How one can edit a novel: The foolproof 9-step ebook modifying course of

You have completed a first draft. Congratulations! Seriously, you deserve a pat on the back and I really suggest that you take the time to give yourself one.

Now comes the difficult part: editing.

Seriously, how do you edit a novel? In this article, I will teach you the process that I learned after years of editing. But first we have to get one out of the way:

Editing is important and you have to do it.

Many writers loathe editing. I know some newbies who refuse to do their work at all. (At some point these people learned that this was not a really good idea.) I used to hate editing, but over the years I've come to it. . . not necessarily enjoy, but tolerate. I know this is an integral part of the writing (and publishing process!) And respect if this is done for that purpose.

It is still a pain. And it can definitely be overwhelming. In my many years of rebellion against the editing process, I finally realized that I didn't want to edit because I had no earthly idea how to start!

The 9-step process for self-editing a novel

I want you to skip the years of trial and error I've gone through to find a good way to edit a book yourself. Here is my step-by-step guide to get started on the editing process. This works for novels, books, short stories and everything in between. (I use it seriously.)

1. Take a break.

This is important. DO NOT skip this part.

Your first instinct will be to reread your story right away. You absolutely know that there are parts that you wanted to revisit while going through an initial draft. (First drafts should be written quickly. To see why you are reading this post.)

No matter how much you want, do not reread your book immediately. Put it aside. I recommend leaving it there for two months. For shorter jobs, I recommend a few weeks.

This break is important so that you can return with the editor's fresh eyes.


The first step in editing your book is to put it down and take up some space. Don't skip this step!

2. Read your novel again with a view to major problems.

For now, ignore style problems and typing errors. You are looking for structural problems, characterization problems, gaps in action, etc. You do not currently want to improve your language use. You want to improve the story.

Note that I didn't say you should start editing. They are reading. You need to create a macro view of your entire book before you can really dive in and start editing.

Take notes on the larger issues. Make a list of the things you want to change. However, do not start editing.

3. Check your outline again.

If you haven't created one, that's fine. Do one now.

Trust me, even if you're a panther, you want to have a map of your entire story in front of you. It is easier to see the structure of your book this way, which makes it easier to move scenes or cut / add scenes or chapters.

Once you've created an outline, revise it to reflect the current status of your book. (We all know that inspiration sometimes comes up, and you probably added a scene here and there that wasn't in the original outline.)

Now take a look at this outline and identify any major structure issues, etc., and how you can fix them. Create a new outline based on your corrections.

Now you have a plan for your next design!

4. Start your second draft.

Now you can edit. Remember that you are looking for big problems right now. Focus on structure, tone, characterization and definitely your action. You don't worry so much about making your sentences sing and finding the perfect metaphor or parable.

Make sure your outline is nearby so you can stay on the right track. (Side note: I "sketch" by writing each scene on an index card and sticking it to my wall. They always stare at me like that. And it's a great feeling of guilt if you tend to see them all up there judging you that you didn't write.)

This part is the most difficult and definitely the most frustrating and overwhelming. Stay tuned and don't give up.

5. Read again.

This time make sure you have fixed all of your main problems, but you can also look for prose problems. I always print out this version so that I can write notes on the edge and correct sentences directly on the manuscript.

6. Start design 2.5.

I don't think this round of editing is a third draft, but if you want to call it that, that's fine.

Here you make many prose optimizations. Correct these meaningful passages and display them. Make sure your dialogue is realistic. Add a description if necessary.

For me, this is the entertaining part of the editing, where I really fill out my book and make sure my style is consistent.

7. Send your manuscript to beta readers.

Yes, it's time to let people in on this massive project of yours, typos, and everything.

This is not a perfect, publishable draft. Any beta reader you choose needs to know this in advance so that it doesn't focus on commas and spelling. You can flag a typo when you see one, but you should be aware that they help you the most by focusing on the main components: action, characterization, etc.

(A note about beta readers: please don't send it to your mother. She'll love him and won't give you good feedback. The same goes for close friends and family members. Find other authors or people who you are sure about don't worry about insulting yourself if you give feedback.)

Make a list of questions for your beta readers so they can focus on what they really need to look for. Here are some sample questions to keep your beta readers up to date:

Are my characters flat?

Does my dialogue sound realistic?

Doesn't something make sense (with action, with world rules, with decisions that characters make, etc.)?

Were there places where you got bored and didn't want to continue the book?

Is the climax exciting enough?

Avoid the urge to edit more while your beta readers have your book. DO NOT send them a new copy because you have changed something. This leads to a downward spiral in which you optimize a sentence and send them a new copy. You start over and repeat. You will be frustrated and will most likely not finish reading your book at all.

The added benefit of taking another break is that you will have a lot of space in your story when you come back to it. This means that you can look at them again through the eyes of the editors.

If your beta readers address multiple issues, take the time to review them before revising them again. Learn how to process feedback from beta readers here. Always think of everything your beta readers say. Don't become defensive. Don't argue with them.

They represented your readers and were kind enough to help you.

8. Start your third draft.

Hopefully your beta readers haven't found any obvious problems with the main components of your book.

If you've found some pretty big issues, you'll go through the second design steps again:

  1. No panic. I know it's frustrating, but you can fix this book. Don't give up now!
  2. Revision for bigger problems.
  3. Send the book back to beta readers. Consider some new people this time, but make sure to send them to a handful of the original group so they can tell you if you've fixed the issues. (If you're not ready to reread the book, that's fine. Understand that this is your baby, not your baby, and that they may not have the time or urge to move you forward on this particular project to help. Don't make enemies about something so trivial.)

If you haven't found any major bugs, hooray! With this design, you focus on the microview of your book: typos, grammar, and all the little changes.

I strongly recommend reading your work out at this point. You will find so many more oddly phrased sentences and typos when they are spoken than when you read them. Eyes tend to skip things, especially when they've walked the same floor a million times.

If necessary, use editing software (ProWritingAid or grammar are good choices).


This part is also important and I do not recommend skipping it!

* Bring the professionals

This is a contribution to self-editing your novel, but I think I wouldn't be sure if I didn't mention professional editors. I've never worked with an editor before last fall, and I want to tell you that the experience was pretty revealing. If this still seems too much to you, I would like to give you an overview of the different types of editors and when you might want to set them.

A Development editor gives you macro-level insight into your entire story. They can really help you get rid of the creases on important problems like structure. You want to hire a development editor early on before wasting time on multiple designs. I'm talking about your first draft or between draft two and draft 2.5. Further information on development work can be found here in The Write Practice.

A Line editor is exactly what it sounds like: you comb through every sentence. The specialty of a line editor is language. These are the people who will help you get beautiful prose. You would hire a line editor after fixing major structural problems and everything else of great importance. They don't help you fix your story. So this has to be done first. This is the third draft. Here you will find line editors that we recommend.

Finally a proofreader is the person you want if you don't know the difference between a comma and a semicolon. (Or if you can't spell "semicolon".) Proofreaders search your manuscript with a fine-toothed comb and correct typos, including misspellings, as well as grammatical and punctuation errors. You come after your final draft just before you publish. Here you will find proofreaders that we recommend.

I promise it will be easier.

Are you overwhelmed I know that it would be likely if I had only read this post and never edited anything (especially a long work like a book!).

After all, you can do these steps quickly and don't fear your first draft manuscripts. Just take one step at a time and work through the process. You will receive a well-edited draft ready for publication, and your book will be all the better for it!

Do you follow a similar editing process? Let me know in the comments!


For today's practice, take a short piece that you have already written. If you don't write short stories, draw a scene from your book. (Make sure you let it sit for a while!)

Start reading the piece and pay attention to the big problems. Take notes. Then set a timer for fifteen minutes and fix those big problems.

If you like, consider the people reading this your beta readers and share your edited writing in the comments! Don't forget to do a HUGE favor for your co-commentators and play beta readers for them. We can use all feedback!

Sarah Gribble

Sarah GribbleSarah Gribble is the best-selling author of dozens of short stories that examine uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination of the unknown. She is currently boiling out more ways to freak you out and work on a novel.

Follow her @sarahstypos or sign up for free in her email list at