So, you’re writing a story. The two main questions are: how should you start exposing your story to your readers, and what preparation should you put into it? We will look at these separately.
Exposure Option 1: Full story
The idea here is that you will write your complete story to your satisfaction, then distribute it to your readers. For some platforms, this seems obvious: such as publishing on Amazon, but even there it’s not the only choice. The advantage of this approach is that you can carefully make sure you don’t have any plot holes, and it lets you change things early on without causing problems. The disadvantage is you can’t slowly generate interest.
Exposure Option 2: As you go
This is the most common option on various fanfiction sites. The idea here is that you write a chapter/section, then publish it. Of course, you can edit it if you’ve got some issues you must correct, but it’s harder to make changes, no matter how bad a corner you’ve written yourself into. While this works well on fanfiction sites, it can piss people off on sites like Amazon. Some people absolutely despise serials, for example, while others love them. Here, you have the advantage of generating interest, and sometimes getting ideas from your fans. Of course, if you lose interest, you can end up with an abandoned, incomplete story.
Preparation Option 1: Raw draft, comment-based edits
This option is probably your worst possible option, but it happens often. The idea is simple: you slam out as much of your story as you intend to publish for this round, and then you put it out there. In the worst case scenario, you don’t even run a basic spell-check. If you’re publishing as you go on a fanfiction site, you can at least take feedback from your readers to fix mistakes. This puts your readers in the unfortunate position of being your beta-reader, and they don’t get your best. Unfortunately, many readers, myself included, will not put up with such low quality. Your story probably won’t be popular with this option.
Given how strongly I’ve spoken against this, it’s worth discussing why people do it. I’ve seen people say, “I know it needs to be edited, but I just wanted to get this out for my fans!” Okay, first of all, I’ve seen that on chapters that were published a year ago. Often, the editing simply doesn’t happen. Second, if you’ve put out a first chapter where the shift key was never, ever used, then it wasn’t about getting it out for your fans, it was about making sure you have no fans. Yes, I’ve seen stuff like that. No capitalization at all. Respect your readers enough to give them your best, not your laziest.
Preparation Option 2: Self-edited
This option is really your minimum acceptable level of effort. Again, the idea is simple: you write your story, and then you read over it. You fix as much spelling and grammar as you can. You make sure your sentences flow well. You make sure your material is consistent with what as come before. Depending on your skill level, this can give you a very good product, or only a mediocre one. Regardless, this will give you the best you can give.
Preparation Option 3: Beta-reader edited
At this point, you take one of the above options and give it to another person to help you. I have a story that is twenty-three pages long. I wrote it, and then edited it three times. Punctuation: perfect! Spelling: perfect! Plot: perfect! Then I gave it to Sybil. She noted that I used the word “vegetarian” instead of “vegan”. She noticed a couple spelling errors. She noticed that I was talking about chickens soaring through the air. Perhaps my story hadn’t been quite perfect, after all. She also gave me feedback on what worked particularly well. In this case, with a good beta-reader, your story can be better than what you could make yourself. On the other hand, a poor beta-reader can drag you down.