I’m currently writing my seventh novel, with a deadline hurtling towards me at great speed. Right now, I’m somewhere between the stage of wailing in despair that the end is nowhere in sight and writing those two words – The End. You’d think by now I’d be used to this! But each book has surprised me with different challenges. What I do know though, is that when I type those two magical, mystifying, jubilant, hopeful and utterly wonderful words, its like all my Christmases and Birthday’s rolled into one. Yes. That good!
For those who have been through the process before, you know that once the first draft is written, your work has just begun.
What?! Yep. Sorry. But now it’s time for the dreaded rewrites and revisions.
One of the questions I’m most asked by aspiring writers is – how do I know when my novel is ready to send out on submission to agents or publishers?
The only answer I can give is: Not yet.
Because you only have one shot to impress an editor or agent. And you need to ensure that your book is in its best possible shape before you send it out into the publishing world. Despite the fact that you feel like you’ve climbed Mount Everest, your first draft is not ready. No matter how many tweaks you’ve given it along the way. My rule of thumb is to do three revisions of my first draft. Then, it’s time for structural, line and copy edits. Try to leave a week or two between each revision, because you need to work with fresh eyes – editor’s eyes, not writer’s.
Something else I’ve learned is that it’s near impossible to be objective about your own work. Every writer needs a critique partner. Someone who understands the craft of writing, who can point out issues in your manuscript with plot, point of view, tenses, structure, pace, characterisation.
If funds allow before you send your book out on submission, it’s worth getting a good freelance book editor to provide a structural edit. A quick google will find many in your local area. This will identify weaknesses in your manuscript. It will also, just as importantly recognise your strengths, that perhaps need developing. In short, it tackles the big picture issues in your story. Get that right, then you can tackle the line by line edits. Another resource, often free, is your local library or Arts Centre. Most have writing groups. Perhaps in one of these you can find your critique partner.
I write issue driven commercial fiction and with the help of an incredible editor, each of them have received some extra sparkle. I know that when my editor sends me back my first structural edits, she will ask me to dig deeper, to wring out every ounce of emotion from each character. And by doing this, I always find some unseen elements of the story begin to shine, that otherwise I would have missed. Editors eyes are a writer’s best friend, fact! This is my favourite stage of the writing process. I know that at times it will be difficult. I know that there will be suggestions that I don’t agree with. But I also know that because of the crucial structural edit, my story will be much better. A good editor doesn’t hijack your work, they just want to make sure that it’s the best possible version. Remember that.
Another question I’m asked is whether I take on board the suggestions my editor makes.
Not always. It hurts to cut and delete, especially if it’s a particular piece of prose you are proud of. But hold onto that prose. It might work in a future story. In the main, I’ve agreed with all suggestions in my edits and have not regretted any.
My friends know that I’m impatient. So I understand and empathise with writers who want to send their finished manuscript out into the world, the second they reach The End. Writing those beautiful words, is such a powerful moment in a writers life. But it’s really only the start of the process. If you put the time in now, ensuring you’ve done everything you possibly can to improve that first draft, maybe The End will become the beginning of something quite wonderful for you.
(c) Carmel Harrington
Carmel Harrington’s novel, The Woman at 72 Derry Lane is shortlisted in the Specsavers Popular Fiction Book of the Year Award category, in the BGE Irish Book Awards.
You can vote for The Woman at 72 Derry Lane here.
About The Woman at 72 Derry Lane:
On a leafy suburban street in Dublin, beautiful, poised Stella Greene lives with her successful husband, Matt. The perfect couple in every way, Stella appears to have it all. Next door, at number 72 however, lives Rea Brady. Gruff, bad-tempered and rarely seen besides the twitching of her net curtains, rumour has it she’s lost it all…including her marbles if you believe the neighbourhood gossip.
But appearances can be deceiving and when Stella and Rea’s worlds collide they realise they have much in common. Both are trapped in a prison of their own making.
Has help been next door without them realising it?
With the warmth and wit of Maeve Binchy and the secrets and twists of Liane Moriarty, this is the utterly original and compelling new novel from Sunday Times bestseller Carmel Harrington.
Praise for The Woman at 72 Derry Lane:
‘A complete page-turner and an emotional rollercoaster. Tissues will be required’ Sinead Moriarty
‘A wonderfully life-affirming book…Carmel Harrington writes with such honesty’ New York Times bestselling author, Hazel Gaynor
‘I both cried and laughed…one of the best books I have ever read’ Woman’s Way
‘Both heart-wrenching and uplifting. The perfect summer read’ Irish Times bestseller Fionnuala Kearney
Order your copy online here.