Seven suggestions to soup up your manuscript – SD Robertson

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By SD Robertson

So you’ve finished the first draft of your novel. Give yourself a pat on the back. You’ve already got much further than most would-be writers. But you’re not done yet, I’m afraid. The next stage – editing your manuscript – is crucial if you want to stand a good chance of getting it published.♥

I realise this might sound daunting to someone who’s not done it before, but fear not: I’m here to help. I’ve drawn up a list of seven top tips to get you started on transforming that rough diamond into something sparkling and exquisite.

As a debut novelist, it’s a process I’ve been through recently. Hopefully the benefit of my experience will prove useful to you.

1. This might sound strange, but the most important thing you can do first is take a break. You’re far too attached to your manuscript when you’ve just reached the end. You need to disconnect yourself before you start editing. So go away and do something else for a few weeks. Then return with fresh eyes.

2. Read your manuscript through, treating it as much as possible like a book you’d read for pleasure. You should note down anything that crops up as you go along – particularly mistakes – but steer clear of actually making changes until you reach the end. You need to judge it as a whole, which is hard to do if it’s in a state of flux.

3. Once you’ve read the lot, go over your notes. It’s time to reflect, as clinically as possible, on what needs altering to improve the book. This is as much about ironing out plot holes and inconsistencies as about correcting errors. It can be anything, in fact, from removing unnecessary sections or characters to adding new ones. Do whatever’s necessary. Trust your gut.

4. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Very few writers look back at what they’ve written and love it. You can always find something you’d like to change, but you can’t alter everything. Listen to your inner critic, but make sure the writer part of you remains in the driving seat.

5. Once you’ve made all your changes, read it through again, paying special attention to any new/altered sections to ensure you’ve not added in any typos. I find using the track changes function of your word processor really helps here.

6. Give copies of your manuscript to a select few family and/or friends. Not too many: a handful should be enough. Try to pick people who read frequently and will give you an honest reaction. Listen to their opinions and allow them some time to sink in. Did more than one person make the same point? That’s almost certainly worth looking at, then. What to do with the rest is up to you. Reading is very subjective – and ultimately it’s your novel. Bear in mind, though, that the right changes for the book aren’t always the easiest to make.

7. The next stage, assuming all changes have now been made, is to prep your manuscript for sending off to literary agents or (if you can find any) publishers who accept direct submissions. It’s really important to go through it again, or get someone else to, and remove any remaining spelling mistakes etc. You only get one chance to make a good first impression and this is an easy way to blow it. Pay particular attention to the first three chapters, which are all you tend to submit initially. You also need to correctly format the manuscript. There’s a post about this on my personal blog which you might find helpful.

And there you have it. Writing your novel is only the first stage of a process. Self-editing comes next, followed by more editing if you’re lucky enough to land a publishing deal. Hopefully this guide will help with that. I wish you all the very best.

Former journalist S.D. Robertson quit his job as a local newspaper editor to pursue a lifelong ambition of becoming an author. Time to Say Goodbye (Avon HarperCollins) is his debut novel. It’s a heart-rending story about the unique bond between a father and his daughter, published on 11th February.

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