Brace yourself – there is a lot going on in this phase…
Your month has passed and it’s time to review. Did you wait leave your novel for a whole month? It’s important that you do. It’s easy to want to jump straight into reviewing everything. Don’t do that. The month will give you necessary reflection time. If you’ve waited the month or so then you’ll see why it was important to have that time out. Don’t leave it too long though as all you’ll be doing is procrastinating again. The consolidation phase is a very busy phase and can be completely overwhelming, so it’s easier to break this into smaller chunks. Some will be easier than others, as always.
Electronic reading – load your novel onto an electronic device. If you have Kindle or the App then you can send this to your device, or just email it to yourself and open the file electronically. The purpose is to read your entire novel from beginning to end without making any corrections. This is why it is easier on an electronic device as you’re not tempted to get old red out and start pruning. Just sit back, relax and read your novel. You’ll be the first person to do this. Don’t worry if it doesn’t read great first time, you’ll be the only person ever to read this version of it.
Time to be brutal – print off a paper copy and get the red pen out. Doing it by hand means you spot more than when you edit on screen. Remember when you read your novel the first time? That character you love who doesn’t actually work and looks a bit plonked? Drop them. That powerful scene which made you cry whilst writing and now seems out of place? Cut it. Random things, which don’t add anything to the plot? You’ve guessed it. This part will hurt, yet it is a necessary process you have to go through and it is better you spot these things rather than potential agents of worse your readers if you self-publish. You may need to re-write a scene, or an entire chapter. In effect you will be writing your novel for a second time.
Beta readers – now you have a second draft, which should have taken a while, usually as long as the acceleration phase, if not longer!. The second draft is not something to rush as it’s the biggest re-write you’ll probably do. At this stage it still won’t be a polished product, however it’s time to let other people read it. People you trust to be honest about what they think, otherwise known as beta readers. I find friends and colleagues work better for this phase. Family members may not be completely honest to avoid hurting your feelings. For some family members this is won’t be a problem, so whatever works for you. Pick a wide selection of people (4-8), thinking about your target audience and your beta readers should ideally fit in this category. The beta readers should be looking for any continuity blunders and any plot holes. Are you characters likeable, or do they bring out strong negative emotions? Either is fine if that is what you’re going for, yet if your hero comes across as unlikeable to everyone then now is the time to know it. If you have any twists in the novel check that they are believable and your readers should feel satisfied at the end of your novel, rather than feeling cheated by an ending which came from nowhere. If you don’t want pay beta readers, you can pay for a professional manuscript critique. For an 80,000 novel this will cost between £300-£500. This is not a professional copy edit – that comes later. This is something you may want to do as well as your beta readers, but you should at least do one or the other.
The third draft – it’s time to take all your feedback and write your novel for a third time. This could mean re-writing an entire chapter again, moving a scene, dropping another character, or just having a general tidy up. You need to be logical, rather than emotional which will be difficult as you are so invested in your novel by now, however, also be practical. If one person didn’t like a scene then don’t assume it has to be cut, yet if four people say the same thing then you probably need to look at it again.
Once you’re happy with the final structure of your novel it’s time to give a final proof-read and tidy up, so it’s time for anther break. Leave your novel for a couple of weeks before you start, so you’re looking at it fresh and don’t edit on a computer screen or rely solely on the spellcheck function.
Next steps – now your novel is ready to send to literary agents, if that’s what you want to do. You’ll need to carefully check the submission guidelines for each as they do vary, and you’ll no doubt need a synopsis and cover letter. There’s lots of advice out there, a lot of it conflicting. I swear by Jericho Writers. There’s a lot of free resources on their site if you don’t want to sign up as a member. I won’t get into the agent and traditional publishing side here as I went down the self-publishing route.
Copy-editing – if you are going to self-publish, you will need to pay a professional copy-editor. This non-negotiable and the biggest investment you’ll make into your novel. If you don’t do this, your novel won’t be able to complete with the traditionally published books which have been trough several editorial stages. If you want your book to sell, it needs to be a polished product. A copy-editor will cost around £400-£800 for an 80,000 novel. I would always send them a short sample first, which any credible copy-editor will edit for free to give you an example of how they work.
Once you have a copy-editor and they complete their edits, you will write your book for the fourth and final time. If you are submitting to agents, you generally don’t need a copy-editor.
Self-publishing – if you still want to self-publish then there is no better place to go for advice than Dave Gaughran – this guy knows everything there is to know about self-publishing, so I would recommend you look at his website and books aimed at self-published authors. Your other essential investment will be a cover designer – that’s something else you need to get right, when you are competing with over three million other books.
That’s it for the consolidation phase – I did say there was a lot to do. Tomorrow we look at the last phase (Trepidation) which is about actually getting people to buy your book…