The biggest misunderstanding writers appear to have is how many times and how thoroughly they need to edit their manuscripts. Since beginning this blog, I’ve attempted to address what writers need to actively focus on as they edit their book and give them some direction as they work towards publication.
I’ve talked with and worked with many writers who have mistakenly felt they were further along than they actually were. I’ve met them online and at writers conferences, and I’ve heard many stories from agents who’ve received these individuals’ manuscripts.
This may have been you at one point. I’m not here to point fingers; I’ve had my own fair share of faux pas in the past. And who can blame you or any other writer who falls into this category? Writing is not a one-size-fits-all industry, so how is anyone to know what’s adequate or inadequate? And how am I supposed to nicely box such a diverse topic?
Luckily for you, I do have some general guidelines writers should follow, regardless of each writer’s idiosyncrasies. And the good news is that if you are reading this, chances are you are above the curve because you are seeking to better your craft.
While different writers have various needs, depending on their natural talent, their experience, and their book’s level of difficulty, I can give writers some definitive answers.
Never Ever Stop After Your First Draft
If this is you, you’ve mistaken this marathon for a sprint. No one is exempt from editing. Further, no matter what stage you are at as a writer, you should be focusing on growth. Refusing to edit your work illustrates that you’ve both gravely underestimated what it takes to create a marketable book and a reluctance to grow as a writer.
Never Ever Stop After Your First Round of Edits
I’ve seen what a first draft looks like, and it’s not pretty. Your first round of edits is a bit like damage control. You take stock of what you’ve written and begin editing the most obvious problems. These are the glaring inconsistencies, those areas you must change just to create a functional story. Writers make huge progress after this round, but they are nowhere near complete.
Of course there are writers out there who do a superb job writing their first draft, and who do an even better job editing that draft during a first round of edits. Yet I can vouch that these folks put themselves through some of the most intense, in-depth edits, rework their manuscripts enough times to make your eyes cross, and do everything else in their power to make sure that their book is the best version of itself. They’re not my concern. It’s those who don’t know the road that lies ahead of them that should be aware that one round of edits only fixes the book’s most fundamental problems.
Never Ever Stop After Your Second Round of Edits
Only the most organized of you could sincerely reach this feat, and even then, my guess is that these two rounds of edits would take you a long time. That’s the only way I can conceive of a writer actually producing a finished product after two rounds of edits.
Two rounds of edits are not enough—not nearly. You’ll need those two rounds just to establishing a solid storyline.
Never Ever Give Yourself Only Copyedits
Copyedits, or edits focus on the proper use of the English language, are polish. Perfect language is insignificant when the content of your book needs lots of work. I actually see this quite often in my profession, since most writers believe that hiring an editor is solely for the purpose of double-checking your grammar. Copyedits should only be your very last concern, after the substance of your book is complete.
What is a Correct Number of Edits, and How in-Depth Should They be?
Here’s where my advice gets hazy. It truly is different for each person. However, the above numbers are considered laughable to those of us in the industry, so if the number of edits you’ve given your book hovers near those never-evers, keep on editing.
What I can definitely tell you is that the first few rounds of edits should establish a solid storyline, like I mentioned above. The next few rounds of edits should focus on your book’s content rather than its language. This means inserting and lengthening certain necessary scenes and thinning out or removing others, developing characters, inserting plot twists, tightening the book’s logic, removing unnatural character interaction, and so on. Below I have included a list of some edits you should focus on during this stage of editing. Please be mindful that this list is not exhaustive.
Lastly, you’ll want to focus your final few rounds of edits on polishing the text. This means copyedits, but it also means tweaking the any last minor problems with the story.
What Edits Should I Focus on?
Like I mentioned earlier, below I’ve listed some different types of edits you should focus on while editing your book. My goal here is to demonstrate that most of the edits writers need to make to their manuscripts concern the book’s content rather than its delivery. This is a misconception many writers have.
When Do I Know I’m Done Editing?
The truth is that a book is never completely done. You just have to know when it’s time to finish your edits and take the next step towards publication.
Some ways to tell are by asking yourself if you’ve considered and consciously corrected your books content to the level and degree I’ve discussed; have received feedback from outside sources such as critique partners, professional editors, friends, and family; and have polished the language over multiple rounds of edits. If you’ve done these things, you’ve met the prerequisites. I’d suggest at this point you do some research to make sure there isn’t anything you’ve overlooked. After that, you can begin to move on to the next steps in the road to publication!
Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services