So you’ve written a book. You’ve reread it once, maybe twice. You know you need to get write on in to a novel revision, but you don’t know where to start.
It’s all good.
Take a breath, relax for a moment, and sit back.
I got you.
Here are 10 steps to take for some novel revision, whether it’s the first or the tenth you’ve written.
1. Give Yourself Some Time and Space From the Novel Revision
Before you do anything, just take a breath and a step back from your work.
No one will ever know this piece of art the way that you do. You brought a blank page to life. You created the people who run the story, and you were there for the inception of every twist and turn.
So don’t do anything to it immediately.
As soon as you get the first draft out, yes, go back and reread it. See what you’ve brought to life.
However, remember what everyone will tell you about the first draft of any book simply being the author telling themselves the story.
There is so much truth to that, so embrace that advice whenever you hear it.
And while you should be proud of yourself for any draft you complete, just give yourself some time after each round.
2. Make Any Immediate Changes, Immediately
Once you’ve given yourself some space from the first draft, just go back and make any immediate changes.
The story will have still simmered in your head, whether you wrote anything more for it or not.
While giving yourself some time away from it, there will be plenty of immediate changes you’ll have noticed after your initial readthrough.
So, as soon as you’re ready to dive back into the manuscript, immediately make all of the changes you know you want to.
Instead of giving the entire manuscript a start-to-finish do over off the bat, add what you know you want to add. Take out what you know you want to take out. Simply go back and make any immediate changes, immediately.
3. Read Your Novel Revision As A Reader
After the immediate changes, go back and read the manuscript as if you were a reader.
Wait a minute, what does that mean?
Reading makes you a reader automatically, doesn’t it?
Well, yes, it does, but revert back to point 1: No one will ever know this piece of art the way that you do. You brought a blank page to life. You created the people who run the story, and you were there for the inception of every twist and turn.
When you go back through the reread after the immediate changes, bring out your most critical eye. We all know the artist is the one who critiques their work the hardest, so this is really your time to shine.
This time, when you’re reading through the work and making notes on changes, ask yourself if this would be something you’d read. If you picked this book off the shelf at random, say because you liked the cover or thought the plot sounded good, would the content within the pages be something you’d be happy to spend your money on? Why or why not?
This is not the time to pat yourself on the back for simply completing a draft. You’ve already done that. It’s time to put in the real work. Track the changes as you ask yourself these questions, and then —
4. Make Any Immediate Changes, Immediately
Because you’ve given yourself some space from the text, even though you’ve made some immediate changes, there will be plenty of other things you’ll notice after you read as a reader.
Where are the major plot holes?
Who are the strongest and the weakest characters?
What more needs to be added?
More importantly, what more needs to be cut?
How can you go about making this a story you wouldn’t feel so angry about spending your money on?
Make those changes, immediately.
5. Read a Book (Or Two, or Ten) on Self-Editing and Grammar for Novel Revision
At this point, you’ve already gone through the manuscript a couple of times just by yourself. Now, it’s time to bring some outside advice in.
It’s widely stated that being a good writer means being a good reader. We’ve already discussed reading your work as a reader, but you should also read some other books while you’re at it.
This can (and should) really be done at any stage, during any draft. Outside of reading books in the genre you’re writing, try to read some books on self-editing and grammar whenever you can.
Staples like William Strunk Jr and E.B. White’s Elements of Style help writers with sentence structure as it breaks down… well, the element of style when it comes to constructing sentences.
Any other Google or Amazon search for “Self-Editing Books” will bring forth a wide array of options at your disposal. Find the one that calls out to you. Read it. Learn from it. Whether it’s for story structure, sentence structure, character development, plot development, getting out of your own head, or anything in between, just read some self-editing books whenever you can.
6. Make Any Immediate Changes, Immediately
As you learn, make any immediate changes, immediately on your next pass through the book.
Usually, it’s best to go through the entire manuscript from start to finish and make complete notes on the entire thing before going back into the editing stages.
Since this round has more of a focus on just grammatical and structural elements more than anything, clean up any sentences you notice need some work. Make bigger notes for overarching plot developments if you need to, but pull out any glaring mistakes on this round and do another pass-through when you’re ready to tackle the big stuff.
7. Share Your Novel Revision a Beta Reader You Don’t Know
At this point, you’ve hopefully combed through your manuscript meticulously and done at least three to four rounds of revision and changes.
Now, you may be ready to share it with other readers.
Up until this point, it’s likely you’ve shared it with at least a friend or a familiar member. They’ve also likely been highly supportive. Perhaps they don’t know anyone who’s ever written a book. It’s just as exciting for them to know an author as it is for you to be an author.
So after some revision, it’s time to share it with someone you don’t know.
This could be beta readers you’ve found online and perhaps developed a relationship with, but sharing your work with someone who owes you nothing is the next step of the game.
Their job is to be honest. Their job is also to help you craft the best book possible. So, it may hurt when they give you their critique, but their opinions are so valuable for moving into the next stage of the game.
However, as soon as you get the feedback, it’s time, once again, to —
8. Make Any Immediate Changes, Immediately
The opinions of people who have no idea what’s going on in your story are vital. The reader may be involved in more than one round of edits with you, but their first readthrough is going to be similar to what the author goes through in round one — it’s simply the reader learning what the story is about.
Things that may make sense to you might be totally off-base to them.
Characters you thought were the best may come off as the worst part of the book.
Maybe you spent way too much time in your thesaurus and not enough time trying to craft out witty and snappy sentences.
As soon as you know how certain things might appear to readers, remind yourself of how mad you were on the second draft when you’d “spent your money on this.”
Now, you know how other readers would feel if they did the same. So tweak, adapt, adjust to whatever degree you think is correct, and make any immediate changes, immediately.
9. Give Yourself Some Time and Space From the Novel Revision
You’ve really been through the ringer with this book by this point. But don’t worry, you’re doing a great job.
Now, it’s time to go back to the beginning, and give yourself some time and space.
There were probably already changes you made while you waited for the beta readers to get back to you with their thoughts. Many a night has probably had you lying awake, wondering if so and so should really be a couple, or perhaps if such and such was too obvious a twist.
Give yourself some time and space away from your novel, lather, rinse and repeat on all of the steps, and finally —
10. Make Any Immediate Changes, Immediately
Writing is rewriting the rewrite of something that was already written. The fact of the matter is, as you learn and grow, you will always find something you’ll cringe at later on in life.
However, there’s also a lot to be said for allowing yourself as you are in whatever stage of growth you’re experiencing.
At some point, your novel will be good enough. Once you’ve gone through it between five to 50 times and gotten countless feedback from others, you’re probably ready to start pitching it out. Maybe you’re ready after only a few rounds of revisions. Maybe you think you’ll never be ready at all.
Just remain persistent, continue to educate yourself, and always push yourself to try again. Try harder. Persevere. The only way you can lose is if you give up along the way.