How to edit your novel


Every writer has a different editing process, but over the years I’ve figured out what mine looks like and wanted to share it with you in case it helps you with your writing. There’s more than one way to edit a novel, but this is what works for me.

After I complete a first draft these are the steps I take to get it to what I consider a finished state:

  1. I do an initial read-through. In this stage I read everything on the computer and fix any glaring issues: grammatical errors, plot holes, add/delete scenes. Etc
  2. I add details/description. I have a tendency to underwrite on the first draft – leave out what someone looks like, what the setting looks like, etc. On this draft I add those details in.
  3. I print out the book and read it again. The whole time I am in these stages I am also developmental editing. Are there enough obstacles for the character? Are they changing enough?  Is the pacing ok?  Some writers do this as a separate edit but it’s always in the back on my mind as I’m editing.
  4. I edit for show vs. tell. Using this checklist usually catches all the culprits.
  5. I do another edit for the first and last sentences of each chapter. Those should be as compelling as possible and make the reader want to read more.
  6. Assuming I am satisfied at this point I show parts or all of the book to at least three beta readers or critique partners.
  7. I make edits if people are commenting on the same issue and/or I agree with their suggestions.
  8. I print the book out and read it to my dog. Usually there are errors that crop up when hearing the book out loud.
  9. I change the font of the manuscript, print it out, and read it again.
  10. I show the book to three different test readers than before.
  11. I make edits as I see fit based on their comments.
  12. I read the book on my Kindle. I feel like this is the only real way to mimic a reader’s experience. If anything jumps out at me I fix it in the manuscript.

As you can see, if you can’t find something to love on the fifth, tenth or twelfth read of your novel, perhaps you should move on to another project. Also, keep in mind all of this happens before the book goes to a professional editor.

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