Is your book ready for editing?

Nothing makes an editor sadder than slogging through a manuscript that isn’t ready for editing yet. Let’s not embark upon a journey your manuscript isn’t ready to take. Really.

As exciting as it feels to move one step closer to publication, typing “The End” is only the close of the very first step. The majority of the work of preparing a book for publication happens after the book is written.

Revise, revise, revise

paperhead2_cropEffective revision begins not with commas and spellchecking but with the story itself. If you’re not sure exactly what makes a story a good story, investigate ways to develop your story sensibilities. Step away from your story to give yourself the perspective of a little time and distance. This is a perfect time to go digging for what makes other stories tick.

Read more: Why story structure won’t squelch your creativity

When it’s time to come back to the drafting table to rework your manuscript, how many drafts is enough? The answer: as many as it takes to develop and polish all the elements that support your story. Most successful authors I work with generate a minimum of three to four drafts before they consider their manuscripts fit for outside eyes. Others say the right number of drafts is closer to a minimum of seven.

When you’ve finally written all there is to write, it’s time to put the manuscript away to rest before revisions. I find two months is a useful benchmark. That seems long enough to make the pages seem completely fresh when you come back yet doesn’t risk that you’ll lose all interest and momentum in the meantime.

At this point, you need a plan that helps you methodically spot and repair weak spots in the story and the writing. Arm yourself with any of the strategies from my article on revision, below. I also like Chuck Wendig’s take on how to edit the unmerciful suck out of your story (beware, salty language ahead).

Read more: How to revise the early drafts of your novel

Read more: The secret to nailing your final draft

Read more: File names that keep track of your revisions

Get outside feedback

Done with rewriting and revisions? Great—but you’re not ready for editing yet.

Your editor should never be the first person to see your manuscript. The editing and revision process is the part the iceberg that hangs below the waterline. Before you wrote your own book, you may have been only vaguely aware of these steps. Now, they’re the lifeline that prevent you from releasing a hack story with flat, slipshod writing.

Start out with your chosen alpha readers—your spouse, critique partner, or other trusted person you can rely on to read the whole thing and offer constructive feedback. Then it’s time to broaden the circle of readers. A good writers’ critique group will punch holes in parts of your story that you thought were ironclad. By all means, sleep on it to numb the pain, but then get up the next day and attack your revisions anew.

Read more: The editing and revision process

Read more: How critique and feedback help your book

No matter how you choose to obtain feedback, avoid relying on friends and family members. People who know you will be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear. Look for neutral parties such as friends of friends or readers you’ve met online—people who read regularly in the genre and style of your book and will be interested in your manuscript in its own right.

Prepare for outside editing

Professional authors wouldn’t dream of letting a manuscript out of their hands without making it as clean as they can get it. Don’t skip the grunt work, and get ready for editing. Run spellcheck. Reread the whole manuscript out loud. Take responsibility for fixing obvious errors.

The cleaner you make your manuscript now, the faster and less expensive your edit will be. Editors are not proofreaders, and if you overwhelm your pages with sloppy errors, you’ll pull your editor’s focus away from the high-level issues you’re paying them to help you find.

Once you can see the end of the revision process ahead, begin your search for an editor. Try to schedule an editor at least a couple of months in advance; most professional editors have established client lists and may be in demand from others as well. I offer a system of deposits and scheduling that guarantees you a time slot with the flexibility to shift things as the time gets closer.


Lisa Poisso, Editor & Story CoachLooking for an editor for your novel? That editor could be me! Take a look at the ways I can help you with your book, and let’s talk about working together on your upcoming novel.