6 Tips For Organizing Your Novel Editing

6 Tips for How to Organize Your Novel’s Edits

6 Tips For Organizing Your Novel EditingImagine this: you’ve received a ton of great feedback from your beta readers, critique partners, and/or editors. I mean a ton. You’re ready to dive in and start putting their suggestions to use. But… where do you start? How can you organize your novel’s edits so you can actually make sense of them?

One of the reasons editing a novel can sometimes feel like the insurmountable Mt. Never Gonna Get There is because you don’t have a clear path forward. Facing a big edit–with lots of feedback from various sources–is like facing down the mopping up after a hurricane. You’ve got the manpower and the know-how. But first you have to figure out how to put them to use. After all, you can’t move forward until you know the first step.

Reader Megan LaCroix emailed me recently with this fabulously pertinent question:

I’ve been collecting feedback I’ve received from agents, and I’ve also sent my manuscript out to a few betas to get even more feedback. My question is this: What is the best method for organizing multiple sets of feedback?

If your eyes are crossing at just the mention of multiple streams of feedback coming in at once, you’re not alone. Fortunately, organizing anything is my favorite subject! Today, I’m going to show you how to organize your novel’s edits in six simple steps.

But, first…

Should You Try to Simultaneously Handle Multiple Sources of Feedback?

In a perfect world, you would have all the time you wanted to send your manuscript to one beta reader, ingest his suggestions, make your edits, then send it out to another beta reader.

However, since perfection has yet to be achieved, you will undoubtedly face the challenge of figuring out how to organize your novel’s edits in the light of multiple suggestion streams. There are any number of reasons this might be so, but the main one is probably a simple time crunch.

For example, my novels get three years from first draft to publication. During that time, I need to get as many as ten sets of eyes on the book. Most beta readers need at least a couple months to thoughtfully peruse a manuscript–which means those three years get eaten up fast. There isn’t time enough to give the manuscript to one reader at a time. Just as aptly, there isn’t enough time for me to do a major edit for every single reader.

6 Steps for How to Organize Your Novel’s Edits

Since I want to get as many eyes as possible on each new draft, I divide my readers into “layers”–usually about three at a time. Then I’ll wait to receive all three sets of feedback before doing an edit–and then sending the new draft onto the next layer of readers.

The result? Inevitably, I must exert some forethought to organize my novel’s edits and streamline the process to make sure I’m taking full advantage of each early reader’s suggestions. To that end, I use this six-step process.

6 Steps for How to Organize Your Novel's Edits Infographic

Step 1: Clear Out the Small Stuff First

When you first receive notes back from a reader, go through them right away (not that you could resist, right?). At this stage, you won’t need to worry about any big changes. But go ahead and take care of all the small stuff.

I’m talking about:

  • Typos
  • Incorrect facts
  • Grammar tweaks
  • General mistakes

What you’re doing here is just a quick sweep to take care of all the easy fixes that don’t require much thought. These are things you know the reader is right about and that don’t require any more correction than a little typing on your part.

If your reader has used Word’s Track Changes feature, you can then go ahead and “Accept” all of these small changes. They’ll disappear, lessening the clutter in the doc and clearing your way to focus on the big stuff.

Use Track Changes Accept Button When Figuring Out How to Organize Your Novel's Edits

Step 2: Create a Running List of Acceptable Suggestions

Once you’ve finished receiving feedback from all your current sources, you’re ready to figure out how to organize your novel’s edits on a bigger scale. This is the part where the edits can start feeling overwhelming. You have all this stuff coming in from every direction. It’s hard to get your brain around it all, much less figure out which suggestions are worth integrating into your manuscript–and which aren’t.

Where do you start?

Repeat after me: when in doubt, make a list.

Create a master doc in Word or Scrivener, where you can start a list of all the major changes that need to be incorporated into this round of edits. Then, one by one, go through each of your readers’ suggestions.

Agree with a suggestion? Then write it down in your master list. (Remember, at this point, you’ve already accepted and incorporated all the minor changes, which means what you’re left with are only big changes–changes that require you to add whole scenes or tweak whole subplots.)

Keep all the suggestions in chronological order. This is important because as you move onto the second or third reader’s suggestions, you’re going to incorporate them into your master list in order. You’re combining them all into what is, essentially, one big “editing outline.”

List of Edits for Storming

My list of edits for Storming.

Step 3: Divide Your List Into Two Parts: Easy and Not-So-Easy

When you’ve finished your list of necessary edits, divide it into two sections:

1. Fixes You Understand

These are things that may require some work, but that won’t require much advance brainstorming. In other words, you know exactly what you need to do to fix them.

2. Fixes You Have to Think About

These are problems you know need to be fixed–but which you don’t necessarily know how to fix right away. You need to do some serious brainstorming to work through these plot holes.

Step 4: Prep the Easy Fixes First

Open your story’s master file in Word and turn on Track Changes. This will allow you to add comments to your document.

One by one, sort through your list of “easy fixes” from Step 3. Search through your manuscript to find the scene where the change will have to be made and leave yourself a comment. Usually, you can just copy/paste your beta reader’s original comment, but you can also add any further thoughts you have on the matter.

Easy Fix Note for Storming's Edits

One of my “easy fix” notes from Storming‘s edits.

At this point, you’re not actually changing anything in your manuscript. You’re just starting to create a beat-by-beat road map you can easily follow to make all the necessary changes when you are actually ready to start editing.

Step 5: Brainstorm Solutions to the Not-So-Easy Fixes

This is where you have to step away from organizing your novel’s edits and move back into the full-on creative zone. What you’re left with at this point are the handful of tough fixes. These are major problems in your story–things that absolutely must be corrected, but that don’t present easy solutions.

Sit down with your brainstorming tools of choice (I prefer a notebook and a pen, since writing longhand is the best way to free my creativity). One by one, start working through your story’s major problems. Ask yourself lots of questions:

  • What is the real issue here?
  • What needs to happen to fix it?
  • What new changes will this new solution prompt throughout the rest of the story?
  • What new problems will these changes create and how can you anticipate and correct them?
  • What if you tried something totally new?
  • What’s expected here?
  • What’s unexpected?

Work through each problem to its logical conclusion. Once you know what you need to do, use Track Changes to add your notes to the pertinent section of your manuscript, just as you did above in Step 4.

Storming Outline - 8-12

Step 6: Start Editing

Congratulations! You’ve successfully organized that mass of editing notes from your readers and editors. Thanks to your list of Track Changes comments, you now have an easy road map you can follow in making changes.

Now where do you start?

Whenever I tackle a major edit like this, I always read through the entire manuscript. I want to be able to keep the whole story in view, and I want to be sure I’m catching and adjusting all the little tweaks that will ripple throughout the entire story thanks to these new changes.

Start reading at the beginning of your manuscript. Whenever you reach one of the comments you’ve left yourself, stop and make the necessary changes. Some of the changes will be easy and you’ll fly through them. Others will require you to add or rewrite entire pages. Keep at it steadily, and before you know it, you’ll have a brand new shiny draft ready to send out to the next round of beta readers or agents!

The question of how to organize your novel’s edits can seem like a complicated one. But its answer isn’t complicated at all. Make things simple and straightforward for yourself by employing these easy organizational tactics to streamline the process. That way, you can devote the majority of your brainpower to what really matters: the edits themselves!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! What process do you use in figuring out how to organize your novel’s edits? Tell me in the comments!

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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. Sweet! I think you should write a book for the hopelessly unorganized writer. Seriously, that would be sweet. Disorganization is one of my pathologies. *sniff sniff*

    Great layout here. Question. After you edit after all the suggestions do you give them back to the betas? Or sent off to the editor?

    This process does sound pretty hairy. I can see how you could get overwhelmed trying to wade through all the input. But I know organization is one of your superpowers. The rest of us mortals are doomed! Well, not exactly. You hit the nail on the head with this one. Staying organized is key. I would love to see an inside view of this well oiled Weiland machine, especially THE BETAS.

    Benjamin

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I try to “layer” my readers. So after I finish one batch of edits, using the process outlined here, I’ll send the manuscript on to the next round–and rinse and repeat. It goes to my editor last of all.

      • Do you first send it to readers A, B and C while making the other 2/3 of the readers wait?

        Or do you ask readers A, B and C for edits on the first third, and ask readers D, E and F for edits on the middle third, and ask the rest of the readers for edits on the final third–and then make those edits and then rotate the functions of the readers ?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Pretty much. I try to put different readers in different categories so I can take advantage of their various strengths.

  2. Kate Flournoy says:

    Ow… I think I have a headache now. 😛 Organization is NOT my thing. I need to work on it though. Usually I can blow through on creativity alone, (one advantage of having a mind like a steel trap, which honestly I’d be lost without 😛 ) but it usually leaves me exhausted and burned out by the time I’m done.
    I need to get more organized.
    Thanks so much for this step by step… list? Treatise? Manifesto? 😛 on how to do it. 😀

    • KATE! Whew, I’m not alone. I knew we were siblings. Organization is going uphill for me. This is a good post though. Writing something like a novel requires significant organization, just wish I was a better planner.

      • Kate Flournoy says:

        YES. I don’t think organization of any kind ever comes easy to most right-brain people. Katie is a marvel. 😀

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          As writers creating compelling characters, we know that for every strength, there is a weakness–and vice versa. The things my organized brain makes me good at are not same as the things your creative brains make *you* good at! Find your strengths and make the most of them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah. I used to have that mind. Then something happened. Not sure what. The Internet? :p

  3. Nice timing. I’m in the middle of editing two books. I think this is about what I do, only with some small modifications.

    One question: How many rounds of editing do you normally go through for a book? Whatever it is, I’m sure I’ll need to do more, but I’m just curious.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Every book is a little different, but, for example, Storming went through five major drafts.

  4. Cathy Smallwood says:

    Kate, and Benjamin, I’m the opposite of you, but I spend ALL my time organizing it seems 😉 There must be a happy medium: organize, then write!

    Great plan, K.M.! I’m sifting through ten years of feedback – a two-foot high stack of edits and versions. I still have to nail down exactly where the story starts, so I know exactly what I’m going to be editing 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I’m all about actionable steps. Don’t get lost in the organization or the prep (fun as it can be for people like us). Set it up so there is a clear “trigger” moment, where you have to move forward.

  5. Thank you, Katie, this is great! I’m planning to send my first novel out for a beta/editing review in a few months and I was wondering how to put together an editing plan. I was thinking of using a spreadsheet to do that, but the more I thought about it the more laborious it sounded. Maybe using that to track the major edits would work, though.

    But I was wondering…since I’m using Scrivener, do I just compile the novel in Word format and finish it in Word, i.e. turn track changes on, send it out for edits/comments, get comments back and incorporate needful changes in Word and that becomes the new master document? Or do I re-import the document when all the edits are done in Word back into Scrivener? Or do I have both the master open in Scrivener and the copy(ies) in Word and make all the necessary changes in Scrivener? I just wasn’t sure what would be best, but it seems to me keeping the master in Scrivener would be the way to go.

    Thanks in advance for sharing your thoughts on this. 8o)

    • Oh. I meant K.M., not Katie. Sorry!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The one feature lacking in Scrivener is a good alternative to Track Changes. When I’m ready to send to beta readers, I convert from Scrivener to Word. The readers make their notes using Track Changes, from which I then have to manually input their suggestions back into the Scrivener doc. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only solution I know at this point.

  6. This makes a lot of sense, and is similar to while also expanding on what I’ve always done. I was surprised, however, by the order in which you suggest handling the different types of problems. I’ve always thought touching minor issues like grammar and spelling was wasted effort when you still have big issues outstanding that may requiring scrapping or heavily rewriting those scenes anyway. Is there a reason you prefer working smallest up, instead of biggest down?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      For me, the small issues are usually minor. I have a good mastery of grammar, etc., and I’m careful about sending out carefully edited manuscripts to beta readers (out of respect to them as much as anything else). So the “little” issues I receive back are comparatively few. A typo here and there, a repeated word, a tweak on the wording. *Most* of the feedback I receive back has to do with big issues. So my preference is to clear the board, so to speak, by taking care of all the minor issues, so they don’t clutter my brain.

      But you raise a good point. If you’re getting a *lot* of little stuff back, then you might want to wait to deal with it until you’ve done the big-picture stuff, to keep from wasting time on pieces you may end up deleting anyway.

  7. Desiree says:

    Needed this. So hard for me to edit without reinventing the wheel so to speak.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Just like everything in writing, it’s all about coming up with a system that works for you. Then you can just “trust the system,” so to speak, when it’s time to edit.

  8. Great post, Katie! I go through the edits from my editor/readers first. All other issues are listed on a spreadsheet I created. Once I finish the editor/reader edits, I go through each issue on my spreadsheet.

    By third draft/round of edits, most things are fixed/picked up. Any other issues are picked up by the proofreader.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You made me remember one other thing I could have mentioned, which is: Be sure to keep a running list of your *own* ideas for changes, so you can add them to the overall “edit outline” when you’re ready to start the next draft.

  9. Your process is remarkably similar to mine. (Which actually makes me inexplicably happy!) I find for me, I go through everything and as I’m correcting typos, I input any notes that are medium or difficult problems, and start mulling them as I’m working through, and more any scenes that may be affected by those changes.

    And I’ve been known to go back to the beta reader and hash out major changes to figure out what could be the best option to fix it.

  10. Sometimes I get opposite sets of feedback from multiple beta readers. One says they love a particular passage, another says they hate that passage. Then it becomes a judgment call on my part.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Exactly. I like to say, “Two people have to agree.” One of those people can be me. But if I reject a suggestion, only to have another reader repeat it, I know I need to take a second look.

  11. This is soooo timely. I don’t have Word (WordPerfect fangirl), but I have been painstakingly using the “comments” feature in Scrivener to preserve comments from my beta readers, who are critiquing online. I’ve been color coding the comments for each reader, and reserving one color for when at least two people comment on the same passage. But now I have to act on these comments …

    This list is reassuring, since I’ve been doing most of it. I’m going to see if Scrivener’s snapshots might substitute for the track changes (if I understand correctly what the track changes do). The list sounds like a good idea; it creates easy victories that may encourage me during brainstorming.

    But dangit, when I clicked on the headline I was hoping you were passing out a *working* Staples Easy Button 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Sorry, I’m saving the Easy Button for hard times when I need to make an easy mil. 😉

      If you find a great solution for integrating changes into Scrivener, I’d love to hear about it. Snapshots is *fabulous*, but I kinda wonder if it might be more trouble than its worth for adding someone else’s changes.

  12. Ron Fitch says:

    Track Changes was very helpful editing my first book, but I became overwhelmed making all the minor and major changes at once. Your idea of “clearing out the small stuff first” then creating a “running list” and working through it has put my editing frenzy at ease. Thank you, I’m already relaxed.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      I like to break things down into “sections.” Otherwise, my brain starts to feel like it has a terrified rabbit running around inside it. :p

      • Lynden Wade says:

        Absolutely agree about the rabbit thing! Now, I’m new to getting lots of feedback, and I’m only talking of feedback on a short story I wrote, but I’m inclined to leave the small stuff till last. That’s because the passage with the awkward grammar may while get axed or rewritten as I sort out story arc, characters etc. But I do make a list, take a deep breath or two, and then tackle one comment at a time.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

          Yep, that’s smart. I may have to amend the article to remind people that sometimes that’s the better approach.

  13. As always, wonderful post with impeccable timing! ?
    I was wondering, do you have any recommendations for how to select beta readers? Also, I like what you said about sending your drafts out in “waves” to your readers; how many beta readers per major edit do you typically send your drafts to?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Good question. Honestly, sometimes, in the beginning, at any rate, you just have to take what beta readers you can find. Then you can weed out the relationships that just aren’t working and keep the ones that are. Ultimately, what I’m looking for in a beta reader is someone who:

      a) I trust, both personally and in regards to their story chops
      b) someone who understands what I’m trying to achieve in a story
      c) someone who is responsible and dependable in getting stuff back to me in a timely manner

      I usually send my drafts to about three readers per “wave” of edits.

  14. Thanks for the great post. Editing is one of the things I’m working on right now and things like this really help.

  15. Beautiful! I so admire the aesthetics of such a well designed process!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah. My trick is remembering to stay flexible with the unique demands of each *new* project!

      • This makes sense! I’m very fond of drawing up elaborate plans and then completely ignoring them.

  16. This is pretty much the state my current novel is in at the moment. It’s a mess, but my planned approach is pretty close to what you’ve suggested, so that’s encouraging. Already made the list of everything I need to fix and have at least a general idea of how to fix it. Now to sit down and go through the whole manuscript again and apply those edits. I’ll be honest, it’s gonna be a lot of work and I’m not really looking forward to it, but I know it’s necessary.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      The worst feeling in writerdom is knowing your novel is a mess and *not* having a plan of action. But if you’ve got that list of fixes working for you, all you have to do is put one foot in front of the other. Really, it feels like a great weight being lifted off your shoulders as you make your story better, step by step.

  17. Joe Long says:

    What you’ve described is very similar to what I do in selling data products as a home business, even if I’ve never structuralized it as much as you have here.

    I get comments back from clients on things that aren’t correct or features they’d like to see added. Those have a priority as you want to keep the clients happy, and can’t be selling errant data. There are also the upgrades and new products that I think of on my own.

    As you’ve described, some are easy and get done right away. Others I know how to do but take some time and careful coding, as the logic may be daunting. The last group I may not yet know how to do, requiring me to study the source data, learn new techniques, or both.

    As with writing, it’s arranging all the pieces in a logical sequence to get the desired result.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Yep, it’s pretty much just a good, adaptable system that applies to any kind of corrections that have to be made.

  18. THANK YOU for this. I’ve been stuck for five years and counting on a novel that keeps growing little scene tendrils and now it’s a 56-armed, hole-ridden sea monster threatening to capsize my editing ship. (I save all my worst metaphors for commenting on blogs so they don’t end up in my stories.) Anyway, this advice gives me a way forward, so again: THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Hah! It’s a good metaphor because I know exactly what you’re talking about. :p Happy editing!

  19. Thank you for that very informative post. I can see how it can be very helpful to those authors who need help organizing their manuscripts. However I strongly suggest that the moment you decide to write a book. you join a writers group. This way, by submitting chapters to the group, you get multiple feedback critiques that can keep you on track.
    I also suggest you download grammarly.com It’s a free program that reviews your document and points out grammatical errors and typos. This will save you a lot of time.
    Lastly, before you write that book, find out FIRST if there is a market for it. No publishing company will sign you if their marketing department decides there isn’t enough potential readers to generate a profit.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Zackary! You raise some good points, although I would chime in that, although writing groups are often great, they’re not always for everyone. Same with writing for the market. Unless you bottom line in producing a book is solely to make a living off it, I always recommend writing the story you *want* to write for its own sake before trying to chase the market–which can ultimately be counterproductive, since it’s hard to predict where the trends are going years in advance.

  20. “Search through your manuscript to find the scene where the change will have to be made”

    Why is this not a single step? Is there no word processor that will merge all the comments and proposed changes? A “file difference” or “diff” program will do a crude version of this

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says:

      You *can* merge all changes at once, using Word’s Track Changes. But there are a couple issues with this: 1) Few of us want to accept changes without looking at them and considering them individually. 2) Many of the changes will require actual additional changes on our part. 3) If, like me, you use Scrivener, you’ll have to make the changes in Scrivener rather than Word.

  21. Great stuff! Thank you.

  22. I never thought about organizing feedback from beta readers this way, or even in batching them at all. This is definitely going to happen with my next big edit. Thanks for the tips!

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