Welcome to week 1 of “How to Write and Publish Your First Novel”! Last week we talked a little bit about the importance of precursors, like deciding whether you’re a hobbyist or a career writer, setting a tentative publication date for your goals, and creating your author website. Now, it’s time to get planning!
Set Your Deadlines
Last week, you picked the tentative release date for your book. It’s a minimum of eight months from now, and you’re not going to make it public for a few more months, but at least it’s on your calendar!
Speaking of calendars, I keep things pretty simple. For each month, I print out one of these:
The great thing about a calendar like this is that if you change all of your deadlines, you just have to print off a new one! Plus, without all the frills and thrills of a planner, it’s a lot easier to focus on your tasks. (Or maybe I’m just easy to distract.)
Now that you have your calendar and a release date in mind, there are a few more deadlines you’ll need to set for yourself. This week, here’s what we’ll add:
- “Shitty First Draft” Deadline. (Not sure what that means? Check out this post!)
- Revision Deadlines
- Release Date Plans
- Pre-Order Date and Cover Deadline
1. “Shitty First Draft” Deadline
When it comes to writing your first draft, a good rule of thumb is to try and stick to three months. It’s a quick pace, but it will help keep you on track and keep your novel from getting stale under your fingers.
But no need to worry! The first draft of your novel is going to be far from perfect, and that’s okay. So find the nearest Monday and pencil in “START.” Now flip three months ahead and pick your “END” date.
Great! You now have 90 days to complete your first draft. And whether that sounds like plenty of time or not nearly enough, the next thing you’ll want to do is create a rough outline of your novel and apply it to your 90-day deadline.
For me, it works really well to write a scene a day. A scene for me is usually between 500 and 1,200 words, and I tend to have between four and six per chapter. But, everyone lays out their story differently, so if going scene-by-scene doesn’t work for you, try using a word count goal or going by chapters instead.
2. Set Your Revision Deadlines
Once the “shitty first draft” is finished, you still have a TON of work to do before your book is ready for publication. And the next step is revision. First you’ll want to self-revise, then send your manuscript to your beta readers. Keep in mind, a beta reader is not the same as an ARC reader. Betas don’t rate or review your book, they help you revise!
Beta readers can be friends or family, but make sure you choose people who will be honest about your work. I’m extremely lucky to have friends who are professional editors, English teachers, and avid readers, so my team of saints is a luxury that not all first-time authors have. But if you’re struggling to find beta readers, try reaching out to local writing groups or libraries. Sometimes you’ll find luck there!
Now for the Revision Deadlines:
1-2 Weeks: Leave yourself at least one week to read through your manuscript and make modifications before you send it off. Even if it’s not perfect, you should respect your beta readers by making sure the draft is as clean as possible.
1 Month: Give your beta readers one month to read and comment on your story. It’s important to communicate your deadlines with your crew so that they can plan accordingly, especially if you aren’t paying them to read for you. (Also, this is the month when you’ll want to work on formatting and book cover design.)
1-2 Months: Incorporate feedback and revise/rewrite.
1 Month: Light revision and line editing.
3. Release Date Plans
Once you’ve finished your manuscript and it’s safely in the hands of your beta readers, it’s time to do some of the behind the scenes work, like creating your cover (assuming you’re doing it by yourself) and posting your release date.
So right now, make a note to post your release date on the day that you give your manuscript to your beta readers. Keep in mind, your actual release date should be at least four months after you pass your manuscript to your betas! (Trust me, you’ll need those four months . . . especially for your first novel.)
4. Pre-Order Date and Cover Deadline
Two months before your tentative publication date, you’re going to want to post your books for pre-order. This was something I wish I had done with my first book, so I’m suggesting it to you now!
If you’re publishing through KDP, your book doesn’t need to be perfected in order to begin offering pre-orders, but you do need a draft and cover art to upload.
Also, I wish that I had ordered proof copies earlier in the revision process. It makes it much easier to deal with formatting issues early on. So this time around, I’m planning to order a proof copy of my draft on the day that I release my novel for pre-order.
Additionally, a pre-order announcement goes really well with a cover release, so don’t be afraid to work on your cover early and often! Some people say that there’s no point in working on a cover until you have a polished manuscript, but they are so very wrong. Covers take lots of love and energy — especially if you’re not actually a graphic designer — and just like books, they require some critical distance to be perfected. (Later down the road, I promise to write a post that showcases the ridiculous evolution of the cover for Pieces of Pink so you can see what I’m talking about.)
Congratulations! You’re officially on your way to becoming a published author.
Even though you haven’t started drafting yet, outlining your goals and deadlines is a great first step toward publication. And while it may seem daunting at first, keep in mind that nothing is set in stone until you announce your publication date . . . but that’s still a few months away. So take your time, plan carefully, and get ready for week 2!