In the monumental effort of writing a book, the biggest milestone is handing in your finished manuscript. Whew, that felt good.
You’ve done 95% of the work. But you’re not done. Unless you prepare for the rest of the work, your book won’t be as good as it ought to be — and it might end up ruined.
New authors get blindsided by this. Even experienced authors block it out and get surprised.
Go ahead, have a glass of champagne. But after that, here’s what to expect after you think you’re “done.”
1 Struggles with the copy edits
Since you worked with your own editor (you did do that, didn’t you), your publisher is unlikely to reject your manuscript. Once it’s accepted, it goes through copy editing.
Every author struggles with the edits from the copy editor. Those struggles vary from “this is an annoyance” to “this copy editor is destroying my work,” but there will be struggles.
Consider this: If your manuscript is 50,000 words, you’ll likely be dealing with between 2,000 and 6,000 copy edits. Every single one requires a decision. Making thousands of decisions can be intimidating.
Here’s what not to do: accept every edit. The copy editor’s job is to point out problems and to identify spelling, grammar, and logic errors, problematically repeated words, and confusing passages. But copy editors are not infallible, and they are not machines. They make judgments based on expertise, and you may not agree with all the judgments.
You’ll likely want to accept most of the edits, because the copy editor knows rules that you don’t. (I like believe I know all the rules, but every time I read a copy edit of something I wrote, I learn some new ones.) But where an edit changes the poetry of what you’ve written, messes up the meaning, introduces passive voice, or makes the manuscript worse based on an obuscure rule that you’re okay with ignoring, you’ll need to think for a moment.
Your bluntest and most powerful responses is “stet,” which means “let it stand,” in other words, “I don’t accept this edit.” Stet is awesome, and as the author, you can use it as much as you want. But it’s a lot better to understand the problem that the copy editor has identified and rewrite to fix it. That takes work.
Allow yourself at least a week to deal with copy edits. If you don’t, the results won’t be effective, and your manuscript will lose some of its wonderfulness after the copy editing stage.
2 Those last niggling fact checks
If you’re writing nonfiction, you should have done some fact verification before you handed in the manuscript. Typically, a few of those factual issues linger even after you hand in the manuscript.
There’s the guy who just couldn’t seem to get back to you by the deadline and verify a quote. Or the passage that reads “As a result, conversions improved by x%,” and you never got an answer on the value of x.
Don’t lose track of these little issues, because they can torpedo your book. If somebody backs out of being a case study after you’ve handed in the manuscript, you’ve got a big problem on your hands.
Within a few days after you’ve handed in the manuscript, send a personal note to each subject who still owes you a response. You might even want to hit them up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter, or call their number directly. Lingering fact verifications have the potential to make you miserable; now’s the time to take care of them.
3 Check the pages, even if you don’t think it’s your job
After the copy editing is done, you’ll get a bunch of laid out pages to review, typically in the form of a PDF. For the first time, your book will look like a book!
Don’t assume that the publisher (or whomever they outsourced it to) knows how to do this layout perfectly. As with copy edits, it’s your job to check the pages carefully.
You don’t need to read every word — publishers don’t usually mangle text — but here are a few things to look out for:
- Are there big gaps at the bottoms of pages because of poor placement of graphics or heads?
- Are graphics placed as close as possible to where they’re referenced in the text?
- Do the graphics look ok visually? (By now you’re getting the idea: graphics are the biggest problem in the page layout stage.)
- Are there widows (a single line of type separated from the rest of its paragraph by a page break) or orphans (tiny bits of text alone on a line at the end of a paragraph)?
- Are headings, lists, tables, and block quotes set properly?
- Have special characters (for example, accented letters, emojis, or dashes) mysteriously disappeared?
- Are there vertical quote marks where there should be opening or closing quotes or apostrophes?
- Are there lines of type that appear overcrowded, stretched out with extra space between words or letters, or set in the wrong font?
- Did they spell your name or the name of the book wrong on the running heads? (Yes, it happens, and yes, it is mondo embarrassing.)
You may not think it is your job to check this stuff. These are errors that the publisher should catch. But if they get into print, you’ll regret them. So take some time and check the pages carefully.
4 Get started on your promotion plan
If you are using a traditional publisher, it’s typically six months or more between when you hand in the manuscript and when the book is published. If you’re using a hybrid publisher, that can be three or four months; if you’re self-publishing, it can be just a few weeks.
What are you doing during that time? Basking in the glow of having written a book?
No! That is the time when you should be executing your marketing plan. This includes everything from soliciting back-cover blurbs to pitching publications to lining up speeches to creating promotional graphics and videos. Not to mention getting your author website ready to go.
The biggest mistake I see authors make is fumbling the launch plan. The time to think about and plan the launch is not after the book is published. That’s execution time. The time to plan the launch is in the interval between manuscript completion and publication. Don’t waste that interval.
The work of writing is not just writing
Everyone knows that writing is work. But no one tells you about all the work coming your way after the writing is done.
Don’t let up just because you’ve finished your manuscript. Those post-manuscript steps are crucial to getting to a finished book that’s not just perfect and beautiful, but actually popular.