In this last installment in this series on the writing process I will focus on what happens after your first complete book draft is ready. Finishing the first rough-cut of your future bestseller is of course a monumental accomplishment which deserves to be celebrated. However, you should keep in mind that your magnum opus is still far from ready for prime time. So after you have done your victory dance and drunk a flute of champagne, prepare yourself for the last mile!
By last mile I mean the stage of book writing in which you transform your crude manuscript into a polished final product, potentially for sale if that’s your ambition. Finishing a book is by no means a sprint. In fact it is completely the opposite. It is all about patience and taking your time. I highly recommend that you fight the temptation to rush to market no matter how amazing you feel your book is. The more patient you are the more likely you will be to produce the high quality bestseller of your dreams.
There are a couple of essential steps that you must go through to finish the last mile. In many ways these are a sort of rite of passage that every author must go through regardless of whether they are J. K. Rowling or Joe Schmoe next door.
Proofread: You should thoroughly proofread and edit your manuscript to remove all grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. At the very least you should ask someone to proofread it for you. As obvious as this may sound many books still go to press riddled with glaring errors. This will reflect poorly on both the book and you as an author. As a self-published author this is especially important since there is a general perception in the literary world that self-published books are of lower quality than conventionally published books. Don’t prove them right!
Beta testing with readers: After fixing all the errors in your manuscript it is a good idea to print off a few test copies to get some feedback from potential readers in your target audience. This will be a useful sanity check that your story-line is coherent and engaging, as well as help you to find potential gaps and blind spots. I did a beta test with five readers for my memoir Walking in Footsteps of Promise and I found the feedback to be invaluable. Each reader gave me unexpected insights that helped me to sharpen the story. From shortening the chapters to make them more readable, to adding more details and cliffhangers in key parts. Beta testing will save you from a lot of headaches later on and maybe even spare you from receiving a brutal review or two!
Rewriting & Rewriting: Be prepared during the last mile to rewrite your book extensively. As I mentioned in part 2 of this blog series writing is all about rewriting. And the end phase of book writing is no different. After you receive feedback from your beta testers you will likely need to do some major surgery on your book. This could mean rewriting the opening or closing chapters or even splitting up and fusing two chapters. For all three of my books, from Squash Diary to Walking in Footsteps of Promise and Fresh Ereba, I have made major changes during the last mile. For instance with Squash Diary, I added two introductory chapters and a conclusion chapter, while for Fresh Ereba I extensively revised several stories to add in more dialogue and to make the stories more vivid for young children. Rewriting is of course not only about adding or writing over text. It also frequently involves cutting parts out which weaken your storyline or are superfluous.
Formatting: This is crucial in order to publish your book in a form that is printable by a publisher and readable by your audience. So it is important to either do your homework and learn the basics of book formatting, or to pay for your book to be professionally formatted. Either way you should have a clear idea in your head about how you would like to present your opus to the world. There are a myriad of questions for which you should have answers, such as: Are you publishing a paperback or a hard cover book? What font style and font size do you feel fits your story? How many words per page should you aim for? Will there be pictures or illustrations? How long do you want each chapters to be? How many pages are you aiming for? Plus many more small details that would make you want to pull your hair out – like margins, gutters, line spacing and page numbering. I learned formatting the hard way. By doing it myself for all of my books after searching online. It is not easy but I feel it has definitely taught me a lot.
Cover design: This is one of the most important aspects of your book since it is what first attracts readers to your book. So you do not want to mess it up! To put it simply, I strongly advise you to pay a graphical artist for a professional book cover design unless you are yourself a graphic design guru. I used fiverr for my last two book covers and I am thoroughly satisfied with my investment (which did not cost me an arm and a leg by the way!). Included in the cover design is of course a concise yet engaging back cover blurb which peaks potential readers interest in your book. There are no magic formulas for this, in my view, but you should definitely put some serious effort into the back cover text and not leave it as an afterthought. Trust me it will be worth it when the book sales start rolling in!
Marketing: If you plan to offer your book for sale you should get the word out a few months before you publish the book. Even if you have written a masterpiece no one will know about it unless you make the world aware of it. I recommend using any (legal) means at your disposal to market your book. Social media (Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc.), email newsletters, websites, blogs, you name it. Again, I must confess that this is a lesson I have learned the hard way after self-publishing three books and not knowing the ropes of literary world. Marketing is everything. So be prepared to channel your inner door-to door salesman when marketing your book.
I wish you all the best in publishing your first book. It will be a huge accomplishment which you should be proud of no matter what!