PHASES OF EDITING A NOVEL

Updated: Dec 14, 2018

One of the questions I get a lot is: “How do I know if I’m ready to begin editing my book, and what should I expect?”


Every author has a process for editing a book. Here’s mine.


1.) Agonize.

Yep. Realize that your first draft is awful. Accept it and soak it in, friend, because writing truly is revision. Whether your book is golden on draft three or draft eight, you will go through this entire cycle many times before your work is complete and publishable.


2.) Celebrate Finishing Your First Draft!

I’m a little strange in that I celebrate after agonizing. Somewhere around Day Three after completion, a little voice in my head says, “Hey, you. Nice friggin’ job. You didn’t quit writing! Yay!”


Sometimes, writing feels like a job. I’ve learned that to finish a novel, you need to be a little bit hard on yourself. I gave myself a six-month timeline for The Dead of Night (working title) and finished in roughly seven months. There were nights I wanted to punt my laptop onto the roof of the business next door to my house. If you’ve been in a similar situation, I’m sure you can relate.


But you didn’t quit, because you’re friggin’ awesome.


Writing a book is something everyone wants to do but hardly anyone executes on. Be proud, even if later you feel like you’ve written the novel version of courthouse bathroom vandalism.


3.) Read Your First Draft

I wait until I’ve done a few things before reading my first draft:


  • Read 2-3 books. The genre doesn’t matter. Just get your own writing out of your head.

  • Work on an outline for a new story and/or write a new story. Short stories are good buffers.

  • Bonus to the above point: If your short story is any good after editing, you can publish it to websites like Asimov’s, which can go a long way in increasing your exposure once you publish your masterpiece!


When going through the first draft of your novel, take it easy. Just read. Keep an eye out for any plot holes, pacing issues, or mischaracterizations.


It may have taken you several months or even years to write your novel. There will be inconsistencies.


Not only that, but you as a person have changed from beginning of writing to end of writing. Who you are contributes a lot to writing style.


For now, just take notes. Don’t make changes.

Don't you wish there was AI that could do this for you?

4.) Summarize Your Book

If your friend or relative asked you to explain what your book is about in one simple paragraph, how would you explain it?


Try coming up with 5-6 ways of describing it. You’ll probably need more.


This is a great exercise for analyzing the core of your novel and why people should read it. If you find something is lacking, you can address this while editing.


5.) The Rewrite

The second draft will be painful. Read your novel on a computer or print the document out.


I prefer using both methods – sometimes I even change the font so my mind doesn’t get tricked by how familiar the text is. This is also a rock-solid tip for how to find typos.


Buy yourself some red pens, highlighters, and a notepad; you’re going to address the issues you found in Step Three.


Be prepared to find entire paragraphs you realize you hate. DON’T be tempted to deal with typos or wording issues just yet.


Achieving efficiency is important to not having the year-long edit. What typos you edit now, you could end up cutting out the entire chapter they’re in later.


I find that I end up doing two rewrites: One in the beginning, and one a couple drafts down the line if I need to add chapters.


6.) The Detailed Edit/Proofreading

Typos. Sentence structure. Don’t skimp; errors will cause readers to pause and remove them from the world you’ve created.


You want readers to stay immersed. They’re worth your undivided attention to detail.


It also helps to read your story aloud during the final phases of editing. Tedious, sure, but especially important if you ever plan to produce an audiobook.


7.) Reread

Read your story once more, or as many times as you need to until you’re satisfied that you can read for pages without marking down any notes.


Important: You will never have a note-free draft. Writers are their own worst critics. Do your best.



8.) Have Friends and Family Read Your Book

Note that I didn’t mention hiring anyone. I didn’t mention coercing strangers online. You can do those things, certainly, but you know the interests of those close to you.


Do they like science fiction? Do they love romance novels, but damn it, you want to know if your novel could turn them onto the mystery genre?


You can test multiple demographics you have detailed, accurate knowledge about. Don’t pass the chance up!


9.) Hire an Editor

Self-published books have bad reputations. We’ve all read – or tried to read – self-published novels that contain typos and glaring plot issues. Please, even if you think your story is perfect, don’t contribute to the bad reputation of self-published books.


To emphasize my point, traditionally published novels have dozens of people working on them and they still contain typos. Self-published writers need all the help they can get.


If you can afford it, you should hire a developmental editor to critique your novel somewhere around your second or third draft.


When you think you’re finished with your novel, hire a line editor or a copy editor to ensure that your work is as polished as can be.


It’s helpful to have a friend look your work over, but if your friend isn’t highly trained in the intricacies of the English language and boring things like when to use semi-colons and how to properly use commas, readers will pick up on that.


There are thousands of freelance editors out there, and hundreds of editors like me who offer reasonable prices. Don’t be afraid to reach out for a quote and sample edit!



Readers appreciate authors who strive to give them the best, and they remember it the next time you have a book for sale. Follow these steps to edit your novel and you’ll be on track to better sales, happier readers, and a more fulfilled career.


Fellow writers, what’s your method for editing? Would you add anything to my suggestions? Leave a comment!




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