Someone asked me what to do once they have completed their book and gone over it and fixed everything that needed to be fixed.
The first thing you do is celebrate. You’ve accomplished something wonderful!
After that, what I suggest (and what I do) is let the book lie fallow for six weeks or so, then go over it one more time, looking at every single sentence, every bit of dialogue, checking to make sure each is important to the story and are the very best sentences possible. This is especially important with dialogue. In real life, we often can’t think of the perfect thing to say until the opportunity is long past, but our characters don’t have to be so tongue-tied. We have hours — days — to come up with the perfect response for them to make.
Since you’ve spent so much time on the book, you know what you are trying to prove. For example, in a mystery, you are often trying to prove that someone is a killer, has a good motive, but deserves to get caught by your hero; in a romance, that the two main characters belong together. Go through the book and remove all stray commentary and side stories that do not show who your characters are and do not help prove whatever it is you are trying to prove.
If you are a first-time novelist, get rid of your first chapter. When people start out writing a book, they tell much about the characters at the beginning under the assumption that readers need all that information to understand the story. They don’t. I bet you will find that everything in the first chapter shows up later in the story when it’s important for the reader to have that particular bit. If not, you can always add a sentence or two at the proper moment. By deleting that first, probably redundant chapter, it puts readers right smack dab in the middle of the action and makes them a part of the story.
Next, even if you aren’t a first-time novelist, go through the book and get rid of your weakest scene. This will make your story tighter and more powerful.
Then read the story aloud, paying attention flow, bad grammar, typos, anything that makes you (or the person you are reading to if you managed to corner someone) pause or that pulls you out of the story. Make those changes.
Now you are ready to decide what you want to do. Self-publish? Find an agent? Submit to small independent presses? If you want to self-publish, sorry, I can’t help. I don’t have any interest in such matters, and so never bothered to figure out how to do it.
If you want to try for an agent or a publisher, learn how to write query letters. That’s your basic tool for getting them interested in your work. Then search for agents and publishers and pay attention to their requirements. Don’t send more (or less) than they ask. Preditors and Editors is a good place to start, as is Association of Authors’ Representatives.
When your book is published, however it happens, I bet you think you can finally relax now that the hard part is behind you. Wrong! Now the even harder part of promotion begins.
Best of luck, whatever you decide to do.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.