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What To Do When You Have Finished Your Novel Manuscript, by SM Johnston

manuscript pages on table with laptop

If you have finished writing a novel manuscript, congratulations! That’s an amazing achievement. However, if it’s your first draft then it’s not ready to go anywhere yet. It’s a common mistake for writers to rush a query when their manuscript is still really an early draft. Often a manuscript needs several rounds of revision, and possibly a rewrite, before it’s ready to be sent out to an agent or a publisher.

When I first started writing, I had no idea how to revise and was terrible at editing my own work. But I thought I would share some things that worked for me:

  1. Get an Alpha Reader: This is your cheerleader. They read as you write, make notes about your work and encourage you to keep going. This could be a friend or family member – just remember they’ll be biased towards your writing. They’re also probably not professionally trained to edit manuscripts.
  2. Get a Beta Reader: This is someone who (hopefully) is a writer or has some expertise in this area. There are plenty of critique groups out there and blogs that try to help connect compatible critique partners. (BTW, Beta reading is normally a two-way street. You read for them as well).
  3. Get a professional opinion: Some festivals and conferences offer the opportunity for manuscript appraisals with editors and agents, though often it’s only for part of the manuscript, as well as presentations and workshops on honing your writing. If money is an issue, there is a free online conference, called WriteOnCon. Keep an eye on social media circles for critique competitions and auctions. If you have enough money you can also pay for an editorial review.

Take all the feedback seriously. It can be confronting to have your hard work ripped apart, but it’s an important part of the process. My first novel has been through multiple revisions and a rewrite and is about to go through another revision. (And if you land an agent and/or a publisher they will probably ask for revisions too).

However, you should also hone your skills in reviewing your work yourself. Learning to edit your own work can be hard, however, if you’re serious about your craft, check out this post by Elizabeth May on how to self-edit a manuscript in eight steps. (

Not only will this process make your novel better, but it will improve your writing overall.


SM Johnston bio page

Stein on Writing: A Master Editor of Some of the Most Successful Writers of Our Century Shares His Craft Techniques and StrategiesSelf-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into PrintThe First Five Pages: a Writer's Guide for Staying out of the Rejection PileThe Elements of StyleOn WritingThe Art of Dramatic Writing: Its Basis in the Creative Interpretation of Human MotivesWriting for Emotional Impact

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Some wise advice here. Another good think to do is to try leave your manuscript for a few months (if possible) and then you get the chance to look at it again with fresh eyes. Above all, give it all the time it needs. Good luck with your manuscript!

    July 15, 2012

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