Hurrah! You Wrote a Book. Now What?

By Jody Hedlund, @JodyHedlund

This question came in from Nat: "I am almost finished writing a book. I don't know what the next step is. Do I get an editor or a literary agent first? And how do I find one. I will take all the help and tips I can get!"

Times have changed drastically since I first started querying books in the bygone days where writers had to print out their manuscripts, rubber-band the pages together, and then send them in to publishers with a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Of course back then, I thought I was ready for publication, but I now realize I wasn't.

It took many long years of learning, growing (and even a seven year hiatus), before I finally reached a point of maturity in my skills. When I jumped back into the publishing scene after my break with a new book I'd written, I realized just how different things were and how they're still constantly evolving.

So, what's a writer to do today in this ever-changing industry? If you've completed a book, like Nat, you may be wondering what the next step is.

If we were sitting down having coffee together, here's what I'd say:

1. Set aside your book.

I know that's not pleasant advice to hear after you've spent so much time on that baby, not when you're so madly in love with it and want to see it in print more than anything else in the world.

But the best thing you can do for the book is to give it a rest and give yourself a break from it. The time and distance away help lend an objectivity that is essential for editing. Even after publishing and writing many books, I still always set aside a manuscript when I finish–often for weeks, if not several months. Then when I come back to it, I'm able to edit with a clarity and objectivity that wasn't there before.

2. Carefully self-edit your book. 

As tempting as it may be to skip a thorough self-edit (and merely gloss over the book), you shouldn't shortchange yourself. If you do, you'll surely pay for it later.

As I begin the process of self-editing for the first time after finishing, I usually combine a macro level (big picture edit that addresses plot, characterization, setting, etc.) with a micro level (sentence level edit that deals with word choice, repetitions, etc.).

3. Get outside feedback from beta readers or critique partners. 

Beta readers are "first readers" who read in order to give their general impressions. They don't mark up things or get nit-picky but rather relay more general impressions. Beta readers can be genre fans, your target audience, friends, other writers, etc.

Critique partners, on the other hand, are usually writers who are familiar with your genre. After working out a reciprocal partnership, you exchange books and offer feedback (within the manuscript itself) that is more specific than what beta readers give.

The more qualified a person is (i.e. multi-published author or avid reader of your genre), usually the you will be able to give their feedback greater weight. The less qualified, the more you will need to sift through opinions before going back to the editing process.

4. Look for an agent or professional editor. 

After spending hours and weeks and perhaps months rewriting and editing, then you might be ready to search for an agent (if you're traditionally publishing) or a professional editor (if you're self publishing).

I don't recommend searching out either one too soon (before you've done the above steps). For one, you could burn bridges with agents by sending them material that's poorly edited. And secondly, you don't want to pay a professional editor to do some of the editing that you could have taken care of yourself.

Once you're ready, I suggest investigating and compiling a list of possible agents and editors. Do the research to find the ones that represent what you write and look carefully at their guidelines. Check references by contacting their clients. In other words, do your homework. There's no quick and easy way to find good agents and editors besides taking the time to thoroughly research.

5. Start writing your next book. 

No matter which of the above steps you're in, I highly suggest starting another book, especially when you're in waiting mode. The process of delving into another story can help in a number of ways.

First writing takes your mind off the LONG waits that are inherent in the publishing industry. Second, when an agent or reader asks about future books, you'll be able to tell them you already have more in the works, which shows that you're out to have a writing career versus just publishing one or two books.

So that's the advice I would give Nat. How about you? What advice would you give someone who's finished writing a book and wondering what to do next?


  1. Jody, I agree with all your advice. Number five is something many neophyte authors ignore. They're so focused on getting their completed book "right," they forget that publishers don't want a "one trick pony." And once they're successful, they'll have to keep all these balls in the air at the same time (plus the ever-popular "marketing" one). Thanks for sharing.

  2. Hi Richard! You just mentioned another very good reason for continuing to write in the midst of doing all the other things--it prepares you for having to juggle writing with all the other work that comes with a writing career. Writers can't JUST write anymore (if we ever could). We have to balance writing with editing, marketing, admin duties, etc.

    1. That said, Jody, there are times when you have to take a step back and say "I can't juggle everything at all times" or I'd have an episode so bad I'll be too broken to meet ANY of my obligations.

      Will that slow down my progress? Sometimes YES, but better that than having a moment where your're like Wile E. Coyote, so obsessed with that roadrunner (which for writers represent our dreams and goals) you fall off that proverbial cliff and (unlike that "genius" coyote) spend months or YEARS in recovery...

      Now my perspective is different from Jody's in that I only have one book on contract, but had I not taken that step back after my dog died last week, I'd either produce haphazard junk that I may not be able to "fix" later, or I'd have a breakdown, that happened to me early last year and while I avoided being "That guy" in a crisis, that didn't mean the pain I endured wasn't real.

      I wasn't upset and frustrated over nothing.

      I just kept most of the angst offstage, but it's important we share with people in private some of that struggle for our personal (and even PROFESSIONAL) sanity.

      That said, my advice to Nat is to be kind to yourself. Sometimes we self-brutalize ourselves just to take ourselves seriously.

      My other piece of advice is that while (as Jody makes BITINGLY clear...) we need to do more than write, we still can't be all things to all people, AT ALL TIMES, either.

      We're still HUMAN, and we have to pace ourselves or we'll start hating what we're trying to become, neither positive nor productive from my personal experience...

      Also Nat, keep in mind that while it's important to keep writing new stories, depending on your writing process and your goals, not everyone can write "The Next Book" immediately after drafting one.

      For my debut novel (a children's book) I couldn't escape the 8 years my book needed before I sold it, and I did write other things, but some books need that laborious process, and while that's common for newer writers, even veterans have taken years on a book, and most often that becomes their breakout or best known book.

      Sometimes a rest period is needed, not just from the one we finished (for the reasons Jody said above...) but to acknowledge that we drafted a book and to give that the celebration it deserves, for novel-centric writers like me this is hard to do.

      Why? Because we're always told to CELEBRATE EVERY SMALL STEP FORWARD, and yet that can feel silly, or because we novelist take the long view of "completing" anything, we long for a more short-term pick-me-up.

      While authors in Jody's position have more to consider, we need to
      remember we're human, and that we must balance ambition and responsibility with avoiding the kind of burnout that can

      No matter how fast we write or how business-oriented we are, this burnout risk exists, and I speak from personal experience (pre and post selling my first children's book) that sometimes the most professional thing you can do is surrender for a day. Or at least an hour. (NOT forever! LOL)

      Not all surrender is bad. A lesson I still struggle to learn....

      Hope I'm not too intesne. Just trying to be honest yet hopeful.

  3. Great advice Jody. You obviously take much time and care with the editing process as your books are flawless.

    1. Thank you, Darlene! I really appreciate the compliment! :-)

  4. Jody, thanks for the great advice. Setting the book aside is THE best way to gain clarity.

  5. Jody, I found your blog when I googled "I hate my novel, now what?" and one of your blog posts popped up from 2010 about loving and hating your novels. I was so relieved to know that I'm not alone. I finished an 85,000 word literary/mainstream novel recently and really loved it. I even loved it after getting feedback from betas and going through revisions. But then I set it aside like you and others have advised for a month, and set down to read it straight through and see if it needed any more work before sending it to agents--and yikes!--it was awful. I could not get into it. I tried to read it objectively, as a new reader, and it just fell flat to me. I was depressed for days. Here I was after all this work with a novel I felt excited about and ready to market, and now its just blah.

    Now that I know it is "normal" to go through this "hate" process, I feel better, but how do I get excited enough about it again to do any more revision? To know if I'm making it better or worse?

    Any thoughts?

  6. I just found your blog/website today and I am so grateful. Everything you've written is exactly what I need to hear at this stage in my writing process. The world of writing and publishing seems like such a mystery; I appreciate you sharing your experience so openly and honestly. Thank you!


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