I Wrote a Novel. Now What?

So, you accomplished one of your major goals this year. You wrote a novel. 

What do you do next?

Do you send it off to an agent or editor and sit back to wait for a contract? Do you start the sequel? Set up  a fan page on Facebook?

Typing "the end" is really just the beginning. When I began writing several years ago, I mistakenly thought that finishing my novel gave me the right to look for an agent immediately. These days, agents want to see work that is polished, not a first draft. And seasoned writers will tell you that the real writing happens in revision. It's when words are finally out of your head and on the page, that you can actually do something with them.

There are many things you can do once you finish your novel. But I've boiled them down to two essentials.

Revise. Set your manuscript aside for a month before you begin. You need a little distance from it. Writing teacher and author James Scott Bell suggests printing it out and reading it like you would someone else's book. It's surprising how much I miss when I edit on the computer. For more tips on revisions, check this Nanowrimo page.

Books like Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Manuscript Makeover, and Revision and Self-Editing can help you know what to look for in your manuscript. Once you've combed your manuscript several times, and have improved it to the best of your ability, it's time for the next step.

Other Eyes. This is where you step out (perhaps with fear and trembling) and let other people read your novel. Family and friends do not count. It's important to get honest feedback from people who already know how to write. Your friends will only be impressed that you actually wrote a novel, and most will think it's great, no matter how many problems there are with your plot.

No, what you need are people who are strangers. People who will give you the brutal truth about what works and what needs changing. People who aren't worried about hurting their relationship with you. You'll win in two ways: your manuscript will become stronger, and you'll develop the thick skin you need for the road ahead. If you're looking for a critique group, here are several to choose from.

Where are you at with your novel?


  1. Hi, Debbie, I enjoyed this post. I have two novels I've finished (for children; a chapter book and a middle grade novel) and they've been seen by other eyes. The readers have made very good suggestions, and, starting Monday, I work on the rewrites. You are so right about how differently you read a hard copy than while editing on the computer. That's when you really need trusted writing buddies who critique well, too.

    Good luck with your own novel!

  2. The worst mistake one can make is believing they are done when they aren't. The books you named are great ideas.

    Personally, I'm done with the rewrite and am waiting for feedback. Then, onto draft three. I don't know if I'll be done then, either.

  3. Sixth draft.

    I'm one of those people that could keep going until I die. My problem is my characters. They could always be rounded, more filled with awesome. (That was not a good sentence)

  4. As writers, it's really hard to feel like we're "done"--especially when we know agents and editors will chime in with their own revisions!


  5. I've already put out two chapters to critiquing groups, and...wow, the results have been amazing. I've known for ages I need to cut my word count big time, and these guys helped me to chop 7k in one fell swoop! It was awesome :D but yeah, I need to send out the whole thing sometime soon, to some brutal strangers who know their stuff. I'm currently on my 2.2nd revision or so.

  6. Sounds like you've found a golden group, Trisha. Not everyone is so fortunate. I hope you'll find the perfect strangers (hey, that's a pun!) to tackle the whole manuscript.




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