character development or plot development, and suggest ideas as to how you could improve such errors.
I’ve enjoyed being a manuscript evaluator. Really, I love it. So why do I hate getting first drafts as an editor?
Well, the author is unlikely familiar with the editorial process, and that each editor works differently. They may think that, just because the last editor they worked with included three revisions for, oh let’s say something crazy like four hundred dollars, that I will do the same. They may expect that the editor will get the book into publishable condition for them. While this is certainly a goal, it is not always so simple.
I’ve worked with authors who haven’t been published simply because they’re too close to their work. They’re reluctant to take constructive criticism, or suggestions that would change a feature of their novel that is near and dear to them. They are unmovable on what seem like the smallest issues (such as those bizarre dialogue tags I brought up), but that publishers will look at as errors that only a novice would make.
Of course, I am in no way perfect. I f***ing love commas. I make (or miss) mistakes, also. However, if you are serious about getting that manuscript into shape, you must understand that, no matter how great your work is, there will always be room for improvement. And that’s how authors should want things. They should always strive to improve. If I’ve made a mistake as an author, or an editor, I always appreciate that mistake being brought to my attention. I learn from it. I grow from it.
The English language, in case you haven’t noticed, is a bit of a cluster****. There’s always something to learn. The tolerances of publishers can be temperamental as well, so while an author who used many gerunds last year was turned down for that (among other) reasons, their manuscript next year may be accepted with them.
So, learn your weak points. Learn them well. Find out how to fix them. Ask a friend or fellow author for help. But when you’re set in your ways, and your head’s sort of stuck in your own behind- no one will like working with you, and you’ll never grow as an artist (or as a human being, if we’re being honest, and not growing as a human will also stop you from growing as a writer. It's a horrid, self-perpetuating cycle). So when someone tells you that your main character sucks and why- don't write that off. Go through your manuscript with the specific goal of making your main character likeable.
I’ve gotten ungodly pissed at some of the critiques I’ve received. My character’s a little wimp? Gasp! How dare you? I’ve been that stubborn ass before, certain that because I have this perfect image in my head of who my character is, that the readers will have that exact impression. Guess what? They won’t. I wrote a full-fledged, decently-developed wimp.
I put the manuscript in a folder on my desktop and ignored it for a few weeks. I licked my wounds, and when I was ready, I went back through my manuscript, and holy shit, what do you know? I wrote a wimp. I profusely apologized to my beta-reader, who was kind enough to work on future stories of mine after this event.
Had I sent that first draft to an editor, I would have received it back with claw and bite marks all over it. I would have deserved them, too. There were several scenes in that first draft that I later deleted, or altered to the point that they were unrecognizable. There were characters I erased, and others I ultimately blended together.
This is common with drafts. That’s why you should have a long think before asking an editor to work on your first draft. It’s a lot more work for everyone and so, in the end, both parties end up frustrated, and the author is at risk of never writing again due to that old bruised ego.
I prefer the lower-stakes work of manuscript evaluation on occasion. It’s relaxing. The author and I can discuss things calmly, and if they disagree, well, I’m likely the first in a long line of professionals who will tell them that they’re wrong, so when they blow off my concerns, it’s a bit annoying, but I still get paid and I have the comfort of knowing that I will not be the last person to address those particular problems with their work. They'll be told many, many, many times.
As an evaluator, all I have to do is make suggestions. I don’t get into petty disagreements. I just highlight the issue, point it out to the author, explain why it’s an issue, and suggest how to fix it. I do this with any issue I spot. At that point, I assume the author applies the critiques that they agree with.
As an editor, I am often the author’s last line of defense against angry publishers, agents, and even readers. I’ve had authors whose work I will never put in my portfolio because, well, they didn’t learn any lessons, or take advice seriously.
These types of authors sometimes return to complain that their book didn’t sell, or that their readers were not engaged, or could not connect emotionally to their characters. They couldn’t get a publisher to blow a fart in their manuscript’s direction.
Do you want the above example to be you someday? No? Then instead of submitting a first draft to an editor, think of doing things like this first:
*That wonderful database that is at your fingertips at all hours of the day. There are thousands of articles out there, all filled with brilliant tips for authors.
*There are many, many books that you can reference as well. I recommend On Writing, by Stephen King, The Elements of Style, by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, and (if you’re more interested in the mechanics of grammar,) The Chicago Manual of Style, which is now in its’ sixteenth addition. Be warned, however, The Chicago Manual of Style set me back $70 at a time where I really shouldn’t have put that money on my credit card. I reference it constantly, however, so, I'm still out seventy bucks, but it was worth it.
*As stated a few times above, a manuscript evaluator is a fantastic resource if you struggle to pinpoint the issues within your work, and you want a professional to assist you as you get your book into publishable condition. Often, a manuscript evaluator helps determine if your work is publishable. They will let you know if it isn't as well as why it isn't. You can also submit outlines, or even just the first chapter of a book you've started, to the evaluator. This can also be expensive. There are ways to get around that expense, however, which brings me to my next point:
*Join your local writer’s groups and seek the opinions of said group. Writer’s groups exist for the purpose of supporting those who love their craft, and there will probably be five or more people willing to read your manuscript for you, and so long as you’re sure these people will not lie to you in order not to preserve your ego, your peers can be a fantastic resource. What if you don’t have time to physically join a writer’s group? Simple: join one online.
There are many fabulous forums and groups where you can find fellow authors to help you develop your manuscript. I found great help on absolutewrite.com (though the ads can be a bit annoying at times, I looked past them because the members are incredibly helpful).
The only downside to online forums is that many of them may require a certain amount of posts before you can get critiques for your work. So what? Join anyway. Be active. Make posts, ask questions, get help with the things you can be helped with, and before long, you’ll be able to join the critique forums.
After you’ve received and applied critiques and revised your manuscript until you can no longer spot those bad habits of yours (repetitive phrases, stiff dialogue, plot holes, redundancies, and every single unneeded word,) go ahead and find an editor. Make sure that editor has done work in your genre before and is genuinely interested in your work.
Once you find that editor, communicate. Take their advice, unless something sits really badly with you, and apply the changes they suggest.
Good luck! If you have any questions for me, feel free to contact me. I’m happy to give general advice to new authors.
One last thing- if you self-publish, I have a great blog for you that reviews other self-published authors. I would suggest sorting through the bad ones. The blogger does a great job of describing what's wrong with a book. www.thecosydragon.com