Or, what is the ‘right’ order to write in?
I see this question come up a lot in the writing groups I am in: When to employ an editor, when to get beta readers, when to share your work to get feedback, even when to publish.
As with anything, there aren’t hard and fast rules as such, but there are guidelines.
The most important things you need to consider are:
Making sure your manuscript that you’ve so lovingly crafted is as good as it can be before publishing or submitting
Keeping things cost effective and within your budget – editing, book cover design, marketing – the costs all add up, so working through a process is a good idea
Whatever route you choose to go down, whether it is self-publishing or submitting to an agent or publisher, you MUST ensure your manuscript is professional. Not only do you have to write something authentic, in your own voice, that is of excellent quality, it must be polished.
There is nothing worse than reading a book that has errors in it. It is distracting, annoying, and takes away from the reading experience. The most obvious is spelling errors, followed closely by punctuation that confuses the reader (you know the whole comma fiasco example: ‘learn how to cut, marinade and cook friends’). Grammar errors are annoying for some, but some of the more obscure rules can be overlooked by a lot of readers, but really, do you want to look unprofessional?
And of course, you don’t want to spend out a load of moula on a proofread, only to find your beta readers tell you later that you have some serious plot issues.
So, this is my suggestion for the writing process, this is what works for me and how I guide my clients, but it can be adapted:
Book idea: Huzzah! You have an idea – congrats
Initial research: Optional depending on your preference for planning or flying by the seat of your pants
Plot Outline: Outline plot using, for example, the three-act method
Character Arcs: Write character arcs – ensure your characters are going somewhere – they need goals, aspirations and you need to know whether they will reach them or not (personally, I love thwarting the goals of an MC, they don’t usually know what’s good for them)
Plan or First Draft: If you’re a full on pantser, you might start with a First Draft, but I strongly recommend, especially if you are new to writing, to do points three and four, um, first. If you are a full-on planner, you might do a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of everything that happens before you start your first draft
Editing: Self-edit draft to develop plot, find and fill those plot holes, develop your prose and fix the main issues, identify where you need to do additional research
Research: this is critical and can be done throughout your writing process, but I tend to do a big load of research at this point to make sure I am not spouting total made up BS. Even if you are creating a wonderful fantasy world, basing the science, physics, make up, societies, politics etc on real world scenarios and rules (or the opposite) will make it pop
Editing: Research leads to – more editing!
Alpha Readers: At this point, when you have a pretty secure draft, but perhaps with some plot questions remaining that you are well aware of (or not), you might seek out some alpha readers. These are folks that will give you opinion in an early draft of your story to help you figure out plot or character issues you might be stuck on
Editing: Alpha readers lead to – yes, more editing!
Editing: you may end up doing several rounds of edits at this point, honing your book beautifully
Professional editing: Developmental editing comes first. This is where your developmental editor turns your book on its head, helping you work through some of the issues you might be getting stuck with, not realise are even there and will help you really craft your novel into something special. This can sometimes be done alongside line editing
Beta readers: I only use beta readers when I am nearing the end of the process. At this point, you want to know if your book works and if it doesn’t, why. Then of course, you’ll do more editing
Proofreading: it is always best to pay a professional to proofread your manuscript. They will spot things you have gone blind to because you’ve read the darn thing so many times. This is particularly important if you plan to self-publish. A well-edited and proofread manuscript is a joy to read and your readers will thank you for it and are more likely to leave you good reviews (assuming your plot is engaging, enticing and you have strong character arcs – but you’ve already taken care of that at the start of the process – right!?)
Submission/Publish: You will know when your book is ready.
What NOT to do:
Do not: ask for beta readers when you are actually asking for alpha readers – there is a difference
Do not: share your first draft and expect unadulterated praise. Most first drafts are somewhere on the scale of sucking to sucking more.
Do not: put your manuscript out there with alphas or betas or your editor and expect them to gush over the whole thing – writing is subjective – some people love one thing, whilst others do not. And if you want to grow as a writer, you have to get used to people critiquing your work
Do not: put up with a**holes, though. There is a way to deliver critique and feedback that give the writer a warm glow about what they are good at, whilst helping them see what they need to work on. If anyone makes you feel bad when they critique you, first, check you’re not being defensive, and then look at what and how they’ve said it – yes, you could be being sensitive, but also, they might just not be very good at giving feedback
Do not: publish an early draft without making sure you have a strong plot, based on a known and accepted plot beat approach; you have strong character arcs; you have had some feedback from somebody who isn’t your mum or your best mate/husband/wife/pet