Thursday, October 25, 2007



Now that you’ve put yourself on your writing schedule and you’re churning out hopefully at least one to three pages a day, you’ve been making progress. You’re feeling good about your work. It’s actually starting to feel like a book. Or is it? Not! This is the halcyon period, you’re finished or almost finished with your first draft that you’ve been working for months on (maybe even years ) and it’s about to be done.

But in reality, this is where the hard work really starts. The first thing that I would suggest is that the moment that you write those fateful words; THE END, you pat yourself on the back ( you deserve it!) and then whatever you do, DON’T read anything that you’ve just written. No matter how good or bad it is, you’re too close to it at this point to be any objective kind of critic of your work. So I’d suggest that instead you do all of the other things that you’ve been putting off since you decided to write your masterpiece (now could definitely be the time for that day spa!). Take at least a couple of weeks, up to a month if you have the time, then print it out. It will give you a better, more accurate read than if you read it on the computer screen and it will also force you to really read, rather than continuing to edit on the screen while reading. Go to a quiet place where there will be no interruptions and read your entire manuscript from start to finish.

I stress this because that’s the only way that you’ll really get a good idea of the flow of the book, and if it’s working or not. Now the fun part starts; you’re either going to be pleasantly surprised at how well, in fact, your book does read, or you’ll be mortified at how horrible it is (rarely anything in between). But despite your initial reaction, don’t despair because even if YOU think it’s really good, someone else and probably many people will beg to differ. And conversely, even if you think it’s really bad, it’s probably not as unsalvageable as you first think.

This is where the first of the many, many edits will begin. I’d suggest approaching each re-write much as you first wrote the book. Write an outline of the big issues that are problematic. Diagram the character flows, are they coherent and well developed, is there a character arc for each of your main (and even your subsidiary) characters. Is the plot tight, where is it uneven or slow? Are there holes in the plot, action that begins but never gets resolved. Is there a clear beginning, middle, climax and end to your story? Presumably there was when you outlined the book, but did it translate to the page when you actually wrote it? Once you’ve outlined all of the big areas, then you can fine tune the edit, honing in on specific passages that may need to be moved, re-worked or eliminated. At this point you may want to get a friend who reads a lot to take a look at the manuscript, they may have some constructive feedback and can see things that you miss.

My only caution is that even if your friends love it or hate it, it’s probably still not an accurate barometer of what a literary agent or editor may say. And similarly, even if you’re a professional writer in another genre, such as screenwriting or journalism, and have someone in one of those fields read your book and give you comments, they still may not get to the heart of what a literary agent or editor is looking for. I speak from experience here, because what I discovered is that my screenwriter friends who read the initial drafts of my novel gave me the kind of notes that were appropriate for a screenplay but not necessarily for a novel.

This is where you might want to consider hiring a literary editor to professionally edit (from a story, structure, and character perspective) your manuscript. Like all professions there are good editors and bad editors, so you want to make sure that if you do hire someone they are competent and will give you the proper types of notes for your book. Look for someone who has experience editing your genre of manuscript. You wouldn’t necessarily want to hire someone who has only edited romance if you’ve got crime fiction. If you know literary agents or anyone at a reputable publisher, they usually work with or know freelance editors whom they can recommend. Generally, someone who has worked as an editor at one of the major publishers editing this type of material, is the kind of background that is helpful.

Finally, at the end of the day you have to know when the editing process is done, for the moment. And I stress for the moment because it never really ends until the final proofed galley goes to print! Next week, we’ll talk a little more about the editing process and what’s next in your book’s journey to publication.

If you’d like more information on my novel A DEAD MAN SPEAKS check out my website at, or you can contact me at


Felicia Donovan said...

Lisa, just dropping by to say I enjoyed reading about A DEAD MAN SPEAKS. Best of luck with that.

Your words of advice upon completion of the novel are very much on target. Distance is very important to allow the author to see their own work with a fresh set of eyes. I recently re-read the first book of my series and saw it in a completely different light than when it was first finished. As for "The End," I confess that I often have that written down long before the story is completed because the ending always seems so vivid in my mind.

Felicia Donovan

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