There are many different steps that go into the creation of a novel. You have your original idea, plot and plan until you’re confident enough to write it, then you do the writing itself, then you edit and do more writing, and then more editing… and then there’s the publication. If you’ve made good progress on a novel but don’t know what to do next, here are some steps you can take before submitting your manuscript to a publishing house!
1. Know your story. As in, be able to summarize it in a sentence if needed. This will save you a lot of trouble and better invite an agent or publisher to read your novel, as it proves that you can do more than put semi-organized words on a few hundred pages of text. Even if you did this step when you were first planning your book, make sure it’s still up to date and an accurate depiction of what your story is all about.
2. Have a killer opening. That’s the real make-or-break point of your story. Many publishers and agents will only be interested in the first chapter or a set number of pages before they will take you seriously, and that’s all most people will bother with before forming an opinion on your writing. To get an idea of what you want, pretend your in a library or bookstore, and you see a book that looks interesting but that you’ve never heard about. How will you decide whether you take it home? You’ll probably open the cover and read the first few sentences or paragraphs as your ultimate decision maker. Keep the flow healthy and the action engaging so that people won’t want to put your story down!
3. Work hard on your summary and letter of interest. This is not the same as a cover letter for a job–instead, you want to downplay yourself as much as possible. Keep it short and concise and focused on your novel. In my experience, publishers aren’t interested in how many years you’ve been working on your book or even how you got the idea. They want to know what it has to offer the literary world and why they should add it to their catalogue. If you save their time, they’ll be much more inclined to give it to you.
4. Watch your tension. This is a huge point, and I’m saving it for another article, but there is one simple trick that can’t be left out. I’ve fallen into the habit of marking where I stop reading, when going through my drafts. The reason I stopped doesn’t matter: life-or-death emergency, phone call or visit, or just that I’m tired after a long day of staring at my computer screen. Somewhere down the line I made the decision to stop there and nowhere else, and that means that on some level there was a drop in energy and tension at that point. Big name novelists can afford to get by on controlled pacing drops, but as a general rule, if your book is slow-paced enough for you to set it down at any point, you could probably up it to make it more interesting. You don’t want anyone to set your book down willingly, because otherwise your readers might never pick it back up. You can’t afford this, especially at this stage of your writing.
5. Be proactive. You can go back and read my article about when to stop, but you need to know that your novel will never reach perfection. You need to be willing to stop editing eventually and take a risk. It doesn’t need to be perfect, so long as you submit it to the right place and the right person reads it.
If you go for all or nothing when fixing up your novel, you’ll get nothing every time. Sooner or later, you’ll need to take a risk if you want to get published, and when that time comes you want to put all of your energy into making the best impression you can on the publisher or agent you plan on submitting to. Know your story and know how to sell it. And make sure that no one who picks up your novel can bear to set it down.