I've finished a novel. What next?
Part One: Edit!
After putting the final touches on my rough draft, and editing to my satisfaction, I sent my story off to my beloved beta readers: aka, my friends who also write and/or read romance and who've agreed to give the story a look-over. I've already taken out as many errors as I could find and rewritten most of the scenes that I didn't like, taken out whatever extras I could excise, and added a Prologue to make the beginning make more sense. Now what I'm looking for from my friends is for them to catch what I've missed: mostly word choice errors ("He reached into his back and pulled out a packet"... ouch!!!) and plot holes created by my rewrites. You might think I should already have caught those plot holes (and I do wish I had!), but remember: I already know what I'm thinking, and I've all the background information on my story and my characters floating around in my head. That means I'm actually less likely to spot little plot errors, or even major ones, because I've still got the original storyline in my head - including the parts I cut out!
As my lovely, awesome betas read, they point out mistakes, and my job is to go back and fix as much as I can. Some errors simply can't be fixed without a massive storyline rewrite. For example, I completely rewrote how magic worked in the world about halfway through, and thus an island that sank into the sea had originally a reason to do so; now it just sort of happens. It's kind of pivotal to the plot later in the series, so what do I do? Band-aid: My mages sink it on purpose, casting a spell for that reason, in the middle of a spell-casting bonanza that I already had in the story. Note that the island also mysteriously shrunk by three-fourths a mile, and moved nine miles inland. It's not what I first planned, but then, the story isn't, either.
What's important is that it flows, and that it makes sense.
I'm writing a story to be published. My story is polished, but like all writers, there will be things that continually bother me, that just aren't good enough. I'll keep trying to fix them, but I'm too much of a perfectionist to ever be truly satisfied with everything. Therefore, editing will last only until I succeed in my next step: Sell! I don't know when I'll have to stop, so fixing goes in stages, with every edit leaving the story saleable without further editing. Remember that you should never submit an unedited manuscript to an agent. Therefore, if you don't think your story is polished enough to be a finished product, you're not ready for selling it. By the time it goes to agents, the only changes you should be making are minor tweaks.
Part Two: Sell!
Hey, that's the point! I've already sent out five query letters to literary agents, but now I need to keep sending. The publishers I'm looking at all require submissions to be agented. Therefore, I'm looking for agents who are reputable and who publish my particular genre. Paranormal Romance that isn't urban fantasy is a tough niche to find an agent for. I'm avoiding agents who require a reading fee, because those are often scam artists (read Writer Beware before seeking an agent), and I'm researching each agent I find to discover what they usually publish. Remember: do your homework! When you're looking for an agent, it's important to spell their name correctly! And even more important is to choose people who actually represent what you write. Don't waste their time; they get enough junk mail already. Also, follow their instructions for submittals precisely. If they don't want the first five pages, then don't send them: the agent won't read what you've sent, and they'll probably just delete your e-mail (or trash it, if you're going snail mail) for the crime of being unable to follow directions.
I'm also keeping an eye out for local literary agents. Yesterday, I heard about a website (NCwriters) that I plan on researching over the next couple of days. I also heard about a writers' support group (Write 2 Publish) that meets about once a month in Raliegh. I went to talk to the host bookstore personally to find out more, and discovered that they sometimes have literary agents show up, plus they often have authors in all stages of publication. They next meet April 2, at 6:30, so I'm marking my calendar. I plan to show up with several copies of my first five pages and a book-back plot synopsis to catch interest, but I know they might not ever get read. That doesn't mean I'd be disappointed if I got no leads. Networking is a big part of selling. Since I don't personally know any published romance authors or agents, I have to do a little legwork before I can hope to be noticed. "Solicited query" is a much better place to be than "unsolicited query" - the previous has a good chance of getting at least a request for a partial (that is, when the agent asks for the first few chapters to get an idea of your writing style, but not the full manuscript), while the latter is just another e-mail in an inbox. Here's hoping I find an agent soon, but I'm not about to hold my breath as I wait. Instead, I'm going to hedge my bets by starting to work on another novel.
Part Three: Start planning another!
Although my first novel sets itself up for a sequel, the next story I plan on writing will be entirely different. Why? Because if one storyline doesn't catch an agent's attention, another might. That's right, I'm hedging my bets, giving myself two 'rummy' cards, increasing my odds... however you want to say it! Since I write quickly, I can complete a stand-alone novel and still write the second in the series within a reasonable period of time (four-five months for each is my goal).
This is going to be a very complex story. I'm going to have to work hard to keep it to a reasonable length. That means I'll need extra planning, but I still want to start writing by the end of the week... hopefully by March 7, no later than March 10. I know some plot elements will develop as I'm writing, so I'm not too worried if I'm not perfectly ready to begin, as long as I have a starting point... I'll start writing, and let the ideas ruminate in the back of my mind while I work. And sure, I'll have to go back and edit portions later, but that's okay. After all, every story starts as a rough draft - it's expected to be less than perfect. What matters is that's it's written, because you can't fix something that doesn't exist.
So it's off to lunch for me, and then a quick bout of editing before work. Planning is this evening, and if I'm awake, a little research, too. Wish me luck, and remember - you're not an author if you don't write!