How to edit a book: the five stages of editing your novel needs

Once I’m done with a first rough draft, I go through a 5-step editing process to make sure my book is as good as it can be. Keep in mind, I’m not just talking about the basic editing process most authors use, which include:

  • manuscript review and critique
  • copy editing or line editing
  • proofreading

At this point, I’m talking about self-editing: I want to do all this before I hand off control to someone else, because an editor – even a good one you pay lots of money – won’t fix or improve your story. (They’ll clean it up and maybe suggest flaws or fixes, but they won’t rewrite it for you).

So my process is this: What, Why, How.

The first pass is just “what happens.” I focus on the story, the action. I get all the pieces down in the right order. I don’t worry about making it pretty, or the sentences or word choices – that could all change if it’s the wrong scene. I just try to put the right things in the right order…then I go through, fill in the blanks, fix transitions and gaps, until it’s actually readable and I know everything is in the right place.

The second step is “why it happens.” Character motivation, backstory, logic, plot holes – I need to make sure the story make sense and the action and consequences are justified. I need to make sure my characters are likable and sympathetic. This will create emotional resonance and depth.

The third stage is “how it happens.” Now I’ll go through and focus on what it all looks like: what people are wearing, where they’re standing, what the room looks like, and make sure my description is fully fleshed out, my scenes and settings are engaging and unique, and that I’m painting visual scenes that will stick in readers’ minds.

During those three rewriting/revision phases, which include a total read-through with heavy editing, I’ll be revising and fixing typos. By the time I’ve finished with the 3rd pass it should be pretty clean.

Fourth, I’ll go through my beginnings and endings of each scene and chapter, to make them tight and engaging; to make sure they hook readers attention and force them to keep reading.

Fifth and finally, I’ll do a round of proofreading. (Though it’s hard to catch all your own mistakes, so you might want to outsources this.) Here’s a video about hiring an editor or working with one.

If you need more help, my Bestseller Blueprint course is awesome (this link will get you 75% off). I also offer personalized literary critiques and manuscript reviews.

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