Life of a Writer—Episode 3: A Finished Manuscript, Now What?

by Anita Ramirez
published in Writing

In this column, Life of a Writer, every 8 weeks or so I will share the next episode in my journey as a middle-aged woman who finally gets serious about her dream of becoming a published author.

In Episode 2 of this column, I wrote about how I completed the manuscript of my first novel in the early days of the pandemic and despite the death of my son.

From the end of Episode 2: Emotionally drained, I printed my finished manuscript and held it in my hands. The weight of 374 pages was heavier than I had imagined. I knew it wasn’t just paper and ink, but the bewildering contradiction of anguish and joy. Of smiles and tears. Of pride and guilt. I didn’t yet realize that the hardest part of finishing this book was still to come.

A Finished Manuscript. Now what?

After punching holes in my finished manuscript and putting it into a binder, I took a break from writing altogether.

For two weeks, I slept in, worked, read, watched tv, and spent time with my family. I felt proud of my accomplishment, but I wasn’t able to fully celebrate it because of everything that had happened.

It was also because I’d written enough academic papers to know that, especially since this time, with an entire novel, the real work was just beginning.

I had already signed up for Rachael Herron’s 90 Days to Revision course; I figured since she was a major reason I finally wrote my novel, she’d guide me through revising it too.

In the class, Rachael taught us her revision method. The longest step was reading through our manuscripts.

It seemed to take forever.

As I read through my finished manuscript, I began seeing problem after problem. The confidence with which I had completed writing it evaporated as I worried there were so many structural changes needed that it would need a complete rewrite. 

I shared my distress with Rachael.

“I assure you,” she said, “you did not break your book.”

Classmates reminded me to give myself a break, that I was a newly bereaved mother, and to not put so much pressure on myself.

Still, I was shaken. How could I not have seen all these issues while writing? Since I rarely lack confidence in myself, I wondered if perhaps I was blinded by overconfidence.

With Rachael’s support, I kept going. I moved parts of chapters to other sections of the book, rewrote entire scenes, and completely changed the ending. 

Once the structural issues were fixed, I did several revision “passes” (as Rachael calls them) to focus on specific things like dialogue, verb tense, descriptions, etc., one at a time.

I finished the entire revision in about 50 days, which was just over half the time we had in the 90 day class. I pressured myself to finish quickly because I wanted to shift my focus from the book to building my author platform.

Putting Myself Out There

With what couldn’t have been more perfect timing if I’d planned it myself, I came across the DIY MFA website and saw that the Pixels to Platform course was about to close registration.

Pixels to Platform is the only course for writers (that I’m aware of, anyway) that teaches you exactly how to build an author platform, from concept and design to execution of both the technical aspects and content creation. 

In only 8 weeks, and under Gabriela Pereira and her team’s excellent tutelage, I went from not knowing anything about how to make a website, what an email list is, or how to create and repurpose content across multiple mediums, to designing and creating my author website and brand, setting up my author social media accounts, starting and building an email list of readers, and creating content such as blog posts, a newsletter opt-in freebie (incentive), email newsletters, and pitching guest posts to other blogs.

Once I finished the Pixels to Platform course, it was time to start thinking about my finished manuscript again and how to turn it into a book. 

The Fork in the Road: Self-Publish or Go Traditional?

While I had always imagined getting a publishing deal and ultimately seeing my book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble, I knew it wasn’t 1985 anymore. I would have to give some serious thought to how to best get my book into the marketplace.

The frustrating thing was no matter who I asked (Rachael, Gabriela, other writers) or where I searched for answers (writer websites, podcasts, and articles), everyone told me the same thing: “it’s really up to you.”

If I were to self-publish, there would be a steep learning curve. However, this really wasn’t a deterrent; after all, I learned how to do a lot of new things in a short amount of time in Pixels to Platform, and I was sure I could learn how to publish my own book.

Then again, in the Pixels to Platform course, I had help. I had Gabriela and her team’s expert lessons and the support of an entire community of writers! 

Still, I could probably teach myself what I would need to learn to self-publish. I just didn’t know how quickly I would be able to do it as a high school teacher on the cusp of a new academic year.

Aside from a lack of knowledge and time constraints, I knew that self-publishing requires more of a financial investment. Even though many traditionally published authors still spend money on marketing their book and paying an editor (if they don’t yet have a publishing contract), many self-published authors also pay professionals to design their cover, copy edit their manuscript, and perhaps even to format it correctly. 

Plus, if I were to self-publish, I would have to learn the ins and outs of Amazon Kindle or other online booksellers such as Bookbub, Kobo, etc.

Conversely, if I were to opt for traditional publishing, I would need to spend time researching literary agents, writing and polishing a query letter, and wait anxiously for 2-3 months for their replies. Then, if I were lucky enough to have an agent request a full manuscript, I would wait several more weeks to hear whether or not they would take me on as a client.

And, if they offered to represent me, it would take several more weeks or months until I had a publishing contract. After that, there would be an 18-24 month publishing process, including several more revisions. On top of all the waiting, I would have very little creative control and at the end of it, I’d be expected to sell enough copies (dependent on my own limited marketing skills, of course) or lose future publishing opportunities.

My head was spinning! 

Finally, after making a list of pros and cons, I wasn’t any closer to an answer. Unlike with a multiple choice question, there wasn’t a best option here.

The scary thing was, they were right: it really was up to me.

Ultimately, I decided to go the traditional publishing route. Being traditionally published is how I’d always imagined my life as an author. 

Plus, I had no interest in rewriting the script to fit whatever actual year was on the calendar.

So, I drafted a query letter. I thought I was finally on my way!

Then absolutely nothing went like I’d imagined it.

Stay tuned for Episode 4: Premature Querying: The Sounds of Silence (And Rejection).

Anita Ramirez is a writer and teacher who transforms dispassionate teens into lovers of books — one reader at a time. When she’s not teaching Hispanic/Latinx literature and composition to her high school students or linguistics at the college level, she’s revising her first novel, a YA contemporary featuring bilingual characters. She loves the poetry of Pablo Neruda, teen movies from the 1980s and café con leche. You can check out her website, or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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