I Finished My Novel. Now What?
Most people have ideas for a novel. Many people start a novel. Some people even bang out a good chunk of manuscript. But few ever finish a real novel with an actual conflict, characters, climax, and all that jazz — and it’s no wonder. That shit is no joke. From working out character motivations to spotting plot holes to conducting research into incredibly specific, niche topics, there are a lot of late nights and frustrated self-pity parties.
That’s why finishing a novel is supposed to be a celebratory moment, a moment to sigh in relief and say, “I did it” while accepting congratulations from all three people who knew you were working on it. Yet when it finally arrives, it doesn’t feel like a celebratory moment, at least it didn’t for me.
Writing this book has consumed a good chunk of my life for the past few years. I gained fluency in my second language for this thing. I traveled to far-flung places for this thing. I did so much research I’m kind of half-expecting my Ph.D. to show up in the mail for this thing. Don’t get me wrong; I’m glad I did it. The entire experience has been one of the best of my life, and I’m so happy it’s finally brought me to a place where I don’t feel like my SpIns are a pointless waste of my limited time on Earth. Yet now that it’s done, it feels a little disappointing, like the thing I was living for is suddenly accomplished. Maybe this is how parents feel when their kids leave the nest, like a little part of why they don’t just off themselves is suddenly ripped away. Guess that’s the reason why so many writers call their novels their babies.
All this says nothing of the fact that after the novel is finished comes a process even harder than writing it: publishing. I hate to call myself a walking cliché, but if the shoe fits, I guess I have to wear it (and buy three extra pairs for when I wear out the old ones). I’m a stereotypical creator — great at creating my art and so inept at promoting it that it’s at risk of never seeing the light of day.
My novel has been “done” for weeks now. Of course, there’s really no such thing as “done” when it comes to novel writing. I suppose “published” is the closest one can come to “done,” but from there, readers take over, creating their own interpretations of the work and, if the author is lucky, maybe even writing fanfic and watching TV or film adaptations that further modify the canon. A story is a living work that only dies when nobody thinks about it. In that sense, I hope my book is never finished.
Not that I have to worry about readers or fanfic, not when my complete, self-edited, and peer-reviewed manuscript is just collecting digital dust on my IronKey. Some of that is the product of circumstances. Between working a full-time job and undertaking yet another cross-country move, I haven’t had a lot of time or bandwidth to think about publishing.
However, my problem isn’t entirely external. Dealing with people, especially people I don’t know in non-work-related settings, has never been my strong suit. Every time I think about finding a professional editor to read through my manuscript, I feel this awful sense of helpless paralysis descending over my whole body, mostly because I don’t actually know how to find a professional editor. I suppose I could contact an old professor or two, but I graduated eight years ago. I’m not operating under the delusion that people I haven’t seen in years care enough about this book to give it any sort of attention. So I guess I’m stuck.
I have made a few decisions, though. Because my book has been through a few rounds of beta reading and peer editing, I think I need professional copy editing and fact checking more than I need developmental or structural editing. I also quickly decided to self-publish after learning I’ll have to sign away all my rights to my own work on the off-chance I actually get a book deal. I’m quite attached to this story. It’s the culmination of a decade of learning how to direct my SpIns in a productive manner, and it provided a much-needed outlet for the fear and anxiety that surrounded the last couple of years of my spouse’s and my immigration process. After pouring five years worth of research, time, hard work, and emotional investment into this project, selling off my rights to it would feel a little like selling off my soul. So, yeah, traditional publishing is out, though, given the content of the novel, I’m not sure it would’ve been an option to begin with.
I’m not publishing with the intent to make any money, as I’m sure I’ll be lucky to recoup whatever money I spend on editing and formatting, but I also don’t want to put something out there that doesn’t look professional. Just like crappy costumes and bad lighting can ruin a good movie, bad formatting and uncaught typos can ruin an otherwise good novel.
Maybe I’ll get the ball rolling in a few months if I can ever get over this stupid burnout paralysis, but for now, I guess I’ll just keep on writing the sequel. That’s a lot more fun than Googling “how to find an editor” anyhow.
PS. Advice from anyone who’s been through this already would be greatly appreciated.