Hello people of the internet!
Today I’ll talk about what happens once you finish a manuscript. In reality, there are hundreds of ways this can go (including the answer of “nothing”) but I’m not going to spend your precious time talking about a random hypothetical, I’m going to break down the differences between traditionally published books and indie published books, and the many steps it takes to complete a novel.
Surprisingly, these two routes are very similar, but I’ll have pictures and anecdotes along the way to showcase the differences.
(Additionally, this is for fiction novels, not non-fiction or children’s books, which are both different in their own right.)
How Do You Know if the Manuscript is Done?
Here are the steps I like to take to make sure I’ve done some due diligence in writing a novel.
1. I get critiques from other authors about the story structure and character development.
This usually consists of exchanging chapters and getting feedback, both good and bad. Sometimes my fellow authors will like a thing—
Or sometimes they’ll think something is confusing.
Sometimes there are grammatical changes (and fixing of typos) but it’s mostly a discussion of the story.
2. I get people to beta read the whole novel.
This usually consists of friends, family, and other authors (who didn’t do the critiques) to read the novel in its entirety to make sure it flows well, they like what happens, and it wasn’t confusing to follow. The beta reading stage doesn’t usually have in-line comments, it’s more about answering the questions of: “Was it a good story?” – “Would you want to read the sequel?” – “Were you confused at any point?” – “Was there something you hated?”
This feedback helps me understand what readers enjoy, and what I should focus on to make an entertaining story.
Keep in mind, I don’t change details based on every comment. Entertainment is subjective. I had someone tell me they didn’t like the main character of a novel because he was male, and they would’ve preferred the whole story if the main character was female. That’s just one person, and since I disagreed, I ignored that comment and continued with my story.
On the other hand, if 3-5 people all have the exact same comment (i.e. “It was totally unbelievable that the character survived that jump!”) then I usually change it.
In my experience, authors are never 100% comfortable with their finished work. There are always things that can be improved, or scenes they want to add/take away, but you have to “finish” the thing at some point!
Once that’s all done (or as close as you can get), it’s time to actually get this thing published!
Traditionally Published Route
Once you’ve finished with a manuscript (and had it critiqued and beta read) you would submit it to your agent. If you don’t have an agent, you need to query one, and that’s a skill set completely separate from novel writing.
Let’s just assume you have an agent, for the purposes of this article. This is the point where the agent will read the novel (or give it to their assistants to read) and then give you feedback. This feedback will usually involve how to make the novel more “sellable.”
One time, while I spoke with my agent, he told me about a specific editor at a publishing house (Sarah Peed) and what she was looking for.
Once the agent suggests changes (and you make them) the agent will take the manuscript and pitch it to editors at publishing houses. This can be quick, or take forever, depending on the publishing house and editor (for instance, I’ve had a book sitting on the desk of a publisher for over a year, and I’m still waiting with bated breath to hear from them – fingers crossed).
Good Outcome: Your Novel Sells
Fantastic! Now you and an editor are paired in the publishing house, and it’s time to change your novel yet again!
The editor will go through and give you lots of suggestions (and make everything pretty with the grammar). This process is entirely dependent on your editor. I’ve worked with editors who were wonderful and loved my work, and their global notes were filled with praise and excitement:
And I’ve also worked with editors who wanted to change damn near everything, from the way magic works:
To minor details about the world and how everyone should react to certain situations:
In these instances, you have to discuss the story with your editor and work together for the finished product. You can’t disregard everything they want, even if you disagree, and they’re going to go through and change some elements in your writing.
Then they’ll send the book to a proofreader. And then probably another proofreader. And then another. Mine went through 4 rounds and then through someone who checks continuity.
Once that’s finished, you get some input on the cover! This usually involves a questionnaire that you fill out based on what you would like to see.
They have tons of questions (this was just a few) and you go through each to help the cover artist get the best cover you can.
Once that’s done, you’ll have to wait for the artist to get back to you. Depending on the publishing house, you’ll either have several covers to choose from, or they’ll just… give you one. Really depends.
Finally, the book has come together! The publishing house formats the insides, sends you author copies, and you sit back and wait for release (usually 6 months after the last of edits).
The wait can be painful, but the publisher tends to send off books for reviews or sets up blog tours or library tours, etc.
Bad Outcome: Your Novel Doesn’t Sell
Then you need to write a new one. Doesn’t matter how much you love it, or how much time you spent on it. That’s how traditionally published novels work, and sometimes the process can be painful, but that’s the reality.
Indie Published Route
Surprisingly, many of the steps are the exact same in an indie published book, it’s just you now have a lot more power over what’s going on.
For instance, once you’re done with the manuscript, you need to get it edited. Unlike traditionally published books, however, you need to pay people. This has its ups and downs. First, if you don’t like their suggestions, you can completely ignore them.
For instance, this editor suggested a word change:
But I don’t want the word “ash” here, it’s meant to be “soot” (which is different) so I’m not going to make the change. I don’t have to justify myself to the editor, nor do we need a long discussion or a back-and-forth, I’m the final judge.
You’ll also want to hire a proofreader (or two!) to make sure everything is in place.
Then, you’ll need to hire a cover artist and someone to format the book for e-readers. During these steps, I also have all the say in the matter. My cover artists gives me multiple versions, I pick the one I want, or ask for changes, and the changes are made.
Same with the formatting. If I want different chapter headers or designs, I ask for them. Everything gets altered depending on my preference.
You might think, “Aren’t the costs adding up? That’s a lot of people!”
Yup. The costs can get high, but that’s the beauty of open markets—you can hire people for almost any price range (though you sometimes get what you pay for, be careful). In my experience, a book runs about $2,000 to have everything completed in a professional manner (editing, proofreading, formatting, cover, etc.). And if you get an audiobook, the costs can get even higher.
“Do you make that money back?“
A lot of people don’t, but I’m lucky (and very grateful) that I do. My business is in the positive, and I’m looking forward to many more books in the future, all indie published.
This wasn’t meant to say one route is better than the other. Traditionally published books have their advantages, and so do indie books. This is more of “What does it look like to publish books from an author’s perspective?”
I hope you all have found it illuminating.
Have a great day!