You may have typed “the end” on the last page of your manuscript, but it’s not ready to be sent to your editor. These nine steps will help clarify what you need to do before you ship your book off for editing.
Whether you’re traditionally published or have gone the independent route, at some point, you will be working with an editor. Editors aren’t there to change the soul of our stories, but they are there to make sure your book is the best it can be.
With that in mind, you don’t want to send your editor a mess to work with. Why not? Here’s an analogy. If you hire a tailor to take in your clothes to make them fit better, you don’t bring them stained, ripped garments that are four sizes too big. They can’t really fix that. Even if they adjust it to your measurements, the final product won’t look very good. First, you need to take your relatively right-fitting, intact clothes to a dry cleaner before a tailor starts measuring you. Only then will a custom fit look good.
It’s the same thing with your book. You want to deliver the best possible manuscript to your editor so they can elevate your story.
How do you get your book ready for your editor? Here are nine steps for delivering a polished manuscript to your editor.
1. Take a break
That’s not what you expected me to say first, is it? I know how exciting it is to have completed your first draft. You wrote a book! It’s a big deal! And now you want to get this story out as soon as possible so the whole world can read it.
But, chances are you’re also pretty spent on the creative front. You’ve invested countless hours entrenched in your story. If you edit it now, you’ll either think it’s perfect because you can’t see errors or you’ll think it’s the worst thing in the world and toss it in the trash.
You need fresh eyes. Take at least a week off from your story. Seriously, don’t touch it! I like to take a full month off, and I usually work on writing projects that are very different from the world and characters I have built.
2. Read it like a reader
Now that you have taken a break, you’re ready to begin the editing process. The first thing you need to do is read your book. Don’t start fixing every little problem you see. Save it as a PDF or eBook format so you can’t make changes. Or, print it out — just put the red pen away!
It’s okay to take some notes, though I usually do this on my second read-through. At this point, you’re just trying to see what the biggest issues are that need to be fixed.
3. Send it to your alpha reader or critique partners
If I could write this article as a “choose your own adventure,” I would. Some of these steps will change depending on your manuscript. An alpha reader is a good idea if you have no idea where to start with editing. They will give you feedback based on the overall readability. I suggest you have a non-writer as your alpha reader.
There are also critique partners and critique groups. Some people prefer completing a round or two of editing before they submit their story for critiques. I used to be too scared to give anything less than perfect to my critique group, but now they get my first drafts of each scene. It helps me through editing a lot quicker.
The most important thing is to find people who will be honest. Don’t give it to your mom or your spouse because they’re just going to tell you it’s amazing. You need solid criticism to work with.
4. Fix the big issues
Now, you’re ready to actually start editing. At this stage, you’re looking for the big problems. How is your overall pacing? Does the plot make sense? How is your character development?
You might need to add, subtract, or rearrange whole scenes. You can fix plot holes and elaborate where you need to. You can trim any unnecessary fat.
This may prove to be a daunting task. If your manuscript has major issues, and you’re having difficulty pinpointing what they are and how to fix them, you should consider hiring a developmental editor. Send it off at this stage, and they’ll help you figure out how to have a solid story structure. This is especially helpful if your book is very short or very long and you don’t know how to get the word count where it needs to be.
5. Conduct scene surgery
To do this, you should either have feedback from a developmental editor or have fixed any major issues. If you hired a developmental editor, go through their suggestions to improve your story. If you’ve fixed the overall issues, start editing scene by scene.
You are looking for consistency in characterization, pacing of individual scenes and chapters, areas that need more or less description, and things that don’t add to the plot. Each scene should function as a miniature story. There should be clear goals and motivations and something should happen to propel the entire novel forward. If it doesn’t add to the plot, it’s got to go.
6. Perform a thorough line edit
Once your scenes make sense and you’re happy with the overall structure of your novel, it’s time to go line by line. You’re looking for clarity within each sentence. This boils down to word choice, literary devices, and sentence structure. A line edit will help you find unnecessary repetition, like overused words or repeated sentence starts.
Line edits can be grueling, but I dread it much less since I started using ProWritingAid. I analyze each scene with the reports. There are twenty reports I can run on every scene. The Style Report is my favorite. It points out “emotion tells” to replace with showing and highlights repeated sentence starts. It also shows me all of my adverbs and passive voice. There are also Pacing and Consistency Reports that make my life much easier.
I like seeing graphic representations of my sentence length as well as overused words and where I’ve used clichés. I fix these issues, then go through line by line one more time to make sure my sentences are the strongest possible.
If I’m struggling with cleaning up a scene, I will submit it to my critique group. They can give me feedback on things like word choice, flow, and dialogue.
7. Send off to the beta readers
Some writers will switch this step with the previous one, but I prefer to send my line-edited draft to my beta readers. This ensures they are getting a good idea of the voice and style of the story, not just the plot.
I recently asked fellow writers on Instagram how many beta readers they think is the right amount. The answers were all between three and six, but most people said three or four was ideal.
Everyone picks up on different things when they read, so expect all your beta feedback to be different. However, having more than two beta readers will allow you to see issues that everyone picks up on. If one person has an issue understanding a plot point, but the other three don’t, it might not be your writing.
I prefer to have avid readers, but non-writers, as my beta readers. At this point, I want feedback on readability, not nitpicks on sentence structure. You can find readers through social media, or you can ask friends who you trust to be honest. I also recommend sending a questionnaire with specific questions for them to answer; otherwise, beta readers can find it overwhelming to critique a whole book.
8. The final edit
You’re almost there! Once you get feedback from your beta readers, read through all of their suggestions and comments, then address them methodically. This might mean working chapter by chapter. It might mean fixing the issues you think will be the most difficult first, or you may want to start with the easy things. It’s up to you.
Then, I recommend reading your entire book out loud. You will pick up on so many things you missed. But after this, you must stop! You could edit until the day you die and still find things to fix. At some point, you have to back away and say you’re done.
9. Take a deep breath and click send
You might be on version eight of your story, but it’s time to send it off. Sending your baby manuscript off can be emotional. It’s a piece of your soul that you’re handing to a professional. It’s scary and sad and exciting all at the same time.
Submit your manuscript to your editor using their submission guidelines. Then walk away from your computer. Don’t touch your story while it’s with your editor!
Now, pour yourself a glass of wine, grab a sweet treat, and put your feet up. You just edited your book!
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How To Read, Edit, and Evaluate Your Writing With Fresh Eyes
Filling The Holes In Your Story
The Isolated Sentence Test
How To Solicit And Act On Feedback From Beta Readers
Getting good feedback from beta readers