Revising Your Book: Do’s and Don’ts

This guest post is by Dara M. Beevas.

The day my copyeditor sent my edited manuscript to me, I actually thought the revisions process would be pretty painless. As I sat down to pore over my editor’s suggestions for the first time, it was exciting. I eagerly devoured every suggestion.  I enjoyed her objective feedback. I delighted in reviewing her thoughtful comments. I remember smiling as I sipped a chai latte in my favorite coffee shop with my laptop in front of me. My manuscript was one step closer to final. The second round of revisions was less exciting, but still encouraging. The feedback was legitimate and well-founded. My manuscript was better for it. I was yet another step closer to done. I was still feeling good.

By the third round of revisions, my eyes could barely stand to read my manuscript without looking for typos, run-on sentences, misplaced commas, and all the other potential flaws I
had nightmares about. How was my manuscript still not ready?

To make matters worse, my book The Indie Author Revolution covers the pitfalls of revising and the importance of editing. I couldn’t disregard my own advice. Yet, as I was typing about how to approach revisions, I was admittedly struggling. I now realize that freaking out is part of the process.

Five editing rounds later, I learned a few things.

For starters, I learned writers should expect the revising process to take twice as long as they think it will. Had I known going into the revisions process that it would take a year from the
date of my final draft before I had a polished, publish-ready manuscript, I would have managed my time better.

A List of Revising Do’s

Do have a revisions toolkit handy. It should include an editing guide or manual that will help you trim superfluous sentences and eliminate fluff (I used Edit Yourself by Bruce Ross-Larson), a dictionary, a style guide, and Post-It notes.

Do approach each revision alert and focused.

Do keep track of ideas, notes, and additions. You won’t remember them if you don’t.

Do save your documents frequently. The worst is losing the changes and additions you’ve made.

Do only make the changes you agree are best for your manuscript. Every edit and suggestion isn’t always perfect for your book.

Do communicate with your editor(s) throughout the revisions process.

Do try to cut what isn’t essential to your manuscript.

Do take breaks. When fatigue sets in, step away. You might start to rush through edits or worse, make irrational decisions.

Do print your manuscript and read it on a hard copy after each round of revisions.

Do read your manuscript aloud.

Do have more than one round of editing and revising. Your readers will thank you for it (in the manner of good reviews and referrals).

Do give yourself deadlines.

A list of Revising Don’ts:

Don’t ask your editor turn edits around in an unreasonable amount of time.

Don’t blindly accept every change to your manuscript.

Don’t get defensive. Your editor(s) wants the same thing you want: a polished manuscript.

Don’t put it off. Taking breaks is healthy, but don’t procrastinate too much.

Don’t skirt the unexciting parts of revising, such as adding citations, fact checking, and doing critical research that will strengthen your manuscript.

Don’t get lazy, which isn’t the same as fatigue.

Don’t be tempted to ignore a problem area in your manuscript or choose an easy route over a more time-consuming one. For instance, if you need to get permission to use key images, passages, or quotes in your book—get it done.

Don’t let too many people (editors excluded) read your manuscript. Varying opinions will only confuse you. Also, it’s nearly impossible to receive suggestions that are unbiased and objective from your friends and family members.

Don’t panic or obsess about mistakes. If you’ve done the hard work to find a good editor and polish your manuscript, don’t worry.

When it came to my book, I didn’t cut corners. I invested time and money in making sure my book was as good as it could be. Revising my manuscript was probably the most challenging aspect of publishing. But, even if I find a mistake in my book (and I’m sure I will), I won’t sweat it because I know it didn’t occur as a result of negligence or carelessness. I also learned that revising, like writing, is filled with ups and downs. It’s amazing to feel you’ve added or deleted the correct thing. However, it’s often daunting to realize you’re so far from being done. What really helped me was envisioning the end product and enjoying the journey. Now that my book is finally finished, I’m grateful for hard work I did.

About the Author: Dara M. Beevas is the author of The Indie Author Revolution: An Insider’s Guide to Self-Publishing. As vice president of award-winning Beaver’s Pond Press, she has mentored hundreds of authors through the publishing process. She’s also co-founder of Wise, Ink, a blog for the indie author
community.

Tell me your opinion: Do you enjoy the revision process?

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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. I’m bookmarking this. I’m about to dive into yet another round of self-edits, and the process can be overwhelming. I appreciate any tips. Thanks!

  2. Hi Kerry Ann! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I really recommend buying that book Edit Yourself. It was super helpful for self-editing.

  3. I had two requests for my manuscript at ACFW and I’m in the process of polishing it to be ready to hand over Nov. 1st. I just printed it off again, since I made so many revisions and I wanted a fresh copy to read through. Thank you for these dos and don’ts – they are helpful and come at the right time!

  4. So glad you found it helpful Gabrielle! Good idea to print out that fresh copy. My book, The Indie Author Revolution had at least fifteen fresh copies printed through the entire process! Good luck to you Gabrielle!

  5. Thanks so much for sharing with us today, Dara!

  6. Do I enjoy the revising process? Yes. I love knowing that my book will be better. Kinda- it still is hard work and sometimes tedious and you are right that you need to have a clear head. This is not a mindless job! The longer the work the more focused you need to be to remember what has changed or been modified! Great tips. All in all, I want my work to be the very best it can be when it finally reaches a reader so they can fully engage in and enjoy the story. It takes hard work – and more eyes – to make that happen.

  7. While I’ve never sent any of my stories off to a publisher, I always go through a “self-revision” process before I post them (I generally post them on ApricotPie, which is a place for writers to share their stories, advice, and to “proof-read” each-other’s stories). At the very least I can catch major flaws in the storyline… my readers tell me of any other mistakes I may have made.

    Thanks for a great handful of good tips, Dara. 😀

  8. Great article and it comes at a perfect time. I’m mentally preparing myself for the revision process that will likely begin early next year.

  9. I would add “know when to quit editing.”

    Perfection is an absolute. Absolutes can never be reached. One can strive to get close to perfection, but one can never reach that state. With every iteration, the cost increases exponentially. One must decide when enough is enough and to accept the imperfections that remain.

    Another issue is each editor has his or her own view about needed edits. Every editor will find his or her own collection of suggestions. Never will there be a manuscript that someone somewhere does not say needs more editing.

    Having more than one editor is like having more than one clock that leads one to not knowing what the actual time is, unless one takes the HMS Beagle approach. When HMS Beagle, which included Charles Darwin, sailed on its five year survey mission, the ship carried 21 chronometers. To know where you are you need to know the time. To know the time, Captain Fitzroy averaged the time on the clocks. When he returned to his home port at the end of the voyage, his time was off by 33 seconds. The lesson is: have 21 editors then average their suggestions.

  10. Awesome article. I pinned it and will definitely ask our new authors to read it.

  11. Gideon I’ve never heard of ApricotPie! I’ll have to check that out. Thanks for the tip 🙂

  12. yes and no. I like it because it means I finished writing a book. I don’t like it because it means reading said book a hundred times more. But I do like it because it means my book is going to be a million times better. Then I don’t like it because I have a shiny new toy I want to play with. So, yes and no 🙂

  13. Great tips!! The revision process is tough. I have one MS back from my editor but I can’t work on it for another month because of my day job. FRUSTRATING!! But I am learning much about patience. Thank you for these great reminders!

  14. Excellent post Dara! It’s good to have that reminder that “freaking out is part of the process.” I needed that!

  15. Yup! I freaked out quite a bit, but now that my book is done, I’ve let it go…or at least that’s what I tell myself 🙂 Thanks for the comment Melanie!

  16. Excellent post. I’m tweeting this. 🙂

  17. Hi Dara, I’m going through what I keep thinking is the last round of edits, after two professional edits and I’ve lost count of how many I have done myself.
    Your post made me want to simultaneously laugh and cry. You keep telling yourself you’re almost there, then realise there is so much more to go. Whoever said writing a book was hard obviously didn’t get to the Everest climb of editing and self-publishing! Phew!

  18. Great post, Dara. I think it’s important to spend some time away from a manuscript before jumping into the revision. Sure, the temptation to rush can be excruciating, but by making a little space between one’s self and the book, you pick up on more with a fresh perspective.

    I’ve just received my line edits after both professional content/line edits. The sheer amount of revising would be enough to put a mere mortal off, but us writers are a thick-skinned breed.

    Ryan

  19. I enjoy the revision process, when the suggested changes make logical sense to me. And I want an editor that consults me for any changes made.

  20. I hate the editing. Hate it with passion.
    I am the type of person who reads each book only once. Having to reread the manuscript you already know in and out over and over again is so boring. I can’t edit more then 15 minutes at a time because I loose concentration.
    On a brighter side, if after the fifth-sixth edit I read a part and can feel the thrill of the scene, I know that part is good.
    Don’t take me wrong, editing is still better than a 9-5 job and it has to be done, but writing itself is much more interesting to me.

  21. Very good pointers. I learned from my mistakes, recently I put my novel onto Kindle without getting it professionally edited and regretted it. When reading over it on my kindle I saw several mistakes, took it down and am now having it edited. Reading out loud is another great tip, I must admit, I felt like an idiot the first time I did it. Thanks for your post.

  22. Thanks for the post. I do not enjoy editing. But I wouldn’t exchange that feeling you get when you finish that final (5th) edit and you know your manuscript is finally ready. I self-edited and self-published my own novel TWISTED recently and am very happy with the results… but I didn’t rush it and I didn’t skip an edit. Still the entire time I wanted to get back to the freedom of writing out new ideas. Glad to be back there now. 🙂

  23. Thank you for sharing. I believe a lot of writers, including myself, will benefit from your insight.

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