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How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps

If you told me that you love editing your WIP, I wouldn’t believe you. Not entirely, anyway–it has its moments, but it’s not easy to edit your book. We all know that moment in the first big round where we’re convinced we’re not making any progress.

Personally, I’m torn. I enjoy editing–it’s why you can book me to edit your book–but there are times when I’d rather go jogging* than edit another sentence of my WIP.

I’ve fiddled with my editing routine a lot, but when I wrote Rise of the Sparrows I didn’t have one. I wrote it, read over it once (maybe twice), and then I send it to my poor editor for a proofread. I also got beta readers, but besides that?

It’s tough to edit your book, but I think I’ve finally arrived at a reliable, effective routine–and today, I’m sharing that routine with you!

Please remember that, while this works pretty damn well for me, it may not work for you at all. Editing is funny that way. However, if you don’t know where to start** or if your current routine is lacking something, why not give it a try?

If you’d rather have a quick summary, scroll down to the end 🙂

*I loathe running. It’s just so boring.
**we’ve all been there, my kitten!

Please note: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of my links I may earn a small commission at no extra charge or hassle to you. I only endorse products and books I love.

How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps

Let it rest

You’ve finished your first draft–that alone is deserving of cake!–and now you want to see how awesome it is and edit your book.

Don’t.

The first thing you need to do is set your book aside and do anything but look at it. I know it’s hard, but try not to think about it, either.

Because, to edit your book, a bit of distance is vital.

You’re too close to it right after finishing your first draft. If you jump in right away, you’ll miss so many mistakes*!

It’s up to you how long you let it proof like delicious pizza dough. I recommend you leave it for at least one month. Some writers leave their drafts for years, but you don’t need to wait that long.

I left Darkened Light to marinate for six months, and I can’t tell you how easy the edit was**!

My advice is to give it at least a month, and then wait as long as you can bear before pulling it out of the drawer and dusting it off.

While you wait, you can brush up on your editing skills and go in more prepared! My favourite resources for this are:

*don’t worry, every first draft is rubbish. All it needs to do is exist, but it doesn’t need to be good at it.
**WELL, as far as edits go, anyway.

Edit your book for the first time

Make a tea, friend. This will be painful.

The first time I edit my book, I sit down with a notebook and a pen, and I take notes while reading over it.

That’s it. I don’t make any changes, I just remind myself of what I’ve created. I summarise every chapter–POV, how does it start, what happens in the middle, how does the chapter end–including any twists I’ve thrown in, and then I get another pen.

Use any colour you like as long as it’s different to your first pen. If you notice any spots where you could add another chapter or more detail, make a note with your new pen.

Get a third pen, and mark the chapters you want to move.

When you go over your notes again at the end of this stage, you’ll have a nice little overview of your book complete with things to add!

Edit your book for the second time

If you thought the first edit was painful, ready yourself. This’ll be something else.

(I strongly advise you get another tea for this.)

I read over every chapter–adding my new scenes and chapters as noted in Step 1 as I go–and essentially do a line edit.

Check out my review:

How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps | Recommended reading: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne

Now, doing a line edit on your own work is pain mixed with horror splashed with a huge dose of impossible. It’s really hard to read your book objectively. You know how everything is supposed to sound, and your mind will make it harder by fixing many of your mistakes so you don’t see them.

Leaving your book to proof helps, but you still won’t catch everything. It’ll get easier with every book you write, but it’ll never be a joy.

This is one of the two edits I hate the most. No matter how much progress I make, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting anywhere and that makes it so frustrating.

Once I’m done with this stage, it’s time to call in the cavalry.

Edit your book for the third time and get it edited professionally

This stage is equally frustrating and exciting.

I print my book and get it bound so the pages don’t spread themselves all over my office.

I stock up on red pens and tea.

But, best of all, I send it to my critique partners and my editor for a developmental edit. I’m no longer alone in this! I have help!

Quick note: don’t inform them in the last minute that you’re ready. Book your editor early, and ask your CPs if they’d be free. If you don’t do this in advance, don’t be disappointed if your editor is fully booked and your CPs are busy with other projects!

I genuinely love this stage, because I get first outsider feedback. It’s so hard to spot problems yourself, but your CPs and your editor don’t have that issue. They aren’t close to your book. Their minds don’t fix the issues your mind lets you overlook.

Check out my review:

How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps | Recommended reading: Editing Made Easy by Bruce Kaplan

Why do all this prep work yourself? Why not hire your editor as soon as your first draft is finished? That’s what your editor is there for, right? Imagine it like this:

Your room is a mess. Somewhere in that chaos are your keys. You need to find them before you can do anything else, but you have no idea where they are buried. Which sounds better?

  • you ask some friends for help. Together, you find your keys eventually but it takes a while because no one can see anything clearly and every other step someone trots on a lego you forgot you had.
  • you tidy the room as much as you can first, and then ask for help. It takes a while because your keys got into the cereal box somehow, but you don’t have to wade through the above mess first. You can get straight to the real search.

I’m sure you can see the wisdom of Option 2. If you send your editor a first draft, it’ll take much longer and smaller things are more likely to slip through. If you do what you can yourself first, your editor and CPs can focus on the real issues you can’t fix yourself, which saves everyone a lot of time and gets you a much better result.

Send it back to your editor

Once I’ve applied all the changes from the previous round, I send my book back to my editor for a line edit.

I love this stage, because I get a breather. I focus on other projects while my editor makes everything readable. When she sends it back to me, I apply her changes without question.

There’s no more thinking on my part; I do what my editor says and move on. If you don’t trust your editor to do what’s right for your book, they’re not the right editor for you. It’s extremely rare that I don’t agree with her, because she gets me and my books.

So, take a break, eat cake because you’ve bloody earned it, and prepare yourself for the next stage.

Edit your book for the fourth time

This stage is optional. If you feel that your book has changed a lot over the last few rounds, go over it again yourself. If you’re confident you still know where everything is, I skip this step.

Every book is different, so whether you skip this stage or not depends entirely on how big the developmental and line edits were.

Check out my review:

How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps | Recommended reading: Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

Send your book to beta readers

This will never not be nerve-wrecking. You trust your editor and you trust your critique partners, but your betas are just normal readers who want to enjoy a good book.

I keep a list of betas who’ve done well in the past, and I contact them again every time I’m at this stage. I cherish and trust their feedback, and appreciate it if they’re happy to do it again.

Every name on this list is someone I work well with. They’re betas who helped me improve my book, who got my world and my characters, and who gave feedback without being rude.

I recommend you keep a similar list.

Edit your book for the fifth time, and send it to your editor for its final proofread

By this point, I shouldn’t find any big issues anymore, so I read over it while my editor works her magic for the last time. I’m not likely to make any big changes, so whatever I do doesn’t interfere with her changes.

If you haven’t done any more of your own edits since the third one I strongly advise you to read it now. Your book will have changed a lot since your editor gave it hell for the first time.

This’ll be the last time you read it before you wrap things up, so please don’t skip this.

So, to summarise:

I let my book rest for at least a month.

I read over it for the first time, taking notes of any chapters or scenes I could add.

Next, I line edit the entire thing and add the chapters or scenes as I go.

Then, I send it to my editor and critique partners for a developmental edit. I also print it and go over it with a red pen.

Once that’s done and I applied all changes, I send it back to my editor for a line edit.

If I feel that my book has changed a huge amount, I read it again myself and make any changes that pop up.

I send it to my beta readers.

Finally, I send it to my editor for its final proofread. I also read over it myself for the final time, only making small adjustments if any.

It’s not an easy road by any means, but it gets easier every time you edit your book. Every book you write and polish will teach you something new. The first one is just the hardest.

You might also like:

How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps | Further reading: Your Book Cover

How to Edit Your Book in 8 Steps | Further reading: How to Find an Editor

And that’s my routine! I hope it’ll help with your next edit. Make another tea, get some cookies, and tell me how you edit your books!


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Published inA Writer's Musings

2 Comments

  1. I actually just bought Self-Editing for Fiction Writers based on your review that you sent in your email some time back and I’m loving it! I’ve learned so much already and I’m only about halfway through reading it. I loved reading about your routine! I’m still trying to get something to work for me.

  2. I’m so with you on the current WIP! The one I’m working on is only tying up some loose ends at the moment, so it’s short and I kind of hate it because it’s not very exciting. I know I just need to plow forward, though, because the thing needs to get written first.

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