How to Edit a Novel in 10 Easy Steps

For today’s post, we’re going to delve into the distressing topic of editing. Why distressing? Because I hate editing. But you don’t have to follow in my somewhere-between-size-9.5-and-10 footsteps! Not with this handy guide …


How to edit a novel in 10 easy steps

  1. Write a novel. You’d think this step is obvious. You’d be right.
  2. Read the novel through and take notes. We’re talking big picture notes here, not spelling mistakes. What do you like? What do you not like? Which characters are interesting and well developed? Which aren’t? Which parts of the story are exciting? Which parts bore the pants off you? Tip: If you’re not wearing pants, put some on, and then see which parts bore them off you.
  3. Re-write your novel. Not the whole thing, necessarily, but as much as you need to in order to fix the problems you identified in step 2. If you didn’t identify any problems in step 2, you’re an adorable little ray of sunshine and you need to get with the program because first drafts are always terrible and if you can’t find at least one thing to fix, we need to have a serious chat.
  4. Give your novel to a trusted friend to read. Ideally, you want to find someone who is both able to provide useful, constructive feedback, as well as able to do so in a manner that doesn’t make you want to curl up into a ball and cry for three months straight. Good luck.
  5. Discuss your novel with the trusted friend. Discuss it at length. Preferably for multiple hours over multiple sessions. You want to hammer out exactly what they liked and what they didn’t, what they think worked and what didn’t, and so on and so forth.
  6. Re-write your novel. You’re still focused on the big picture right now. Make sure you’re consistently spelling your protagonist’s name right later.
  7. Give your novel to a group of beta readers. Again, you want people who are readers in your genre, who know what a book in your genre is supposed to look like, and who are (hopefully) able to explain to you how your book stacks up in comparison. And if it doesn’t stack up, they should be able to tell you why.
  8. Re-write your novel. You know the drill.
  9. Focus on the details. Woo! Best part of the process! Or possibly the worst! You’re almost done now — you just need to make sure everything flows smoothly. Look for inconsistencies, logical flaws, make sure characters don’t randomly change their eye color halfway through, etc. Check your grammar, check your spelling, check your point of view, check your tense (past, present, etc.). If you know anyone who’s good at proofreading, get them in on this step, because doing it by yourself takes forever and you’ll definitely miss something.
  10. Run a spell check. Oh, don’t look at me like that. You’d be shocked how many books have random typos that could have easily been picked up by a simple spell check. Run it. You won’t regret it.

Now, obviously you may need to repeat some of the steps several times. I, for example, like to re-write my books five or six times before I even get to the beta reader stage. But this is the basic process I follow — and now, so can you!

What’s your editing process? Tell me!!!


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Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , | 36 Comments

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36 thoughts on “How to Edit a Novel in 10 Easy Steps

  1. You know, I’m so tired of hearing writers say they like to edit their books. I mean, seriously, some tell me editing is their favorite part of the writing process. Thank you for being one of the last honest writers out there. I do a lot of editing as I write. It’s the biggest reason it takes me so long to finish longer pieces. As a result, as soon as I’m finally done with a piece, I send it off to beta readers. Unless they tell me there are major problems, I generally don’t do much more editing. It all depends on the betas and their feedback.

    • I would never lie to you! Or, if I do lie, it will be so transparent and obviously fictitious that you won’t ever have to worry about being fooled.

      I also edit as I write, but I find that I always end up with at least a few problems that I need someone else to point out to me. I also tend to change my mind a lot, which leads to a lot of re-writing, lol.

  2. The character name spelling gets me from time to time. Usually with ‘Delvin’ becoming ‘Devlin’. God knows the spell checker hates the guy and won’t even acknowledge that it’s a name and should be capitalized. My process is simple:

    1. Write book.
    2. Read through while things are fresh. (Only run I enjoy.)
    3. Give to alpha reader (The Yes Wife) and editor (the one that actually does the work.)
    4. Move on to the next book after tackling the outline of a future project.
    5. Quick run through of edited book after being told a repeated problem that cropped up.
    6. Apologize profusely.
    7. Implement edits as they are sent to me and format when done.
    8. Smack self when idea to edit again out of fear and worry appears.
    9. Eat pizza.

  3. I love editing, and I’m not lying! It’s just that I compare it to the first draft, which is all about decisions, decisions, decisions: who lives, who dies, who ends up a broken shell of a man, calling for his mama… The usual. 🙂

  4. Thank you! I love this list…well, except for 9, but it’s a necessary evil. I’m going to print this out and add it to my alrady bulging bulletin board….

    • I’m useful! Yay! I too have a bulging bulletin board, although at the moment it’s less filled with writing-related things, and mostly filled with receipts from all the stuff I’ve purchased setting up my new townhouse.

  5. Seems so easy, but finding people – even friends – to help read through proved utterly difficult… because I had such limited friends and numerous acquaintances. Still, got the book out eventually.
    Really really hope i got every little typo tho.

    • Oh definitely, finding competent people who are willing to read your writing is definitely a huge hurdle. I’m super lucky in that my mom works in writing, so she’s a great sounding board for my ideas. Have you tried going online and finding beta readers that way? I’m pretty sure there are some websites out there whose entire purpose is to hook up writers with readers.

      • Never tried online. In the end, as you, got my mom to dig in and give it a go even though it’s not really her kind of book. She even got one of her friends to evaluate for me. They’re both ex-English teachers too.

  6. Here’s my process:

    1. Write first chapter.
    2. Go back and edit first chapter.
    3. Write a few hundred words of second chapter.
    4. Go back and edit first chapter.
    5. Decide to add a prologue; write about half of it.
    6. Edit what’s been written of second chapter; write a bit more of it.
    7. Get inspired to write something that won’t happen until chapter eighteen, write five thousand words.
    8. Go back and edit first chapter to add foreshadowing for chapter eighteen.
    9. Get bored and start new novel.
    10. Repeat.

    I’m not entirely sure how I ever finish anything with this process, but it has been done once, and using this method was already mostly edited to finished product upon completion. It was probably that once I got bored with the new novel I went back to the old one at least some of the time. (Unfinished novels on my computer: 8, + 4 permanently abandoned)

    • This is the exact process I’m using on the pirate romance novel I’m trying and failing to write!!!!! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one struggling to get past the second chapter, lol. Pro tip: Whatever you do, do NOT show the first chapter to someone and ask for their advice. They’ll inevitably say something that will make you question everything and then you’ll NEVER get it done.

  7. Damn, woman. Rewrite twice? This is why I don’t do well with the editing process. But it the way of things, isn’t it? You want something done right, you got to review and be thorough. As for the comic, I must steal it!

    • Steal away 🙂 And re-write more than twice, good sir. Re-write until it’s perfect! Failing that, re-write until I don’t get horribly embarrassed at the thought of people reading it, lol.

  8. I like this, even though by your account I’m still on step like, 3, lol. *Goes into a corner and quietly cries.* Up until now, my process looked pretty much like rachelloon’s, so I don’t have much to add here, since I’m still making it up as I go. That’s also why I happen to have 28 stories started on my computer, HA HA. That and an apparent problem committing to one story. Whoops.

  9. I honestly like editing, because what I write the first time around is usually such crap. A vomit of thoughts put down on the page as fast as possible so I don’t forget them. It feels good to see it all get better each time I go through and edit.

    • I definitely agree that I like the feeling you get at the end of each edit when the piece is obviously getting better. That being said, I don’t like the actual process of getting to the end of that editing round, lol.

  10. thebaffledkingcomposing

    This is a great list! A vital part for me, too, has been being involved in a writers’ group. It really informs the editing process. But I guess that’s kind of the same thing as getting beta readers. 🙂

    • Hmmm … yup, definitely similar. The nice thing about a writing group is they usually look at smaller chunks of text, but in more depth. So you get different perspectives on the writing.

  11. I prefer beta readers than trusted friends because friends are so biased.

  12. You wear size 10s?

    • Somewhere between 9.5 and 10, yes. It fluctuates from day to day. I have large feet. Although I’m 5’7″, which is tallish, so I like to think people don’t laugh too much at my feet when I stomp by 😀

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