You've finished your first draft – let's celebrate!

You’ve finished the first draft of your MG or YA book! Now what?

1024 578 Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

1. Party like it’s 2020!

You’ve written a novel – you rock! This is such an enormous achievement and you deserve a big night out on the town, or at least a really good milkshake from one of those places that blend up Twixes and Terry’s Chocolate Orange bars. Pat yourself on the back, do a little skip and remember how it feels to finish that first draft, because it’ll feel even better to finish the final one.

2. Sleep for a hundred years

Once the champagne hangover – or milkshake brain freeze – wears off, relax and forget about your manuscript. You’ve got lots of hard work to do if you want to get your novel in the best shape, but it’s best to take a break for a few weeks and come back to your story with fresh eyes. Don’t read it, don’t edit it, don’t think about it. Step away from the computer!

3. Decision time: do you want to publish?

Are you happy to tick ‘write a book’ off your bucket list and leave it in a folder on your desktop forevermore, or do you want people to read it? There’s no right or wrong answer to this. Some people just want to get the story down on paper and are content to keep it to themselves. I’ve written a lot of poems and stories – even a 30,000-word children’s book – that will never see the light of day and I’m fine with that. But if you dream of spotting a ten-year-old on the bus poring over your book on their way to school, or reading an Amazon review from a reader who just cannot wait to tell all their friends about this awesome middle grade spy thriller, then it’s going to take some work. Let’s make it happen!

4. Rise and shine, honey! Time for work

Now comes the time to dust off that manuscript and get your editing hat on. Easier said than done, I know! When you’ve finally reached the finish line with your manuscript it can be hard to get back to work and rake through it again. Maybe you’re sick of the sight of it (this is why a break helps!) or you’re scared to re-read in case it’s not as good as you remember. Or maybe you’re just so excited for the next stage that you want to hitch your manuscript to a carrier pigeon right now and get it out into the world. I hear you – I’m insanely impatient.

But you’d be doing your story a huge disservice if you just hit ‘Send’ on the first draft. Yes, that draft is a thing of beauty because you worked your socks off to make it happen, but the next draft will be even more gorgeous. Don’t you want to meet that version next?

The next step is going to be showing people your work, so show them the very best version you can produce. Whether you plan to share your draft with a writing group, beta readers or a professional editor, you’ll get way more value out of the process if you do some hard work now. You don’t want to waste time having early readers point out problems you could have fixed yourself if you’d done some more editing.

This stage of the process can be daunting, but I actually find self-editing pretty fun! It’s a chance to play around with my story and hone my craft. I learned more from self-editing my middle grade novel than I’ve learned from any degree or writing course.

Curtis Brown Creative has some fabulous advice on self-editing your novel.

5. Get peer feedback

Sharing your manuscript with beta readers or a writing group is a brilliant first step in the editing process. It gives you a reader’s perspective and some constructive feedback without spending money, and you can use that feedback to revise your manuscript and get it shipshape before hiring a professional editor.

If you’re not already in a writing group, join one! They’re a brilliant way to network with other writers and they keep you accountable when you’re tempted to procrastinate or give up. Plus, giving feedback to other writers is a hugely valuable way to learn and refine your own craft. Explaining to another writer why their story isn’t quite working helps you see and understand problems in your own manuscript.

If you’re an introvert like me, you can find virtual groups where you share your work online and hide under the desk when somebody says something harsh about your writing. Peer feedback was an important part of my Novel Writing MA and we were graded on our critiques of other students’ work. I hated it to begin with – I don’t handle criticism well and sometimes I’d post my writing sample and avoid my classmates’ comments for weeks. What a waste of valuable feedback! Week after week I got better at reading and accepting critiques because I saw how it was improving my writing, and I could see how much my own critiques of others’ work was teaching me, too.

6. Decision time: self-publishing or traditional publishing?

This is a personal choice and both options have pros and cons. I think self-publishing is fabulous and it’s a wonderful way for beginning writers to get their words out there on their own terms. But it’s important to read about your options and make an informed decision, so have a look at these links:

7. Understand the different types of editing

There are several types of professional editing available and they all happen at different stages in the process. You might opt for just one or two editing services or you might decide to take your book through each stage, or you might choose not to hire a professional at all. That’s absolutely up to you. To give you an idea of your options, here are the types of editing available, and the order they should typically be done in:

    1. Manuscript critique/assessment: This is a big-picture review of your novel focusing on the fundamental story elements like plot, structure, character and genre. It won’t include actual edits or comments within the manuscript itself but will rather come in the form of several pages of feedback and suggestions to improve your story.
    2. Developmental edit: This will focus on the same issues as above but will come with comments and recommendations throughout the manuscript, usually via in-line comments or comment bubbles in the margin. It will cost quite a bit more than a manuscript critique but is much more intensive.
    3. Copy-edit / line-edit: This stage focuses on sentence-level issues like spelling, grammar and style and should always come after a developmental edit because it’s likely you’ll be making some big changes to your manuscript – maybe even deleting whole chunks – and it’s a waste to have text edited if it’s not definitely staying!
    4. Proofread: This will be the last stage in the editing process and deals in proofs, correcting any major sentence-level mistakes that have been left behind, like typos and grammar issues, and also issues caused in the design stage. It’s an important stage because no editors are perfect and there will always be mistakes hiding in your manuscript that nobody’s spotted.
It’s important to note that these services can vary from editor to editor, even if they’re calling them the same thing, so double check what’s included when you hire a professional editor.

8. Hire an editor

It’s important to make it clear now that you do not have to hire an editor before publishing. It’s your book and your choice, and all authors have different budgets, goals and priorities. Editors will help make your book better, but self-publishing is open to everybody and you won’t be told ‘no!’ if you try to upload your book without first hiring a professional to work on it with you.

On the other hand, editors can bring magic and stardust to your manuscript and to your publishing journey. It’s not just about the finished product, it’s about the skills, knowledge and enthusiasm you can take away from the relationship.

Whichever type of editor you’ve decided to start with, look for one who understands your genre and audience. Think about what you want from the relationship. Do you need an editor who’ll be tough and brutally honest with you, or will you benefit from a gentler, hand-holding approach? Do you want to get started right away or are you happy to book in and wait a while for the editor you want? Check out their qualifications and training. The SfEP is the most widely recognised professional body in the UK so their training is topnotch, and I’m not just saying that because I’ve done a bucket load of it.

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes