Question: I have nearly finished draft 1 of my novel. I often hear people do multiple drafts. Is there a particular approach that seems to work best in editing each draft?



The book editing process can differ greatly for every author. Some authors go through only a few revisions prior to publication, while others go through ten or more. It may take some trial and error to see what works best for you, but there are strategies that experienced authors and industry experts recommend. Implementing one or more of these steps into your own editing and revision process can save you time, frustration, mistakes, and money:

1. Step away from your first draft before editing

Before starting any revisions, take a break from your manuscript. Whether it’s a week or several weeks is up to you, but make sure it’s long enough to feel like you’ve separated yourself from the book and can look at it with fresh eyes. Objectivity is one of the most important components to self-editing. You cannot do it effectively unless you get out of the weeds for a bit and can look at your book as a reader, not the writer. For more details on the self-editing process, see my previous blog post on what to pay attention to as you are revising.

2. Create a draft for big picture issues

Once you get some distance from your book, read through it once to refresh your memory. Take notes as you read and mark the things that don’t make sense, that can be improved, and that are inconsistent. Don’t get too caught up in grammatical errors, word choice, or sentence structure at this stage. Focus on the major elements that affect your storyline, plot, and characters.

If you do identify issues, it’s time start a new draft and figure out how to address them. Are there questions that need answered? Are there unresolved situations? Do your characters feel fully developed? Are there holes in your research? Could you improve your plot or pacing in any way? It could take a couple of drafts to get these types of details ironed out.

It may take multiple revisions to get your manuscript ready for publishing3. Create a draft for copyediting

Once you are satisfied with your big picture revisions, it’s time to fix the obvious grammatical errors including spelling and punctuation. It doesn’t make sense to fix these small errors before making the major changes to storyline, plot, or characters, as big chunks of text may get added, deleted, or updated along the way.

4. Use writing peers or beta readers for feedback

Once you’ve polished your manuscript to the best of your abilities (it still won’t be perfect, and that’s okay!), it’s time to let others take a look. While it can be difficult to receive feedback on your writing, it’s a necessary step toward producing the best book possible. Having multiple sets of eyes on your work will highlight the things that you overlook because you’re too close to the writing. Find readers who can be honest with you and who are knowledgeable about writing craft and your genre. Hint: your friends and family are likely NOT the best candidates at this stage.

One resource to utilize is a local or online writing group. Other writers can provide support and feedback at any stage in the process, but are especially helpful when you are making revisions. Another valuable resource is your target reader. Creating a group of beta readers from your network that currently read books like yours is a great way to get meaningful feedback.

5. Implement the changes in a new draft, then hire a professional

You may not agree with all of the feedback you get from your peers or beta readers, but if more than one person points out the same potential issue, it’s worth considering a revision. They might even provide feedback that sounds reasonable, but you’re not quite sure how to apply it to your manuscript. This is where professional help can take your manuscript to the next level.

Professional book editors are trained and experienced, and know the common mistakes to look for when reviewing a manuscript. Developmental editors can help with the big picture or storyline issues, while line editors and copyeditors can scrub your manuscript to make it as clean as possible. Skipping this step WILL affect your book’s appeal and marketability.

For those pursuing a traditional publishing path, your revision process will likely not stop here. Your agent or publisher may request additional changes. Even if you are self-publishing or working with a small, independent publisher, your service provider will have content guidelines to follow.

It’s important to save EVERY iteration or draft of your manuscript and all of your editing notes, because you never know when you might want to refer to something in an earlier version that was deleted or changed later on. Without a structured editing and revision process, you will likely end up with an error-ridden book that will be difficult to sell.

For even more helpful content on this topic, click here.