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 ground. But 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:
- 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.