So You Wrote a Book—Now What?

*The topic of today’s blog is in regard to fiction. While I have learned quite a bit about the process of publishing nonfiction, I’m no expert.

First of all-Congratulations! You wrote a book! That’s amazing! You have accomplished something only 3% of people who’ve set out to write a book actually have. According to Google, 97% of people don’t even finish writing their book. So celebrate! It’s a big deal. And don’t let anyone tell you differently. Whether it took you four weeks to finish or four years, (or more or less or somewhere in between) YOU DID IT!

After you’ve celebrated, the real work begins. Oh, you thought writing the book was the hard part? Guess again haha! Writing the first draft is just the beginning. Because after the first draft comes, you guessed it, the second draft, and so on. However many drafts you decide to write is completely up to you. And something you’ll likely find takes less drafts to feel ready the more books you write. Ready for what you ask? Well, once your manuscript has been through as many drafts as you feel comfortable with, then you’ve got to revise it. And then edit it. How do I know when my manuscript is “ready”? I always know when mine is “ready” when I feel confident enough to send to beta readers and critique partners, (CPs). These peeps should read your manuscript before any publishing professional.

Beta Readers – Next, send to trusted beta readers. I wrote a blog post about beta readers here: https://starlawrites.com/2020/02/10/why-beta-readers-are-awesome/ I touched on what you should look for when choosing readers. They are valuable and the good ones will stick it out with you, even through the bad rough drafts, (Yes, someday, after you’ve grown in your craft, you’ll cringe and realize you sent them your manuscript before it was “ready” haha!). 

Critique Partners – They are invaluable as well. I love mine and I am so grateful. I have some who have critiqued several of my manuscripts and others who have only critiqued one. It’s fun to swap with another trusted writer friend for a book here and there. I also have a critique group. We typically meet once a month, each taking turns. It’s been an amazing experience.

Revise again based on feedback/critique – Compile all of the feedback and let it simmer for a few days. I like to process it before I dig into editing and implementing. You don’t have to agree. Or change your book. But you should keep an open mind and ask questions. And you should always be kind and respectful. I once had a critique partner tell me that I received my critique with grace. And that stuck with me. I always want to do that.

Traditional or Self-Publish – Again, I’m not an expert on self-publishing. I haven’t attempted it. I’m not writing it off. But for now, it’s not a route I’m prepared to take. Maybe someday I will. For now, I’m going the traditional route, and may self-publish in between. We shall see. I know a few very successful self-published romance authors, (shameless plug for my friends Savannah Hendricks and Rachael Bloome). Either way, I will say, you’ve got to have a polished manuscript. For self-publishing, it’s a good idea to pay an editor. There are some fantastic ones your Twitter or Instagram friends can recommend. If traditional, it’s not necessary to have it professionally edited. In fact, I’ve heard literary agents say it’s best if you don’t because then they can see how your future manuscripts will look if they should decide to offer you representation.

Speaking of literary agents, let’s move onto querying.

Query letters – Once your manuscript is all shiny and practically flawless, you need to write a query letter. There are so many amazing resources online for writing a query letter. It’s basically a 3-5 paragraph/1 page letter introducing your book, giving the details, (genre, age category, word count, comparative titles) a general summary of your characters, setting, and premise, (much like the back cover of a book, and without giving away the ending) and an author bio. Sounds simple right? It’s harder than it seems. But once you practice it enough, it gets easier. Send this out to critique partners as well.

Synopsis – People tend to think this is the hardest part of the process. But it all depends. Sometimes I find it grueling but other times, it’s fun. Sometimes I write the synopsis before I draft the book. Sometimes I write it after. There are fantastic resources online for this as well. Basically this is where you tell all of the details of the plot. This is where you give away all the twists and spoilers, including the ending. Typically, you want to keep your synopsis between 2-5 pages. I like to have two versions, one longer and one shorter. That way I have both because different agents/publishers have different requirements.

Literary Agents/Publishers open to unagented writers – Now comes research. Again, there are many resources online for this. But your most valuable resource is your writing community. Ask your writing friends, CPs, (usually in private) about agents. Who represents your genre and age category, who has a good reputation, are there any with red flags. There are sites like, manuscriptwhishlist.com and querytracker.com. Google agencies. You can also pay for a membership to publisher marketplace if you want to see the agents sales info. If you’d rather go straight to a publisher, these are sometimes smaller pub houses but not always, it just depends who is open to unagented writers. Google and research is your friend in this area as well.

Once you have a polished manuscript, (with the correct word count-Google!) a polished query letter, a synopsis, completed research, with a list of agents/publishers, you’re ready to begin querying and hopefully land an agent and/or a publishing deal.

It’s a long road for most. Having a supportive family helps. Having a writing community to commiserate with is ideal. Though the odds are low, (last I heard, there’s a 3% chance of landing an agent or 1 out of 1,000 gets an agent) if you never even try, they are impossible. If being a published author is your dream, like it’s been mine for many years, put in the work and at least try. It’s a roller-coaster ride of emotions but I’m thrilled to be on the ride!

Creating Playlists for Your Story

As a music fanatic, sometimes a song can be what inspires an entire character or plot. So not always, but most of the time I create a playlist for each of my projects. I find the process therapeutic, inspiring, and fun!

When I sit down to write, sometimes I need complete silence, sometimes I can write in a noisy coffee shop. Sometimes I write while my kids are arguing and watching tv. But sometimes, I open up my playlist and put on my noise cancelling headphones.

On Spotify, I can create a playlist by choosing a title and searching through a ginormous library of songs and pick the ones I want on that *playlist. I typically title my playlist using the same title as my manuscript. Then I choose songs that either my character would listen to or that sets the mood and moves the plot forward.

For my most recent project, because it’s a dual character POV, I created a separate playlist for each main character. Doing this has really helped set the mood and has gotten me into that character’s voice and headspace more. I’m hoping to do this from now on with my multi-POV projects.

If you’re someone who isn’t able to listen to music while you write, I often find just listening to the playlist while doing other things can inspire me to write. Listening to my book playlists has also helped to cure my writer’s block. I recommend giving it a try sometime.

If you’re interested, here are some links to my playlists for my current project. https://open.spotify.com/playlist/2SFJbbMbFjX8hbz1WUfDJM?si=leYtVqA9R6u6Ep_gIoso2g https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3WEzYHGqGxkswJCkg3MFpd?si=pPey0x3RSrOwp7D1MT_t-w

*Spotify has the free version, (which is the one I’m currently using) and the premium version. The free version will shuffle the songs you choose and if you don’t have enough added, Spotify will add their own songs to your playlist. The premium version will play only the songs you’ve chosen and will play them in order.

Why Beta Readers Are Awesome

When I picked up writing again after taking time away from it while my children were young, I felt behind. I began writing fast and furious. I had an idea for a novel-a women’s fiction. After I had written about two drafts, I thought I might actually have something so I went to my almighty, intelligent friend Google to find out now what? Google informed me I needed to find beta readers.

After some research on beta readers, I went to my next resource, my best friend who, (besides my husband) has been my cheerleader. Also knowing she’s an avid reader, I asked her if she would be willing to read my manuscript. I warned her it was probably, most likely, a mess. But she graciously accepted. Not only that, she also wrangled a few other readers for me. They were a couple friends and colleagues who were enthusiastic about reading my manuscript. I recruited my sister, who I knew loved reading but who also has a critical eye and would tell me the truth.

So began my journey into what a writer/beta reader relationship looked like. That manuscript had five beta readers. Four of which didn’t live in the same state as myself and three whom I’d never even met in person. I emailed all readers, included a short synopsis, and questions I wanted them to answer and attached the manuscript.

While I waited for their feedback, I started something new. A short story, which I ended up submitting to an anthology and was later chosen to be published. Then I got started on another novel. When the feedback came back, while there were plenty of suggestions, the majority was positive. It gave me the “spark” and I was hooked on writing again.

Here are some tips on beta readers:

*Choosing Beta Readers:

When finding beta readers, it’s best to not ask all of your loved ones. Asking your mom, spouse, sister, brother, grandmother sounds like a great idea. But in reality, your family will likely sugarcoat their feedback and you’ll come away from the experience thinking you’ve got a New York Times Bestseller on your hands. While in reality, you most likely have a decent plot with somewhat manageable characters, a nice setting, and stakes that need amped up. I try to stick to asking only one family member, two at the max. While also recruiting readers who either like the genre of my manuscript and/or are avid readers in general. A good idea is to choose other writers. I like to get a mix of all of the above. But mostly, I save other writers as critique partners. *Also, be sure to find people/readers you trust.

*Questions to ask Beta Readers:

  • Did the first sentence, paragraph, chapter pull you in? Did they grab your attention enough to want to continue reading the book?
  • Were the character’s goals clear enough?
  • Were you able to visualize what the characters looked like?
  • Was the dialogue believable? Did it flow?
  • Were you able to imagine the setting?
  • Did the scenes flow? Did you feel there were any I should add or cut?
  • Did you find any inconsistencies or discrepancies? Any places I got a character eye color wrong? Things like that?
  • Did you notice any plot holes? Things that didn’t make sense or need to be explained?
  • When did you take a break/put the manuscript down/go to the bathroom?
  • And anything else you feel would be important to point out to me.

This list has changed over the years. I’ve sort of simplified it. These are the ones that are most important to me. You may find ones that are better suited for you and your books. I also shortened it because when you ask someone to read an unpublished book, you’re asking for a huge favor. I don’t feel it’s fair to also inundate them with a thousand questions on top of that. Typically, I send my beta readers a coffee gift card in return for their time/generosity. I can’t afford much but it’s another way, beyond my words, to tell them thank you. They are awesome and just took time away from their schedules, families, hobbies, to do a favor for me.

Beta readers are often the first readers, (beyond yourself) to take a look at your project. They can tell you if you’ve got an interesting plot and intriguing characters with an eye-catching setting. Yes, opinions are usually subjective, but that’s why it’s important to get a handful of readers. I typically stick to 3-5. If the majority of them are telling you there’s a problem in an area of your manuscript, chances are you may want to take another look at that. Even having a literary agent, I don’t just send her my rough drafts of my next novel. I send them to beta readers and critique partners before my agent ever gets a hold of it.

I hope you find a great group of beta readers and if you’ve already found them, thank them or give them a shoutout to show you appreciate them! 🙂