Writing Your Book, Step Three: The Handoff
So you got your idea, actually managed to produce it in rough manuscript form, and now you're wondering what your next step is.
You scan the first page, and even though you already went over it eleventy million times, you still manage to find examples of poor grammar, missing/extraneous punctuation, or other glaring issues. Don't worry about it!
The absolute worst thing you can do at this point is to look at the manuscript yourself - unless you're one of those few people who can self-edit their material without feeling the immediate urge to nuke the hard drive on which it's written. If you're one of the rare people who can do the work themselves, then go ahead and run through it if it's part of your process.
But I do not recommend this!
You've already done the lion's share of the creative work, so pat yourself on the back and take a breather. Further investment of your precious time and psychological well-being into the document at this point is more likely to hinder the completion of your final product than to help it.
What you really need to do is get some feedback. Stephen King had a great quote in an essay I found the other day, and since it represented exactly how I feel, I'll paraphrase here:
Have ten people read your manuscript and prepare to plaster a smile on your face when you discuss their impressions. If all ten people point out a particular flaw, whether it's with grammar, punctuation, flow, pacing, dialog, believability, or any other component of your manuscript, then no matter how much you believed in that aspect, you must accept that it requires revision.
If eight of those people make similar statements, you probably still need to listen.
If half of them made a similar observation, you're on your own recognizance.
If one or two make similar statements but the rest found no issue with the bit in question, then just smile and ignore it as politely as you can.
This is precisely how I've gone through the process of editing my brother's books. We have between fifteen and thirty beta readers for each of his books, half of whom are dutiful helpers and the other half rotate in new members.
So find your group of people. Five is probably too small, but if every single one of them will give you extensive feedback, it might be ok. Ten is a much better number to start with, and the upper limit should only be defined by how much feedback you can sort before losing yourself in the Swamps of Sadness.
For me, I've found twenty to thirty to be the perfect number. This way, I end up with five to ten people providing high quality feedback, and another five to ten helping to varying degrees.
Shameless Plug, dept.
The combination and digestion of reader feedback was quite literally the first seed which sprouted in my mind that eventually became this website. My editing program is still in the early stages of development, but it allows for the compilation of all beta-reader feedback into one document, which makes review much, much more streamlined than going through thirty separate files a page at a time.
Anyway. What you have to do first is make the Handoff to your chosen group of beta-readers. Don't fret about the finish quality of your work at this point; it is what it is, and not every book you write is going to be exactly what you wanted at the outset. What you're trying to do is get some feedback from a few different viewpoints so you can form a reasonable plan for going forward.
Always try to choose people who enjoy the same genres as you do; there's no sense in asking someone who only reads erotic thrillers to help out on your military sci-fi story since they'll be limited to grammar and punctuation observations - and that's assuming they actually finish the book!
Then, after you've handed it off, you have to wait. This is hard, and since people have lives (unlike computers) it might take a couple weeks to get the feedback. Just relax and wait while they're doing this. You don't want to rush them, since it will alter the quality of their feedback.
And whatever you do, don't go back and re-read your manuscript during this period! You need to let your brain cool down and be fresh for the next step in the process, The Early Returns