Writing a book is more than just sitting down, typing several thousand words then shipping it off to a press (or self-publishing it). Before you can share it with readers or publishers, you must learn how to rewrite, edit, and shape your manuscript into the best possible version of itself. Even if you’re going to work with professional editors, this part of the editing process is something that every author must do for themselves.
How To Carry Out Editing For A Book – Inkerspress
Writing a first draft is an act of pure creation. Editing, on the other hand, is an analytical, problem-solving process where you’ll slowly chip away at that lumpy draft until you have something you’re proud of. To get you in that editing frame of mind, here are a few pointers:
1. Give yourself a bit of time
It is a truth universally acknowledged that you should set your manuscript aside for a few days before you begin editing. Neil Gaiman puts it this way: “Once it’s done, put it away until you can read it with new eyes. When you’re ready, pick it up and read it, as if you’ve never read it before.”
2. Don’t try to fix everything at the same time
Imagine an artist painting a landscape. They don’t start by shading a tiny tree in painstaking detail — they begin by sketching out the mountains and the river. That’s the approach you should take when self-editing your book. You’ll be doing multiple rounds of editing that look at different elements of your writing, so don’t worry about making each sentence perfect before you move on.
3. Understand that you’ll be cutting out some of your favorite parts
Writers often hear the advice “kill your darlings,” meaning that you should cut out any wonderful passages that don’t serve the bigger picture. Again, don’t stress: you can always file away your ‘deleted scenes’ in case you can use them later. And remember: if you wrote something amazing, you can do the same again — so don’t sweat it.
4. Start by fixing ‘big picture’ problems
If your plot is water-tight, your structure is strong, and your characters are relatable and grow in a satisfying way, you’re halfway there already. With that in mind, your first stage of editing will deal with these broad-stroke issues.
Plot consists of a story’s connected events, with each leading to another plot point. At the most basic level, your plot simply has to connect in a logical order that escalates towards some sort of climax. It should also deliver on what the setup of the story promises (for example, a detective novel should really involve some detection’).
Here are some plot questions from our editing checklist:
- Is the plot engaging and believable?
- Do plot points flow logically and gather or maintain momentum?
- Are all major and minor narrative threads tied up by the ending?
- Do the plot twists make sense? Are there plot holes in the story?
- Does the plot match the conventions of your genre?
While a book’s plot can go anywhere, story structure isn’t as flexible. Stories largely follow the same pattern:
A hero is in a ‘normal world’ before something forces them out of their comfort zone, and in pursuit of a goal that they must either achieve or face the consequences.
Whether you’re planning your book in line with The Three Act Structure, the Hero’s Journey, or any other narrative framework, you should be able to distill your story into a single sentence following this formula:
[Character] must [do something] to achieve [goal] or else [reason why the audience should care]?
Listen to your story
After your first stage of editing, you should ideally have a story that works on a basic level. This next stage is all about infusing your book with texture and meaning by focusing on conflicts and themes.
Conflict is at the heart of every story
Conflict must escalate over the course of the story. The roadblocks preventing your protagonist from achieving their goals must become more insurmountable as the story goes on. The bad guys close in on the detective; the romantic lead’s sense of self-doubt grows more acute.
In your editing, make sure that your central conflicts — whatever they are — steadily build toward the climax. Not only does this building tension assure your readers that your story is going somewhere, but it will also grow your stakes and allow your big finish to have an even greater impact.
Do a ‘scene by scene’ edit
Next comes scene-by-scene editing. Here, you’ll ensure each scene contributes to the story, and that the details within are compelling. You may have already done some light scene editing in service, but now’s the time to confirm that each one accomplishes its purpose — and if not, to change or cut it. Let’s divide this into three parts:
Scenes and chapters
If you’re fresh from editing your plot, then editing your scenes and chapters should come pretty naturally. This is where you look at your scenes, particularly the important ones (like the opening, the inciting incident, and the climax), and try to make them more connected to each other and more enticing to readers.
Editing checklist for scenes and chapters:
- Does the opening scene hook readers? Does it begin in the right place?
- Are there enough scenes, and does each one serve a concrete purpose?
- Are scenes paced well and are your chapter lengths appropriate?
- Is each scene clearly oriented in time and place?
- Could each scene start later?
- Is foreshadowing used effectively, if applicable?
- Are scene and chapter transitions smooth?
As you can probably tell, this phase of editing is about getting into the nitty-gritty. Don’t be afraid to “micromanage” your scenes: cut them, tweak them, and shift them around until you have them exactly right.
Also, make sure your pacing isn’t too slow (which can bore readers) or too fast (which can confuse them). If you’re unsure about pacing, have a beta reader check it out — this is one flaw that’s especially hard to diagnose in your own writing, so a fresh pair of eyes can be helpful.
Finish by eliminating sentence-level mistakes
You’ve come so far — but there’s still more to go! This final step in our process focuses on the nitty-gritty of your text: it’s the copy edit. And the great thing about copy editing is that it’s so cut-and-dried. If you spot a grammatical error, you know exactly how to fix it.
Get beta readers and a professional editor
Once you’ve taken your manuscript as far as you can and maybe shared it with a few beta readers you may want to get it ready for publication. If you’re self-publishing, it’s worth hiring freelance editors to make sure your book is as good as it can be. To find out more, check out our guide to professional editing, or sign up to our marketplace to browse the profiles of editors you could work with.