Catching Fireflies

finding magic along the way

So Then What?

Ok, so you manage to get a first draft completed. Now what?

Well, first of all, hug a loved one and pour a glass of wine! The world is full of some-day-writers. As in “some day I’ll write a novel.” Very few of us ever actually sit down and do it. So celebrate this great accomplishment! Give yourself a prize, a treat, and a day off from writing. You have earned it.

Once you have come back down to earth, you are left poking at your draft and wondering where you go from here. I am here to tell you my process. It is not the ONLY process. Everyone has their own methods and they can tell you what has worked and not worked for them.

For me, the first thing I do is pop it in a drawer and let it age a bit. For a few months or years. Seriously. I find that when I first finish a book, I am too close to it to look at it with any objectivity. I either feel love for it as in this-is-my-baby-how-dare-you-insult-it-by-implying-it-is-not-perfect, or I loathe it and can’t wait to get as far away from it as fast as possible.

Once it has fermented a bit, and I have nearly forgotten all the plot twists and character nuances that I spilled onto the page, I take it back out and read it. I do this very slowly and ponder the plot line, side plots, characters, conflicts. The big picture is all I am analyzing at this point.

Does it make sense?
Do my characters have personalities?
Do they do things that make sense and move the plot forward?
Is there a conflict? A problem they need to solve?
Who is the villain?
Does the story flow? Or do scenes need to be moved around to make more sense?

Once I get the overall plot worked out and plug all the plot holes I have no doubt left behind in my fervor to get the words on the page, then I go back through it again. This time I am checking dialogue, description, setting, anything that fills out the story.

Do they make sense?
Do my characters sound like they should?
Does the dialogue flow or does it read like one of those old Dick and Jane primers?
Does my setting fit the story?
Do I use too much description or not enough?

Once these things are fixed, I read through it again. Slowly. With a red pen in hand. I slash flat content that does nothing to move the story along. I look for words I repeat too often in a paragraph or on a page. I rewrite dialogue. I try to remove every passive sentence I can find. I try to kill my adverbs.

Then I repeat the process another time or two.

Only then am I asking a few trusted beta readers to read through it and be ruthless in their feedback. I read through any comments they give me and make any changes necessary.

Now it’s time to reach out to my wonderful editor and get on her schedule.

Hiring a professional editor is the biggest expense that I have on my self publishing journey. It may take years to recoup in book sales, but I would never leave out this step. If you want to be taken seriously, or just have people enjoy your story, you need an editor. You need someone who can nitpick your story and be a second set of eyes. You are too close to your project to be completely objective, and you will never find every typo, extra word, confusing sentence, and so on.

You can hire someone to do developmental editing, copy and line editing, or both. Developmental editing looks at the big picture – plot, character consistency, structure, organization, and so on. Copy and line editing looks more at grammar, sentence structure, word usage and the like. Working with an editor does not mean that the editor tells you what you have to write. They may make suggestions, but it is up to you, the writer, to follow them or not. An editor may question your logic in one area, and help you to rework it to make more sense. It is a collaboration, and I have learned so much from the process. I can only hope that with each book I write, I can turn in a cleaner and more well-written manuscript to my editor.

When I was ready to edit my first novel, I was terrified. Where do you even begin to find an editor? What if they read your work in progress and return it saying it is too big a mess to fix? I was very lucky in finding Candace. I had attended an online writers’ conference and had reached out for some recommendations. I emailed back and forth with her and liked what she said about her process. Really, it came down to just jumping off the ledge and taking a chance. The wonderful thing is that when it came time to edit book 2, I had my team in place!

Our process takes a few months to complete. She works on the manuscript for three to four weeks and sends it back for my first pass. We go back and forth for two to three passes each. She makes suggestions, and I change or rewrite sections based on them.

It can be very tedious work to edit a novel. But it can also be fun. Sometimes I look at something my editor has highlighted, and I can’t help but laugh out loud and wonder what brain cramp made me write what I am seeing on the page. Honestly, multiple passes through the manuscript by me and a handful of readers and we still find things that need tweaking.

Usually by the time we are finishing the editing, I am back to either being in love with the story or needing distance again! 🙂

If you are in the market for a great editor, you should check out Candace Johnson at Change It Up Editing. She is great to work with and she is gentle with our fragile new-book egos! Seriously, she really knows how to help writers bring out the best version of their stories. And if you still think you don’t need to hire an editor, check out her post on this very subject here.

The other big expense in self-publishing is cover design. More about that next week!


  1. Thanks for such a glowing review, Cheryl! I love working with you too. As for “I can only hope that with each book I write, I can turn in a cleaner and more well-written manuscript to my editor,” I’d say you hit that one out of the ballpark. And I hope you’re back in love with Magic Key because it’s awesome!

    • Thanks for helping me polish my story til it shines!!

  2. Well done Cheryl for another book on its way to our hearts! So proud of what you’ve accomplished and cannot wait to read it!

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