How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication

E. B. White declared, “The best writing is rewriting.” In other words, the best writing is editing. We find all kinds of info on how to write. But editing can be a little more slippery. Basically, this is because good editing skills are no different from good writing skills. If you know how to write a good plot, you’ll know how to edit one. If you know how to edit a great beginning, you’ll know how to write one. The storycraft is no different in writing than it is in editing.

And yet we all know the analytic editing process is totally different from the creative writing process. When I ran a poll a few months back, asking what subjects Wordplayers would like me to write about, one of your most frequent requests was for more info on how I self-edit my novels. Today, I’d like to share my top-to-bottom editing process: from first draft to publication.

Step #1: The Outline

Okay, I admit, at first glance, that header probably makes no sense. But outlining is a crucial part of my editing approach. Why? Because if I put the time in up front to get my story right from the very beginning, I save myself a ton of editing effort later on. One of my most intensive editing excursions was on the only story I failed to outline at the outset.

Step #2: The Daily Edit

Before I dive into my daily writing sessions, I always take the time to run through a little warm-up. This warm-up consists of reviewing research notes, reviewing character sketches—and editing what I wrote the day before. Usually, this will be a section of about 1,500 words, which will take me about twenty minutes to run through. I’ll fix any problems that jump out at me, but for the most part, I’m focusing on correcting typos, cleaning up prose, and fact checking.

If I know something I wrote the previous day created an inconsistency within the earlier story, I also take this opportunity to go back and correct it. I can’t stress enough the importance of not over-censoring yourself during the first draft. But, at the same time, the tighter you keep this draft, the less editing you’ll have to do later on. Don’t sweat the small stuff, but try to keep on top of inconsistencies before they get out of hand later on.

Step #3: The 50-Page Edit

One of my favorite editing tricks is what I call the “50-Page Edit” (James Scott Bell calls it the “20,000-Word Step Back”). The number is just a rough estimate. What I’m really doing is stopping every quarter of the book (after every major plot point) and going back to edit the whole thing. Sometimes I’ll print it out; sometimes I’ll just read it on the computer.

As I read through the manuscript, I’ll stop and correct anything that jumps out me—mostly just rough prose. But the true reason for this edit is to halt my mad dash to “the end,” regroup, and regain a focus on the story’s big picture. Over the many weeks, or even months, it takes me to write fifty pages, I can get so caught up in my story’s minutiae that I lose sight of how the whole thing is hanging together—or, worse, I forget about little details or even whole scenes that went before. Stopping every quarter of the book not only allows me to stay on top of my story, it also makes the first big edit at the end of the book that much easier.

Step #4: The “Final” 3 Edits

Once I’ve finished the first draft, I immediately print it off and start editing. I do this three times in a row. At this point, thanks to my outline and my earlier partial edits, my story should be pretty much how I originally envisioned it. It doesn’t always work out that way, of course, so I am open to making any large changes necessary at this point (a recent WIP required I rewrite the ending six times).But the real point of these “final” edits is to, first, gain an overall view of how the story turned out, and, second, to clean it up for critique partners. If I feel the manuscript is particularly sloppy in the typo department, I may use my third edit to have my computer or Kindle read aloud to me while I read along. This is, bar none, the best way I know to catch typos.

Step #5: The Beta Readers Round One

After I’ve finished my three post-first draft edits, I ship the manuscript off to my first round of critique partners. This group consists of four people, one who is a freelance editor, two who are critical readers, and one who is a superfan (guess whose opinion I like best?). As their responses trickle back in, I will go ahead and make minor changes, while writing notes about any big changes they suggest.

Step #6: The Rest

Once I’ve sent the manuscript to the first round of critters, I don’t even think about it for a while. Let me say that again: I do not even think about it. This is a tremendously important section. When in the heat of writing and editing (and rewriting and editing and rinsing and repeating), we will inevitably lose all objectivity about our stories. We have to give ourselves some time and space to let go emotionally and to stop seeing through the rosy lenses of what we think we’ve written, instead of what’s really there. I’m often amazed by how differently a story looks after a few months of away time.

Step #7: The First Big Edit

Depending on my schedule and what other big projects I have going on, I will usually pull the manuscript out of the closet about six months after sending it to the beta readers. I go over my notes from their edits as well as any thoughts I’ve had during the intervening time, and I organize them chronologically within the story. Using Track Changes in Word, I will write the notes in as comments and attach them to the pertinent points in the story. If I have any notes that apply to the story as a whole, I’ll list them in order of importance and stick them on a blank page at the beginning of the manuscript.

I’ll usually do this edit on the computer, since it often involves big changes. Before each editing session, I’ll review the overall ideas I want to keep I mind. Then, starting at the beginning, I’ll read right on through the whole thing, stopping where necessary to heed my notes. Depending on how messy the story ended up being, this edit might be anything from a basic read-through with a few tweaks or a massive rewrite that takes months.

Step #7.1: The Proofread

If the previous edit/rewrite was particularly massive, I may print off the manuscript and proofread it one to three times to clean up any resulting typos and inconsistencies.

Step #8: The Beta Readers Round Two, Rest Round Two

Once that big edit is over, I send the manuscript on to the next round of readers. More than huge, critical plot tweaks, what I’m looking for from these readers is simply answers to the questions, “Does this work for you?” “Does this make sense?” “Do you like it?” If I’m on the right track, these readers provide a boost of confidence, which is always nice at this point, after the major critical responses from the first batch of critiquers. During this period, I’m once again ignoring the story and letting it “rest.”

Step #9: The Second Big Edit

By the time I get my beta readers’ responses back, probably a year and a half will have passed since I completed the first draft. I stop and do another full read-through of the story. Again, this could be quick pass or a major rewrite.

Step #10: The Beta Readers Round Three, Rest Round Three

I send the manuscript out again, this time to two or three readers. But this time, I don’t send the manuscript out to all of them at once. I’m now nearing the beginning of the end of my editing schedule. The book’s scheduled publication is only a year away. If the book is ever going to be good enough to publish, this is its last chance. If one of these readers suggests major changes, I want to be able to have the next reader read the refreshed manuscript and tell me whether or not I aced those changes.

This round of beta readers are hard-hitting, critical readers. At this point, I want to make certain I’ve either fixed all the major problems or know what to fix. I schedule six months per reader (hoping they’ll be able to get the manuscript back to me sooner than that).

Step #11: The Third Big Edit

After receiving the manuscript back from the last of the heavy-hitting critters, I run through it one more time to polish it up. This is do or die for the book. If I feel it’s good enough to publish, it’s full steam ahead from here. If not, it gets a swift bullet in the head and I move on.

Step #12: The Editor

If the light is still green on the publishing schedule, this is where I hire the services of a professional editor. CathiLyn Dyck has worked on two of my books, and I heartily recommend her services.

Step #13: The Fourth Big Edit

Once I receive Cat’s critiques, I do one more pass. This is the last of what I consider the “big” edits. By this point, I’m probably only six months away from the scheduled pub date.

Step #14: The Final Clean-Up Edits

Depending on how much time I have until the pub date (and how long the book is), I will go through the manuscript two or three more times just to clean up any remaining  inconsistencies or rough spots. By this point, there shouldn’t be too many problems, but, if the book has undergone major changes, there are always problems that stick around until the very end.<

Step #15: The Copy Edits and Beta Readers Round Four

Finally, I call it good on the tweaks, tell myself I can’t change anything big unless it’s crucial, and start typo hunting. I use several methods to help me track down those sneaky typos. My favorite is the one I mentioned above about reading along as my Kindle or computer reads aloud to me. I also read the manuscript aloud myself (with plenty of lemon water on hand to soothe my throat). Finally, if the stress injuries in my wrists aren’t acting up too bad, I will print off a hard copy and, as I read, use a highlighter to put a dot beneath each word, to make sure I’m reading what’s on the page—and not what I think is there.

During this section, I also like to send the manuscript out to as many as four final beta readers who are willing to lend me their objective eyeballs in helping me catch any further typos.

James Michener famously said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” As you can see, I take that approach to heart. A novel is a tremendously complicated undertaking. Very few of us can it get it spot-on perfect the first time around, no matter how excellent our grasp of storytelling techniques. To create the best story possible, we have to commit to the long haul with our books. This means not just spending the time to prep and write a book, but also the months and even years necessary to smooth out all its rough spots.

Tell me your opinion: What does your self-editing process look like?

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website.

Comments

  1. Amazing, I never knew how long it could actually take to just edit. This was very insightful thank you.

  2. What makes me sad is, too many self-proclaimed writers would look at this post and say, “Oh, I don’t need to do all that. I’ll just run a spell-check and put it out on Amazon (or self-pub site of choice).” Which is exactly why we have so much dreck out there in self-publishing land giving the dedicated and conscientious writers a bad rep. And admittedly, in some cases, making a million bucks (SMH). I wish this post could be required reading for every writer AND especially readers, so they realize they can experience the wonder of a story crafted with care instead of settling for a typo-ridden hack job. Can you tell this is my pet peeve with writing today, LOL?

    • I totally agree with what you’re saying here. I know a few of them myself. they have no sense of pride for the craft, they just want to get their stories out there, with the least possible effort.

    • I totally agree. I’m only in the very early stages of editing a rough draft of my very first novel, but I can’t stand people who want to take the easy way out. I want my book to be as good as it possibly can and I want to make sure I put in the time and effort and research to know how to get there. I see so many people who think they know it all and refuse to try to learn from others on how to improve their craft. That’s kind of why I’m only in this stage at the moment-because before I actually started writing the story I was doing a lot of research about the craft of a novel. I was also developing some of my characters and the overall plot. I really feel that it helped me a lot when I finally sat down and actually got started.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        You have a great attitude! The more open we are to learning – and the flatter our egos – the more likely we’ll succeed in the long run.

        • Ive just started writing my first book im almost finished the first rough draft is this the easiest way to edit? Or do you have another way

          • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

            In all honesty, editing *isn’t* easy. But this is the *best* way that I’ve found for my own personal use. Thoroughness is important to a quality finished product.

    • I agree. Though I didn’t realize it takes about one year to get it right, I am definitely more interested in doing it right than doing it fast. I appreciate all of the insight.

    • How many times do you need to re-draft? Because I was planning to do it myself twice, find a beta reader, re-draft again, then find an editor, and edit the whole thing again for the last time, in other words 4 times. This looks too much for me, I don’t think 20 re-draft of the same script is necessary

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Depends on the story, of course. But most of my stories are pretty clean coming out of the first draft, since I outline upfront. I’ll usually have two or three *big* edits and rarely anything that approaches a rewrite. Most of these drafts are just cleanups and tweaks in between beta readers.

  3. I actually used to edit too much during the writing of my first draft but I had to quit most of it because I never finished anything. I still do some editing, but I try to get to the end before I go back. BUT. My #1 CP reads my rough draft chapters as I write them and tells me what’s not working, where there’s plot holes, and where I need more EMO (something I have to work on) and when I get her notes back I will try to go back and fix whatever she’s mentioned if it’s quick and easy. Otherwise I make a note of her areas of concern. My chapter by chapter outline soon has all sorts of purple penned notes for corrections and fixes on draft two, after which the manuscript goes out to my other CPs, then more corrections, then beta readers, final corrections, and then (hopefully) it’s ready to for an agent to have a look. It IS a process.

  4. @Shannon: Editing is absolutely the most intensive part of the process. Time is a huge factor. Even if the book ends up needing relatively small changes, it still needs that time for the author to be able to gain distance and objectivity in order to see what needs to be changed.

    @Linda: Totally agree. However, it’s also important for authors (and readers) to realize that even an intensive editing system like this won’t be capable of producing perfect books 100% of the time. Some books can be edited to death and still not totally work – but an author who puts in this kind of time and dedication will never have reason to feel ashamed of his work.

    @mshatch: I went through a period, with my last two books, in which I was really fighting that infernal internal editor in the first draft. It was when rewriting Dreamlander on a tight deadline that I finally learned to let that go and just write. Editing comes later, after the words are already on the page.

    @Kati: I like to say I write for myself and edit for my readers.

  5. Thanks for the look into your whole process from beginning to end. I am going to save this and refer to it often.

  6. Wow, that’s quite a process. Thanks for sharing.

  7. @Steve: Everybody has to find his own process. Just as with outlining, what works for me in revising isn’t going to fit everyone. But I always find it helpful to get a glimpse into how other authors do things.

    @Lorna: Thanks for being a part of it!

  8. I’ll create a revolving outline knowing this will change over time and extensive character studies. Before I write the first word. I call this my homework period.

    First draft goes in two stages: !) bare bones of the story, and 2) filling in the good stuff that way I have a set guideline to which to write in.

    First rough edit- Fix typos, grammar errors, and word choices.

    Send to critiquers. Get feed back and let it rests for couple weeks at most before I’ll edit.

    Send revised copy to critiquers, assimilate data, edit, and let it stew for a couple more weeks.

    Read aloud. The Kindle idea is a good one. Make corrections, send to betas.

    Assimilate data, edit again and then publish

  9. That “homework period” is invaluable. The more prepared we are upfront, the less work we’ll probably have to do post-first draft. I’ve yet to write a first draft that didn’t require at least some major changes, even with a detailed outline. But, even still, it saves so much work in the long run.

  10. Only three steps for me:

    1. Write the story.

    2. Do edits for things like repetitions, not enough setting, missing details, etc. Fix typos, change character names (which seems to happen often).

    3. Proofread.

  11. Basically, those three steps are all I do as well. I just spread them around.

  12. Okay, I know what I’m doing wrong. Time to start following your example! 🙂

  13. Thanks for the honest insights. I’ve only got about 10% of the book written and have not been very systematic about reviewing and editing, but this is helpful. Do I understand that your CPs and beta readers are ‘amateurs’/friends, since you later talk of a ‘professional editor’. Can friends be honest?

  14. That is an impressive list! 🙂 I thought I was extreme… 🙂 I actually spoke to a friend today who writes with no outline and claims she doesn’t need to revise at all. And her ms was actually picked up by a minor publisher… I don’t know what to believe here, really. Is it even possible to be a pantser and not having to revise ones work at least a little? I mean, How can it be publishable with a month worth of work?

    • I know it’s been a long time since you posted this, but, I thought I’d chime in here. This list is ONE way of doing it. I am a “pantser” and I can get a story published–idea, first draft, second draft, all my stages of editing, submitted to my publisher, go through the publication process which includes more editing, and have a novel released in as a little as six months. (One short story I got from idea to publisher acceptance in 28 days.)

      The disclaimer here is that it took me YEARS to refine my writing process to be able to do it.

      Writing in all of it’s stages is a process. The process for everyone is different. I stopped reading at making an outline because outlining kills MY process, but for others, it’s a critical part of their process.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Totally agree. What I’m sharing is how *I* edit. It’s not the right process for everyone, but I always find it helpful to learn from what other writers are doing.

  15. Found the post on Google+ and wandered over to check it out. Thank you for both your insight and honesty. I think a great many young authors forget how much work writing really is. It’s a job, like anything else, it’s just a job that we like to do. Taking time away from your work is invaluable. Updike, if I remember correctly, said it was best to leave a novel for six months. Seems like a long time, but the author changes over that time and returns to a work with a new, fresh perspective. That time is vital to creating a work worthy of readers.

  16. WOW! That’s an intense edit process, but with editing, it’s too important not to be thorough.

  17. @Liberty: Although it may not look like it, I *do* believe there’s such a thing as editing too much. But better too much than too little.

    @Viktor: My critters are a mixed bag. One of my primary critique partners, Linda Yezak, is a freelance editor in her own right. Some of my critters are friends; some are strictly online “writing associates.” The mix is useful. But honesty is definitely the primary criterion.

    @Kati: Anything’s possible. For every rule, there’s an exception. Is it possible to write a perfect first draft right out of the gate? Possibly. Is it likely for most of us? No.

    @William: I find I can’t truly see a manuscript with objective eyes until I write the *next* book. Only then have I grown enough to come back and really edit the heck out of the thing.

    @Elke: Editing is what separates the writers from the authors. If we’re serious, our editing is where it shows.

  18. Wow, that´s a really huge processs o.O Lucky you who haves such commited beta readers 🙂

    I´ll only check 6 times my next novel and I was thinking that is a lot :O

    Thanks for the post!

  19. I err on the side of more editing, rather than less. Not all authors will pursue a post-first draft regimen that is this extensive. As always, it’s about finding the process that works best for each of us.

  20. Yes, that´s true, it is abour finding the right balande for each one. I´m just a bit more than 5 months away from my date anyway o.O

  21. Anonymous says:

    I am close to the end of the 1st draft on my 1st novel. I don’t think I could put it away for a full year before going back to it. Maybe a month.

  22. @Anonymous: It is hard to stay away from a beloved story for a while. But if we don’t give it some time, we’ll never be able to gain that needed objectivity.

  23. Anonymous says:

    I appreciate you sharing your Editing process w/us. It is a process as is writing & publishing. However I have one question. Seriously, 2 years to edit 1 book? I mean really? Who can sit on a product (their livelihood providing product) for 2 years? And that’s with using a Professional Editor? And that’s not including writing time.

  24. I prefer to take the long approach to my editing for a number of reasons. Let me first say, however, that what I’m sharing here is my process. Ask a dozen other authors what their processes look like, and you’ll get a dozen different answers. I share it not so much to encourage others to mimic it as to hopefully help them discover the processes that work for them.

    Reason #1: My top focus is always going to be on producing a good book – much more than fitting into commercial patterns. Am I losing money doing this? Possibly. But the day I become more concerned about making a buck off my writing than my writing itself is not going to be a pretty day. (Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with putting commercial needs first, but that’s not what I want.)

    Reason #2: Some books just plain take that long to edit. Three years actually isn’t unheard of in the traditional publishing world. For some literary authors, that’s downright speedy. I would much rather spend the time to make a book better than send it out un-ready – for both my readers’ sake and my own.

    Reason #3: I’m actually putting out a book a year, but two out of three of those are non-fiction, since that’s where I make the majority of my income. In order to do everything I want to do, I simply don’t have time to crank out the fiction any faster.

    Reason #4: Beta readers are slow, God love ’em. I need their opinions and respect their time too much to demand unreasonable deadlines from them.

    Reason #5: Book launches are hugely stressful and time-consuming. If I launched more than one book every year, I probably wouldn’t have the time to write. Much less the energy. :p

    There are probably a few other reasons I’m not thinking of right now, but these are the primary ones for why I always schedule three years between novels.

    • What a great reality check! I am trying to see if a book a year is doable for me (fiction), and struggling to keep to my compressed schedule. For me, it is an accident of circumstance (and NaNo!) that turned the process into one where a book gets to rest almost a year before being edited, and I’m not sure I like it… but your clear process explanations here have been very helpful- thank you!

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

        Many authors *do* crank out a book a year. My process obviously doesn’t lend itself to that, but you gotta do what you gotta do.

  25. If my characters are screaming to be heard, I write a chapter or so, but will have a notebook near by and start a rough outline. This outline includes names, who they are, where the story is going so far, that sorta thing. Then after a day I will do a character description and learn all I can about each of them. I fill it out in an interview fashion where I will sit down and ask my character questions and just listen. (that’s the most fun, I learn so much about them this way).

    Then the next day I will read the previous days writing to get back into the story and where I was going. If there are typos I will fix them before moving on, using the notebook as I did in the first chapter. Then will repeat this process until it is complete and I see the end.

    This is the first I have done it this way, and so far I have gotten so much farther then previous stories.

    Debi

  26. Character sketches/interviews are always my favorite part too.

  27. I reread what I have written immediately, trying to proofread and looking for anomalies that dont work with the story. I re-read what I have written the previous day to get a start on the new day’s writing. I re-read and re-write after the chapter is done. Most importantly I go back and re-read and re-write as I illustrate, weeks later and then again as I lay the chapter out in Indesign. The problem with any of this is the urge to throw it all away and start all over again and the fear that it always could be better.

  28. Every author has to walk a careful line between the need to delete necessary stuff – and the need to *not* delete it all just because we’re having a bad day. This is why I always save all my deleted data. Never know when I’m going to change my mind.

  29. This has given me hope! I have spent nearly 2 years writing my first book and have gone through so many edits of varying degrees I began to feel I was losing the plot and being too precious. However, I am determined to get it right so it’s important to revisit what I’ve written constantly as well as give it to various people to read (although I am not lucky enough to know anyone in the profession to give a really critical opinion). I have managed to break edits down into parts as I’ve gone along so as to avoid inconsistencies and I’ve found this has helped a lot. Unfortunately, never having done anything like this before I have been guilty of flitting around a bit(still learning on the job!) and not having a tight schedule, so this insight into how you personally do things is great. Like you say, this is just your way but I hope I am learning more about the processes to develop my very own editing schedule from posts such as yours. Thank you.

  30. I’m glad the post was helpful. My first and most important bit of advice to writers (on just about any subject) would always be to follow your gut. It’s rarely wrong. If you feel like you’re over-editing, you probably are. If you feel like you haven’t edited the story enough yet, you probably haven’t. We have to hone our instincts and learn to listen to them.

  31. Now I feel better about taking almost two years to finish my first YA book. Part of me though “You cannot be such a good writer if it takes you this long and this many other eyes, to finish a story,can you?” Thank you for this. Now off to one more “last” editing round. 😉

  32. Some writers are capable of churning out great stories on a very rapid timeline – but they’re in the minority. And most of them are writers with years of experience already under their belts.

  33. Interesting process and is a lot like mine, with a few differences.

    First, I don’t do a daily edit until after the story is written. For me, it’s too early for that. The main objective for me to get the story committed to paper. The rest comes afterward.

    Second, when the story is done, I put it away in the file I’ve created for it on my hard drive and start plotting the next. That gives me distance and, if I’m rocking out a series, the details are still fresh in my mind so that I can keep continuity between the first and next book.

    Then, I go back and start the first rewrite process with the idea of cutting at least 10% — that tightens up the story, helps me keep continuity and make sure my vision is still on track. I check for plot holes, research errors, missing words, punctuation, etc. But I also do my first line edit at this point — is there a better way to word things.

    Then it goes to the A Team — the Alpha Readers. They know to worry only about the story, the setting, the characters and their development. The only time they worry about the mechanical issues is if something is so hard to understand that it needs to be pointed out. In the meantime, I’m starting on that next book by pulling out my new outline and getting to it. Most of the time, I’ll finish this one before I go back to the first.

    Now, I read comments, critique, suggestions and weigh them all against what my original vision was. And I do my next rewrite and tighten things up still further, fix issues that need them, and make sure everything’s rocking on the right path.

    Then it goes to the B List — the Beta Readers. They check the mechanical issues, the story issues that might remain. And while I wait on them, I repeat the first two steps above — outline next book, first rewrite to knock off 10% of unneeded words.

    When it comes back now, I go over all of the suggestions and corrections, make any that I think are spot on, dump any that I think aren’t. Then, I’ll read it one more time on my own to see if *I* can catch anything. I’ll fix anything that *I* catch and send it to my layout artist who will put together an ARC for me in PDF format. I’ll then send it to the final readers, the ones who are my test audience. I do this for two reasons — one, I’m with you and the readers’ opinions are the ones that count the highest for me (they are my real gatekeepers). But also, this test audience will be giving me soft reviews to post inside of the ebook, outside of the print book, on the website, on the tear sheet that goes to the media.

    Once the feedback is done, I send it to a copy editor for one more round of a read through. This person is a pro and knows what to look for and how to edit professionally enough to (hopefully) catch any typos, etc. that still remain. I make the changes in the manuscript and I am assured that it’s pristine. The final manuscript goes to the layout artist (who also happens to be my cover artist) and she puts that together while I bang out the back cover blurbs.

    After that, it’s published and the real party begins — the marketing.

  34. Sounds like a great routine!

  35. K.M., thanks for the excellent article. Though I don’t follow your steps exactly, I follow a similar process. At the end of it, though, I still use an editor. Even after all that scrutiny, I am always surprised by the things he uncovers. 🙂

  36. Objectives eyes are vital. No matter how much time we put between ourselves and our stories, our opinions will always be subjective.

  37. I must print this out and show to everyone who thinks writing, or art for that matter isn’t hard work.
    Interestingly enough, I need more time between what you have as daily edits, and less between major editing sessions. If I leave a project for longer than two months, I leave it at all, so I try not to do that.

  38. Creating our optimal individual writing (and editing) processes are all about figuring out how our personalities tick and how we can optimize our strengths and work around our weaknesses.

  39. I love that you edit your draft three times immediately after finishing it. I finished my first first draft recently (yay!) and forced myself to leave it alone for a month before going back to edit. I feel like there were so many character inconsistencies and pacing issues that were fresh in my mind at the time that I now have to work to find a month later. I’m definitely editing immediately next time around!

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      I’m a huge proponent of letting a manuscript sit for a lengthy period of time. It’s the only way we ever gain any kind of objectivity. But my goal is always to correct all outstanding problems and polish the story to the best of my immediate ability before passing it on to the critters. I want them to see it at its best, both for their own sake and for mine. If they’re critiquing something that’s less than my best, then I’m not getting the full benefit of their help.

  40. I used to think that I write better when I was younger, I only write once and satisfied with the result! Now I know I’m just lucky back then. Writing is all about rewriting. I really love your post, stumble over this site and subscribed right away 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Absolutely. Writing is a complicated art form. We’re fooling ourselves if we’re expecting to get it right the first time around.

  41. Katie,
    Mind if I use this for a new blog, Future Homeschool Authors? (You may or may not have heard of it… Mikayla Holman, a couple other friends and I started it; and it’s based off of Sarah Holman’s Homeschool Authors.) We need a post on writing advice for Wednesday, and the lady we’re featuring this month hasn’t gotten back to me yet. (We’re hoping to feature you in the future, but right now I need a back-up plan in case she doesn’t write back before Monday.)

    God bless! <3
    ~ Ysa ~

  42. Blogging is a serious time-devotion. Thanks for the ton of useful info you’ve put out there. Grats on your successes.
    Daniel

  43. What an editing process you have. I have three novels on the go right now and so when I put one aside, I work on another. Right now I am in the midst of editing “the first ten pages” of one of my crime novels.
    Your advice comes at a good time. I need to practice patience and writing is indeed hard work.
    Thanks for this post which I found on your latest post reviewing your top posts of 2013. That was a great idea.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Shuffling between projects is a great way to gain perspective. I’m never able to edit one project better than when I’ve already finished another.

  44. Katie–
    Being relatively new to your site, I am reading most of these key posts for the first time. Reading your “15 Steps” article on how meticulously you edit your work is a humbling experience. And it raises a number of questions. For one thing, I’d like to know how often you find yourself at odds with your beta readers, and the other editorial advisors who figure in the process. Years ago, I belonged to a writing group. I hope it won’t sound arrogant (or, if it does, so be it), but I didn’t find the members’ comments very useful. Eventually, I stopped going.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      The usefulness of any writing group (or singular writing critique partner) is always going to depend on the knowledge of the group itself. Most of the time I find my partners and editors either reinforcing my own thoughts about a work (both its strengths and weaknesses) – or talking me around to their viewpoint. I’m blessed to get to work with people who teach *me* how to write better.

  45. I’ve learned that the outline is invaluable. My first book was “seat of the pants” and I created a mess of continuity problems for myself. The second book I created an outline first (in Excel no less – easy to sort and move things around). Then as I wrote, I expanded the outline so I could see the overall book and keep myself out of trouble. I guess I’ll have to see if the product proves the approach was an improvement – I’m on the final chapter of the draft now. I’ll say this: it was more fun to write.

    • K.M. Weiland says:

      Totally agree. The one book I failed to outline up front taught me huge lessons about the importance of spending that extra effort on an outline.

  46. This is a thorough working of a novel, and as a freelance editor, I fully back it. If newbie writers took your approach (I’d call you a professional writer for sure), they’d have much more success! If publishing success is what you want, you have to work for it. Another great post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thank you! A lot of authors blanch when I tell them my editing process. But if we want to do it right, we have to put the time in.

  47. Alexander Briggs says:

    Thank you for the audio file of your blog articial.

  48. Wow, that’s a pretty extended and intense process you’ve outlined for us! I assume this is for books that you are planning on publishing yourself? Would you also do all this editing prior for submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Except for the professional editor, I would take the same approach, yes. If the book isn’t good enough to be independently published, then it’s not likely an agent will express much interest in pursuing a traditional approach with it. And unlike independent publishing, we only get one shot with an agent or editor. So it’s (arguably) even more important that the book be the best it can be before we send it out.

  49. Oh my goodness. I could never let anything sit for six months. I certainly agree that you need to be able to be objective, but personally, I don’t need that amount of time. I try to take the Stephen King advice that any book should be finished in a season. Sometimes it happens for me. Sometimes it doesn’t. However, any time I’ve taken longer than a few months to write a book, it becomes incredibly stale and disjointed for me.

    I admire you for being able to work that way, but I never could!

    The longest I’ve waited between my personal edits and edits after a beta read is two months. I have extremely quick betas, though.

    I have definitely noticed the more I write, the easier the editing process is.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Part of the reason I wait that long is that I usually have half a dozen other projects (some fiction, some non-fiction) going on as well. So I’m always juggling my book schedules.

  50. Love this blog. Great advice.

  51. Emeka Otoba says:

    This is great stuff! I finished my first draft nearly eight months ago but have since not known what next to do with the rough pile. I even considered hiring an editor to polish the entire manuscript for me and have it ready for publishing. This blog, in a way that really scares me when considering how much work needs to be done, has reawakened my senses to what I can do to help myself. But just for the sake of clarity, must I revise my first draft myself?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yes, definitely revise that first draft. It’s not fair to beta readers to make them wade through an unedited draft, and it’s not fair to yourself to submit something that’s not ready to a professional editor.

  52. Such a long process. And funny since I am at outline/research stage and my mom is already literally counting days for my novel to get published. If only I tell how much of the process is still left……

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      My process is much longer than many authors (and much shorter than others). You just have to find the rhythm that works best for you and stick to it.

      • And finding it is a long process in its own 🙁

      • Hello! Thank you for this article! I’m editing my first novel and like many people I realize after my first draft there is still a lot of work to be done. I used your tip for placing the document on the Kindle to have it read out loud to me. I have the Kindle Fire (first edition), I placed it under the docs and was able to get it to read to me from there. However, the only problem I’m having is that there is no bookmark and if I want to listen to just one section I have to start from the beginning. Do you have any tips to work around this? Or are you placing your documents in other areas? Thank you in advance.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          I don’t use a Kindle Fire, so I’m not exactly sure how the read-aloud feature works on it. But on my Kindle Keyboard, I can move the cursor (just like I do when I want to select a word for the dictionary to define or to highlight or annotate something) to the word I want the narrator to start with. Then I click the read-aloud shortcut (ALT + SYM). If that doesn’t work for you, you might try googling, Kindle Fire shortcuts or something like that.

  53. Just a rookie here hoping to write at least one book some day. Thanks for the tips. Very thorough.

  54. I am a new author. I finished my first draft of my first novel about a week ago. I felt so accomplished, but I now realize how much goes into the editing process. This article has been deeply insightful and enlightening, but it shows me that I still have a very long way to go. At least reading this article gives me some direction instead of blindly stumbling through it. Your method is comprehensive, but it sounds like you have a method that works for you and that is what matters. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

    Sincerely,

    Jaclyn

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Don’t discount the tremendous accomplishment of finishing that first draft! That’s the hardest and most important part. Editing is involved and not without its challenges. But you’ve already climbed the mountain!

  55. Hi,

    I joined nanowrmo one year (it was actually almost 4 years ago now) to attempt to write a novel in one month (the month of November). I had already written a first novel at this stage, which I edited in much the same way as you describe above.
    With this second novel, because there was absolutely no editing from beginning to end (the aim was to write a novel, just working forward the whole time) I now have a very daunting editing job ahead of me (hence why I have left it for so long to edit). I started out doing it for fun with just one idea but the ideas grew and grew and I ended up with a story that I feel could be great. I just don’t know how best to break this editing task down now. It’s always in the back of my mind that I need to do this, but I need to come up with a plan. Any ideas?

  56. Mikayla Martin says:

    First time on this site. Great advice. I’ve written two first drafts, but I fall into the Editing Blues, and I never know how to properly edit them while keeping positive about the project. I’ll be reading your website more often. Thanks for sharing your great advice.

  57. Different writers have different editing strategies. Personally, I cannot re-read my writing few times as I simply am not as attentive towards my writing mistakes as I am towards others. For this very reason I prefer my significant works to be checked by someone else.

  58. Ah, thanks for putting this together! I’m already envisioning a long editing process for the novel I just wrote as part of NaNo 2016, so this is helpful. I’m sure I’ll be printing out my drafts multiple times.

    Here’s to all the forthcoming editing hours!

Trackbacks

  1. […] of the story you’re trying to tell.  One such thorough editing and proofing approach is detailed in this blog post by author K.M. […]

  2. […] How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps from First Draft to Publication (helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com) […]

  3. […] many questions, but not enough time to overthink things. That’s what revisions (and revisions and revisions) are for, […]

  4. […] Weiland’s How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication may have a deceptive headline: no fewer than four of those steps involve a team of four people, one of them “a freelance editor, two who are critical readers, and one who is a superfan (guess whose opinion I like best?).” […]

  5. […] How I self-Edit My Novel in 15 Steps […]

  6. […] http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2013/06/how-i-self-edit-my-novels-15-steps-from.html–IPPY Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel, as well as the  western A Man Called Outlaw, the medieval epic Behold the Dawn, and the epic fantasy Dreamlander, K.M. Weiland certainly knows writing. This is how she edits. […]

  7. […] How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication […]

  8. […] of the advice from them. Here they are: How to Write a Book: the Five-Draft Method (Jeff Goins) How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps from First Draft to Publication (K.M. […]

  9. […] you know that you need to revise, but don’t quite know how or where to start, try this link. The information in the article was useful for me, and I think that the editing process is more fun […]

  10. […] HOW I SELF-EDIT MY NOVELS (From author K.M. Weiland) […]

  11. […] How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication by K.M. Weiland […]

  12. […] want it to become. One excellent suggestion to keep these structural edits on track (provided in 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication) is to stop at each main plot point and evaluate how effectively it was executed, and how to better […]

  13. […] of my day is taken up by thought-intensive work: write a blog post, edit a novel, balance the budget, pay attention to story structure while watching a movie. Unlike when I was a […]

  14. […] fast??? For me, edits take the bulkhead of my time. So I did some Internet research, and found K.M. Weiland’s many-step editing process, a few of which I’m now testing in my own writing. Like starting the day by line editing what […]

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