So, you've written enough words to call your book a novel. You've given it form and purpose, fleshed out characters, not to mention all the blood, sweat and tears. You're finished, right? Not even close.
Now the hard work really begins. It's time to edit. ARGH! That dastardly word (my apologies to my own editor. You do know I love you, Jilly). I'd have to say edits are my least favorite part of writing, but a very necessary one. While Mozart may have been able to dash off music with nary a correction, no writer on the planet can produce a flawless first draft. I assure you, mistakes have been made and the fact of the matter is you will not be able to find them all on your own. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Once the alpha reader is satisfied (remember, that's you), it's time to pass your baby along to someone who does not love it nearly so much. And someone who does not love you too much either. By this, I mean your mom or best friend or number one fan just won't do. What you need is a veteran reader, grammar ninja and psychoanalyst all rolled into one--your beta reader.
Ahhhh, a good beta reader is hard to find and a hard beta reader is good to find. No, I'm not being naughty. The best thing you can do for your novel now is find someone to beat the crap out of it. Find the nitpicky-est, persnickety-est, lover of books and the English language you can find (Love you, Stacey!). Your beta reader should question everything that sounds even remotely inaccurate or contrived. When you receive your manuscript file back from your beta reader, it should be all marked up. It will sting but remember, pain is just weakness leaving your novel. Again, feel free to cry...I often do. But the fact of the matter is you cannot fully edit your own work because you're too close to it. I guarantee your beta reader will find at least one flaw that will make you smack your forehead and go, "How did I not catch that?" A fresh, critical pair of eyes is essential to the finishing process. That being said, you don't want someone who's just plain mean or unprofessional. We're going for constructive criticism not snarkiness.
Also, remember--no matter what changes someone else recommends, it is still YOUR VISION and you can accept or reject changes as you see fit. It may take a couple rounds of beta reader edits and some brainstorming to get the flow, plot and characters spit polished.
Now that you've read it and loved it, now that someone else has read it and given you constructive criticism, it doesn't hurt to pass your manuscript by a couple additional people, more for proofreading purposes than anything else. This time, you can use your mom or your best friend or anyone else willing to give it a looksee. You just need even fresher eyes to catch little typos you and your beta reader missed because you've read the darn thing so many times and you both know how it's supposed to read, but you actually wrote 'to' instead of 'too' or 'weather' instead of 'whether'. Again, you do want to use folks who are good at grammar and spelling...oh and that reminds me--don't forget to do one final pass with spell check. Sounds like a no brainer, but you'd be surprised how many writers ignore that most basic of tools.
After all that back and forth, you've finally got a manuscript you can send out into the world, whether you choose an e-publisher, self-pubbing or a more traditional route, you've gone through all the essential steps. It's time to put your best foot forward and let your work shine for all the world to see.
Good luck, my fellow writers! I hope my little series of articles on the birth of a novel has been informative and entertaining. I've just hit send and PINCH OF THIS is on its way to my editor. I'll let you guys know if it's contracted (fingers crossed!)