I finished writing my second novel on June 1. Mind you, “finished” is a very relative term. In this case, it means I completed my first full draft. I first thought I’d done this months ago, but when I read through that draft I realized there were a number of major problems, and no reader would be able to make heads or tails of the book. I spent months re-writing, editing, and polishing, to end up with something I still consider a first draft. At least it’s complete.
I wrote the first words of this novel in March of 2008. It was August 2009 when I returned to it as a full-time project. At the time, my goal was to finish the draft in one year or less. It wound up taking me almost three.
The Macro Edit
The next step is what Rachel Gardner refers to as the “macro” or “developmental” edit. I am putting the book out to 5-15 test readers, each of whom I’m asking to complete a read-through in two months and get back to me with comments. What I’m after is big-picture stuff: are there plot holes? Information that’s causing confusion? Characters who aren’t developed? Chapters that drag, or chapters that go way too fast?
I want the stuff you hear the audience talking about on their way out of the movie theater. Once I have those comments, I’ll go back to significant revisions, and perhaps rewrites, to address any problems people had. My hope is to have another finished draft within 2 months of hearing comments, but it’s hard to predict that before hearing reader response.
In the meantime, I’m going to focus for a while on short fiction. While I’m waiting for reader comments, I have two to four short stories I’m going to try to write and two that are complete, which I will be shopping around. I already know what my next novel will be, but I am taking a different tact than I have in the past, and plan to write detailed character profiles and bios before I start into the novel itself. I’ll work on those now, but I’m going to wait to sink my teeth into that book for a while.
What about a publisher?
Once the macro edit is complete, there are still several stages of editing before I start shopping to agents or publishers. I anticipate sending query letters in October or November, which doesn’t thrill me because it’s a busy season for agents. If I can’t get my queries out before December, I’ll likely wait until February. I don’t want to be lost in the annual deluge of unedited first-drafts sent by NaNoWriMo participants or passed over during the busy holiday season.
Incidentally, these are the valuable lessons one learns by reading tons of agent blogs and Twitter feeds.