You’ve finished your first draft. Now what?

By Teika:

What the first draft of your manuscript looks like will very much depend on the kind of writer you are and the progress you’ve made in your writing career.

The more experienced a writer you are, the chances are that each new first draft will require far less editing and be much closer to what the final published work will look like. But if this is your first ever first draft, then it’s highly likely that your manuscript will need a lot of editing. So, where do you go from here?

1) The drawer

If you’ve just now written ‘The End’ and feel giddy with excitement and the potential prospect of a publisher’s deal – maybe even a £1.5 million advance! – hold on to that elation because finishing a first draft is a great achievement. But then, act like a pro and tuck your precious manuscript away for a wee rest. Maybe a few weeks, or a month or two. However long it takes for you to get some distance. In the meantime, start writing something else.

After the allotted ‘resting time’ pull your manuscript out of the drawer and give it a re-read. If it’s reading pretty well, bar a few typos or clunky sentences that you can easily fix, then go on to step 2.

But if you suddenly spot a glaring plot hole (or two) or realize that the supposedly charming and funny protagonist you created is actually no more charming than a wet flannel in a moisture-filled bathroom full of wet flannels then you’ll want to start on draft number two.

2) Trusted beta-readers/your critique group

Every writer will have a different support network. Maybe you’re a long-term member of a critique group and you know that they a) understand the genre you’re writing in, and b) will give you honest and useful feedback. If that’s the case, then share your first draft with them. Make a note of their feedback. If a few of them are all saying the same thing e.g. that a certain character isn’t fully developed, or there’s too much exposition, or that they can’t really picture the milieu, then the chances are that they’re right, and that those things need more of your attention. Take on board the feedback if you think it’s useful, think carefully about how to address the issues, and then fix them.

But what if your crit group or beta readers (family, friends) are all giving you conflicting feedback? What happens if you have just the one beta reader (your partner, say) and their only feedback is, ‘It’s brilliant!’. That’s great to hear, of course, but unless they have a lot of experience of writing, or the publishing world, their praise is probably not particularly useful. You may suddenly feel stuck, or confused, and unsure about what to do next. If so, crack on to step 3.

3) Hire a professional

There are thousands of professional editors out there who can provide you with manuscript assessment, feedback, and editing. They don’t come cheap, but as I wrote in a previous post:

…when the editing in a book is poor, it is very obvious. When the editing is good, it is invisible.

If you can afford to hire an editor, they really can help you to take your manuscript to the next level.

Here are some well-known places to find a good editor:

The Literary Consultancy

Society for Editors and Proofreaders

Simply putting ‘editors for hire’ into a search engine box will get you thousands of links. But, one of the best ways to find a good editor is by word of mouth. Ask fellow writers, as well as your virtual or real support network, for their recommendations. If money is an issue, there are various schemes/bursaries out there to look into. The Arts Council England (via The Literary Consultancy) provides a scheme called ‘Free Reads’ for those unable to pay the fees. Also, The Womentoring Project provides mentoring/manuscript feedback for women on low incomes.

The main thing to look out for when choosing a professional is whether they specialize in your genre. It’s no good recruiting a professional to provide you with feedback on your hard science fiction novel when they only have experience of editing, say, cosy crime. Of course there are the common building blocks of all novels – milieu, ideas, characters, events (the MICE quotient, courtesy Orson Scott Card) – but the non-specialist editor may not be able to give you the detailed assessment that you’re looking for when it comes to, say, how realistically your space ship is withstanding the rigours of deep space.

Also, there are plenty of indie presses out there whose editors are freelancers. If you’ve read a few of the books they’ve published/edited, and have connected with them via social media, you may have a good idea that they’d be a good fit for you and your manuscript. For instance, if you write literary fiction and love the books that Galley Beggar Press publish, then it would be worth checking out their new school. Another tip: connect with the authors of indie presses, ask them what their editor is/was like to work with. Again, these recommendations are incredibly valuable.

Once you’ve found an editor who is a good fit for your manuscript and you, then take on board all the feedback that really resonates with you and address the issues they’ve highlighted. On to the next step!

4) The final polish

By now you may be on to draft 3, 4 or 5. Or maybe on draft 2. But whatever number you’re up to, you should now be at a stage where your manuscript is very nearly ready to send to an agent or a prospective publisher. Put it back in the drawer for a week. Then pull it out, give it another read and then find and correct those final typos. Because you don’t want to become the writer who regretfully laughs along with this tweet:

Unfortunately true


I know that doing all the above can seem like a huge amount of work, and you may wonder if it’s really necessary. But remember, you owe it to yourself, and your manuscript, to make it the best it possibly can be when you’re presenting it to agents and/or publishers.




You, my friend, are now ready. Good luck!


Of course, ready for submission is one thing, ready for publication is another…

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  1. Lots of great advice here. One thing I disagree with though: if you get your first draft out of the drawer and can’t see anything wrong with it, I wouldn’t go on to step two (because you’ve probably still got your ‘I finished my first draft!’ goggles on). Instead, put it back in the drawer for a bit and then look at it again – there’s ALWAYS something wrong with your first draft.

    • Thanks so much for your comment, Rebecca. I think you’re right to include another check there – because sometimes it can be hard to take the ‘I finished my first draft!’ goggles off. I wonder, though, if there are writers out there who do actually have a first draft that reads pretty well…? That would be really interesting to know! Also, how long do you let your manuscript sit in the drawer?

  2. LOL to what @RebeccaAnnSmith said above, because I completely agree! I wasted a lot of money on a critique of my first draft, and wish I had done all the steps first. That was two years ago and I have only just last week submitted to a few of my preferred agents. I’ve read the entire thing cover to cover on every device and print outs at least twice and was in danger of over-editing. A great piece with lots of practical advice, well done Teika 🙂

    • I’m sorry to hear that you spent money on a critique of your first draft when it wasn’t quite ready for critiquing. That must’ve been frustrating. But it sounds as though you’re in a really good place at the moment, and I wish you all the best of luck with your agent-finding. Let us know how it goes!

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