Self-Editing: How to Edit Your Novel
Editing can be an overwhelming process where you don’t know where to begin. I have a 70k-word manuscript that needed polishing this summer, so I created an editing method that breaks it down into bite-sized, manageable steps.
There are three types of edits:
Developmental: pay attention to plot and character development
Line editing: make sure sentences are fluid and easy to read
Copyediting: correct your grammar and ensure consistency
Here’s an example of how I crafted an editing roadmap.
PART I: Developmental Edits
It’s important to start with developmental edits because this requires rewriting.
GATHER DEVELOPMENTAL FEEDBACK
I recommend asking beta readers, and even a professional editor, to look over your book from a developmental standpoint. Here are some questions to give beta readers:
What page did you stop reading at the first time you sat down with the book?
Where did you get confused?
What was your reaction to each character?
What do you think is missing from the story?
Is there anywhere that the dialogue doesn’t feel believable?
What did you think of the balance between action and exposition?
What did you think of the ending?
You may also have agent feedback if you’ve already pitched to agents. If an agent was kind enough to provide feedback or reasoning for their rejection, listen to it carefully. Most agents don’t take time to provide feedback - so consider this a positive rejection if you get one.
ORGANIZE & HIGHLIGHT FEEDBACK
If you have feedback from many sources, prioritize them by importance:
Literary agent feedback
You can also prioritize each piece of feedback. If readers have the same reaction, this indicates a red flag that something needs to be fixed.
CREATE YOUR ACTION PLAN
Next to the feedback in your roadmap, write down how you will fix each problem.
For example, if a beta reader says, “The physical description of your main character happens too early and sounds awkward,” you can write an actionable note:
Move the main character’s physical description to chapter 2
I created my editing roadmap in a Google doc, so I was able to highlight the feedback and add a comment in the sidebar to address how I would fix it. You can also do this in MS Word. Or you can write your action steps on index cards or post-it notes.
Using these action steps, you now have a developmental editing roadmap. You can view this as a large task list. If you have an hour to edit your novel, you can aim to check off a few of these “to-dos.”
PART II: Line Editing & Copyediting
When you’re done with each developmental edit, you’re ready to move onto line editing and copyediting.
USE ONLINE EDITING CHECKLISTS
For more granular edits, I highly recommend this editing checklist by Jerry Jenkins.
I’ve also used an online editing app to spot errors. You can upload your novel onto Pro Writing Aid to receive edits. This works just like Grammarly in your browser, but allows you to upload text instead. The most helpful part of this app: it spots words you over-use in your manuscript.
ELIMINATE UNNECESSARY WORDS
Another helpful exercise is to read your manuscript solely with the goal of eliminating excessive words. Go sentence-by-sentence and eliminate unneeded words. It takes craft to create emotion and meaning in fewer words.
Consider this quote by Mark Twain:
“I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
If you want to make a passage more impactful or artistic, I recommend this “Twitter” tip:
Try editing a passage as if you’re about to Tweet it. Twitter has a 280-character limit, which will help you whittle down your paragraph into sharper, succinct sentences.
Editing a novel is a long process, which is why it helps to break it down into bite-sized pieces. Celebrate each step. Even just creating your editing roadmap and setting deadlines for yourself is a huge first step.
Your hard work will pay off — keep at it! If you want someone to bounce ideas with, you can reach me at email@example.com.