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At First Draft: The 6 (Minimum) Steps to Revising Your Manuscript before Submission

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Congratulations on your first draft! Ready for the real work?

 

Here’s your in-the-trenches editing post! As I’ve said before, writing tens of thousands of words is not hard.

 

Sorry, it’s just not.

 

The muffled sound you just heard was a herd of angry authors setting their laptops down to come pummel me to the groundBut it’s true: the act itself of writing is not difficult to do.

 

What IS hard is having the time and discipline to write.

 

Harder yet? Having the skill to do it well.

 

And the hardest? Being able to distance yourself enough from your manuscript to truly face what sucks about it—being open to changing your most beloved sections for the greater good. 

 

So, indeed, congratulations on your first draft! Below are the minimum steps you should take before submitting your sixth, seventh, or twentieth draft to your carefully selected agent, editor or publisher.

 

Step 1: Self-Editing Your First Draft

Self-editing is a hugely important process. No one—and I mean no one—should give you recommendations before you’ve done this step!

 

You’ve finally gotten the first book-length batch of words—now it’s time to make that text worthy of review.

 

Do everything YOU can do to revise it—until you’re at your wit’s end—before getting beta readers.

 

This round of self-editing should be to fix the three major structural issues of your manuscript:

  • Organization
  • Continuity
  • Logical movement

Step 2: After Your Second Draft, Take a Break and Then Get Back to It!

You’ve successfully blown through your first draft, fixed the major structural issues and continuity issues, and can confidently say you’re on the second draft. Great! Good work.

 

Get yourself a cup of tea (long island or unleaded—whichever tickles your fancy!) and relax! You’re done—for now.

 

You’ve been so immersed in your manuscript that you actually can’t do anything better with it right now. You’re in the woods without a map, and the overcast clouds are covering the sun so you have no idea how to find true north!

 

The solution? Wait it out. Give it a day (or, in manuscript world, one or two months) to rest. The sun will come back one of these mornings, and you’ll be able to find your north.

 

Seriously–you’ll be able to see things more freshly after a few weeks’ rest.

 

In your second round of self-editing, you’ll hopefully be able to interpret things you couldn’t in your first round of structural self-editing, such as:

  • redundant passages
  • ineffective transitions
  • sentence-structure issues

Step Three: Give Your Third Draft to Beta Readers

Great work on your first two drafts! Now it’s time for  beta readers. Here are my four rules for beta readers:

1. Tap into your (trusted) family and friends for support (maybe two or three). It’s best if they don’t know each other or agree not to talk about your book—you don’t want them to influence one another’s feedback.

2. Make it clear that they’re not editors. They are readers. Emphasize the difference to them, or they will over assume their roles! It’s okay to find misspellings and typos (which I can guarantee they will), but this is not their main function.

3. Have them highlight the passages that trip them up in phrasing, structure, organization, continuity, and transitions. TIP: They should even highlight the places they got a little bored, because that indicates a pacing issue.

4. Ask for the feedback you need. Provide a questionnaire/survey for completion after they have finished reading your manuscript. Struggling with a title? Wondering if your characters are believable? Have your beta readers provide ratings and specific responses to your guided questions. This prevents receiving vague and invaluable feedback. Examples:

  • Did I deliver on the solution that my book promises to answer? Rate on a scale of 1 to 5
  • Was my protagonist dimensional, complex, and transformed by the end of the story? Rate on a scale of 1 to 5
  • Identify three areas of weaknesses in my manuscript

 

After you’ve gotten their feedback, don’t take every piece of advice you get; rather, always take it with a grain of salt. People love giving their opinion, but too often they go overboard and give incorrect advice.

 

You should, however, make sure to pay attention to the places where advice was consistent among reviewers. If more than one person comments on a clarity or pacing issue, fix it.

Step Four: More Self-Editing

After incorporating the feedback you received from your beta readers, it’s time for YOU to read it as a reader.

 

Read the manuscript in the same way they did. Smooth out those last big things you find so you can feel confident going into the next stage. . . .

Step Five: Hire a Professional Editor

At this stage, you’re ready for a professional editor. You’re on your fifth draft (maybe more), and your book has been carefully tried and tested!

 

Try a freelance editor who comes recommended by a publishing professional or an editor you know has worked with a number of published authors and publishers.

 

The editor should be able to show examples of his/her work, and should be able to provide more than one reference.

 

After the editor provides recommendations for you and fixes the necessary mistakes and style issues, you’re ready for…

Step Six: Submission

 

Congratulations! You’re ready to submit your manuscript to publishers or agents. Make sure you target those who fit your book and your genre.

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18 Comments

  1. You are so right! The first draft (or “vomiting onto the page”) as I call it is relatively easy. I have never been able to go back. Your tips broken up into drafts is helful. I know all this I just need the guts to go back. I can’t leave them in a drawer forever as they won’t leave me alone (round and round in my head; going crazy I am). Thanks.

    • Thanks, Claire! Glad it was helpful. You’d be amazed about how many books we get in their first draft! Authors often don’t realize a) how much less they’ll spend on editing and b) how much better the finished product ends up when they send us a carefully revised sixth draft instead of a first. The book should only go to editing when it’s gone as far as the author can take it!

      Amy

    • Aww, thanks Gwynneth! Good luck on your writing. Feel free to submit to our free feedback contest if you like! It comes with an official Wise, Ink endorsement when the book is out!

      Amy

  2. I have read countless posts on editing, revising a drafts but honest to god – hand on heart – this is THE best post I’ve read on it. I’ll put it down to the fact that it was simply written and direct. Also because it was split into different drafts and outlined what to do with each draft.

    This is definitely a post I will use time and time again! ^_^

  3. Writing a manuscript needs a lot of expertise and must be well done. Those steps you’ve given is truly a fact because writing/drafting a manuscript really need a lot of revising, editing and reader’s feedback.

  4. Love the detailed guidance on engaging with Beta Readers. Do you have more in-depth post on this facet? I’m approaching that phase presently, and have thought long and hard about what guidance to provide for feedback. This is a hugely helpful start. Thank you!

  5. Very helpful information again! I am learning with each of your blog posts just how much work is required to produce a really good finished product (and isn’t that what we all want?). And I am realizing all of that work will certainly be worth it in the end.

    I am still writing draft #1, and I never knew anything about multiple drafts, beta readers or the 3 major structural issues of a manuscript. So, it’s such a blessing to continually learn more from you both during my progress as an aspiring author.

  6. I just want to say that whenever I read an article on Wise ink- it’s always simple, practical and absorbable. So many ‘helpful’ pieces make my brain hurt, and make me feel overloaded. If I just stick to the advice Wise Ink offers I know I’ll get there in my own sweet time! I shall let you know once you’ve helped me produce a bestselling novel! Chloe

    • Thank you so much Chloe! We appreciate your feedback more than you know. Please keep us in mind for your novel. We’d love to help — we love working with fiction authors!

  7. I want to thank you for the information and inspiration. I am a high school teacher who wrestles with teaching students how to write short stories. Although my students are very bright and have no problem with identifying the elements of a short story, many students struggle with applying those elements in their writing, especially developing a good plot structure. Too many times students end up chasing rabbits. I have revised my lesson plan to include my students reading your blog/series as we work our way to composing great stories. Your blog/series has been such an inspiration to my teaching that I am looking forward to picking up your book, We Are Not Alone.