Step one: Write something. Pretty simple, right? You just sit down in front of your computer and pour out a few thousand words. There should be a beginning, middle, and an end. You might want a plot and a few characters. Perhaps you could throw in some action and dialogue.
Step Two: Okay, you nailed the writing part. Go you! Now comes the less exciting part. Set your manuscript aside. Figuratively and literally. Move on. Get coffee. See a movie. Write a new story. Wait at least a month. No peeking.
Step Three: Read your story all the way through. Don’t stop to change tenses or adjust the dialogue. No editing whatsoever. Read it as if you weren’t the one to write it. Ask yourself, “Does my story make sense?” Do not ask yourself if the story is any good. First drafts rarely are.
Step Four: Read it again. Make notes about changes that need to be made. Don’t worry about proofreading right now. There is no point in adding a comma to a sentence that may not even exist tomorrow. Think about the scenes; are they necessary to the plot or just taking up space? Make those changes, change your mind and undo your changes and then change them again.
Step Five: Now that the story is officially a second draft, you can have someone else read it. Give away your precious baby to someone brutal. Pick someone who can tell you the truth. Friends, while well-meaning, do not usually make good Alpha readers. If all anyone tells you is that it’s really good, they aren’t helping. You need them to be blunt and honest. Take their feedback and decide whether to implement their advice. Make those changes or find a new reader. You can also pay a professional editor to read your work and give you substantive or developmental advice. These people are there to tell you that the knife on page seven isn’t in the same place on page thirteen, that Annalisa used to have blonde hair, and that you don’t really need all of page seventeen.
Step Six: Okay, now your story is in pretty good shape. It’s looking more and more like a Pulitzer Prize winner. Now is the time for some real editing. If grammar and dangling modifiers aren’t your forte, hire or bribe a good editor to do it for you. There are thousands of people who claim to be editors. A good editor is probably going to cost you at least a penny per word. That’s industry standard. Be wary of anyone giving you a lower quote. You get what you pay for.
Step Seven: Your copy is back from the editor and it is just chock full of red pen! Oh no! Don’t sweat it. Even great writers need an editor. Go through your story again. Make adjustments to tense, punctuation, grammar, style, and voice. Read through the story from back to front. This will feel weird. The sentences don’t go in this order. You aren’t looking for order, you already did that. You’re looking for misplaced commas, incorrect tenses, and missing quotations.
Step Eight: Another round of readers. Find another reader who is equally as unforgiving. Have them read your mostly polished manuscript and give you feedback. Give it to a few more people. Take their praise and criticism and change what needs to be changed or leave it all the same.
Step Nine: Write or hire someone to write a really great cover letter for your submission. There are many templates available online to give you ideas. A submission cover letter introduces you to the publishing house or literary magazine. You can list any previous publications you might have or just try to make it sound as if you have some idea what you are doing. A cover letter the resume of the writing world. Your work can and will stand on its own merit; but the cover letter will operate as an opening act.
Step Ten: Slap a stamp on that manuscript and send it off to Judgment Day. You will probably get rejected. A nice little form letter will arrive in the mail long after you stopped impulsively checking your mailbox. If you get lucky, some thoughtful submissions editor will scrawl one line about how you should keep trying. It will crush your soul. All of your hard work! All those hours!
Step Eleven: Repeat Step Ten. Again. Again. Again. Again. Again.
Keep writing, even when those rejection letters start to pile up. They aren’t proof of anything other than your specific piece wasn’t the right fit for that particular publisher at this exact moment. With an eye for careful editing and thoughtful submissions process, you are sure to succeed and become a published author!