I love new writers. I really do (I was one, once upon a time). They are my favorite clients because they need the most assistance and guidance, and usually have tremendous enthusiasm about moving forward. They also don’t know what they don’t know.

Some new writers have a fair understanding about what’s involved in writing (and publishing or self-publishing) their first book, but most don’t have a clue; they just know they want to write and/or have something to say or share.

As a provider of services for writers for over a decade (more like going on two decades), I see pretty much everything. I’ve received manuscripts that had no paragraphs, perhaps not even chapters—just one lonnnng stream-of-thought writing. I’ve received manuscripts written by people who don’t use punctuation or know much about punctuation or care to, and manuscripts that start in first-person and switch to third-person, or the other way around. I’ve received memoirs that would possibly be hits or best-sellers if they were submitted or published as novels instead. I’ve worked with one fairly prolific self-published client for a number of years who admitted on a social site how much he appreciates that I figure out what he means to say (that’s a benefit of working together for so long).

Here’s a recent—and rare—example of what a new writer might not be aware of. I was contacted by someone who didn’t have MSWord or any such program on her computer to edit her novel (she wrote her story on a Web site for writers). I admire her dedication in doing that, but I had to explain to her that such a computer program is a necessity in order to work with anyone involved in the process of manuscript creation and on to a published product. I also had to explain that a 17,000-word count does not a novel make.

To all new writers out there—I genuinely appreciate what is involved in getting a first draft completed. What you need to know is that a first draft is not necessarily (read that as never) in its best and final form to either self-publish or submit to a literary agent or publisher (unless you’re Elizabeth George, explained in another article). There are some basics you need to have in place.

• You have to have chapters and paragraphs in your manuscript.
• Paragraphs should not be over-long and must include only what should be within the paragraph: each paragraph is a scene in itself.
• You have to indent paragraphs and make sure the indentions are consistent throughout the manuscript. This includes for dialogue, as well as for narrative.
• You need only one space between sentences, not two.
• There’s also a particular way you have to set up your manuscript if you plan to submit it to a literary agent or publisher.
• If self-publishing, you don’t have to be as formal about set-up, because you’ll need your manuscript professionally formatted. The person who does that will handle it for you, though you have to give the person something clear to work with.

Punctuation: Punctuation contributes to ease of reading and clarity. Example: Let’s eat Grandma / Let’s eat, Grandma. The first part of the example is cannibalistic. The second part is a statement made to Grandma, who I’m sure would be relieved to know she isn’t on the menu. You must avoid overuse of the exclamation point (!) and the ellipsis (…), and know how and when to use them properly. You must understand the difference between a hyphen (-) and an em-dash (—), and when to use them. Or, you have to use the services of an editor who does.

Perspective: Choose first-person or third-person and stick with it. First-person means the main character tells the story based on what s/he directly observes or is told by other characters. Third-person means a storyteller conveys what’s going on, including what characters think but keep to themselves. (However, using Elizabeth George as an example again, in one of her novels, she did a brilliant job of using both perspectives—first person for one specific character, and third person for the rest of the book, until the moment they merged.)

There is, of course, so much more to understand about all that’s involved. And if you don’t understand these things (and may not want to), you want an editor who does.

What Kind of Editing Will You Need?
Sometimes you need more than basic editing, which is called Developmental Editing, to assist you with plot and character development, as well as other creative and technical matters. I particularly enjoy this service when the writer’s story has “good bones.” Know this: most new-writer manuscripts need this service, especially first drafts; and when I see in the sample chapters sent to me that Developmental Evaluation (a critique) is needed instead, because the manuscript needs substantial revision, I advise clients to go for that service, unless they really want me to do an overhaul for them, which I can, though it’s labor-intensive on my part—then on theirs.

Developmental Evaluation is also beneficial for non-fiction and memoirs, which sometimes need structure re-organization: the story is not told in the best order for the most impact or is confusing to read. It doesn’t help if your story makes sense to you but not to readers. Eventually, every manuscript needs an editor’s eyes.

Timing: New writers typically don’t know to anticipate that time may or will be involved to get their manuscript into final form, meaning into proper shape to self-publish or submit to an agent or publisher. This timing all depends on how much work their manuscript needs. Manuscripts generally need more than one revision. Even best-sellers go through multiple revisions.

The entire process of manuscript-to-retail product is an involved but fascinating one. You can learn a lot about what it takes from start to finish for an idea to become a book, and benefit greatly from what you learn, especially if you intend to keep writing. It’s a true adventure that every writer must become accustomed to.

I wish you the best with your writing and process.

Author's Bio: 

Need a Book Doctor or an incentive to write or complete your manuscript? Let Joyce L. Shafer be your writing coach, developmental editor, or provide a critique. Details about her services at http://editmybookandmore.weebly.com/