Do Not Publish that First Draft

Starting in 1999, National Novel Writing Month is a challenge to write 50,000 words of a novel during the thirty days of November. It is a good way for writers determined to start or finish their books to hold themselves accountable.

Today (11/30) is the last day of NaNoWriMo. Many of you have met your 50K goal and will have a new book sitting on your table tomorrow. Congratulations are in order. Someone get the wine.

But I wouldn’t be a good friend if I didn’t tell you the truth and the truth is that mess on your table is not ready for publishing.

Hundreds and thousands of writers and aspiring writers will have complete manuscripts by tomorrow (12/1), but these are messy complete manuscripts. They still have to be revised, professionally edited, and formatted. So, please, do not publish that first draft.

In honor of NaNoWriMo, I am republishing this post from 2017.


You have finished your book. This is admirable because so many people never finish. This is an accomplishment worthy of celebration. Congratulations!

But, while this is an accomplishment worth celebrating, you are not done. Do not pass go and do not collect $200.

A rule of thumb is that you do not publish a book you just finished writing. After you have finished writing your book, your manuscript is now considered the first draft. It’s called the first draft because it is the first copy of the book ever in existence where you have made no significant changes. It is a rough draft of the story from your mind to the page.

“In any piece of writing, whether a novel manuscript or a blog post, the first draft is also known as a rough draft. From start to finish, it’s technically a complete piece. It has a beginning that moves to a middle that concludes with an ending. But it’s a messy complete piece. There are still thoughts to ground, sentences to be revised for maximum reader engagement, and spelling errors to fix. Which is why a rough draft should never, ever, ever be your final draft.”

– Innovative Editing

Once you have finished the actual writing part, it’s a good idea to let the manuscript sit for a while. Take a few weeks off from the writing and do something else. Then, return to it with fresh eyes to begin your self-edits. This Writer’s Digest article has some excellent tips for self-editing using these 7 Self-Editing Processes for Writers.

You may also decide to join a critique group or recruit the help of beta readers before sending it in for editing. And by editing, I don’t mean your English teacher friend. You really should hire a professional editor.

Whatever you decide, the point is to make sure the manuscript is as polished as you can make it before publishing. With Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, Lulu, and other POD (Print on Demand) services, I know it’s easy to upload a Word Document or PDF and say you have written a book, but I implore you not to publish the first draft/rough draft of your book. I promise you, it is not ready.

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