how to edit your novel
So, you’ve got a first draft of your story (I wrote a bit about how to write a first draft in this post)! You’ve been working on it for ages and you’ve finally typed ‘THE END’, what next?
Well first, I would recommend you go treat yourself to a cookie, or a glass of bubbles, or a nice fancy coffee because you’ve earned it! Finishing a first draft is a huge achievement. Let yourself celebrate!
Next, you’re going to want to edit your novel to make sure it’s the best it can be. There are three different stages of editing:
Developmental edits – this is the stage of editing where you’ll focus on the actual story and what can be done to make it stronger.
Line edits – this is the stage of editing where you’re going to want to focus on how the story reads, and how your sentences are structured.
Copy edits – this is the stage of editing where you’ll be checking for grammar/spelling, and you’ll be checking your smaller details to make sure that everything makes sense (if someone has blue eyes in chapter one and brown eyes in chapter seven, this is something your copy edits should pick up!).
If you’re interested in traditional publishing, then your publisher will pair you with editors to take you through these steps. And if you’re indie publishing you might want to consider paying for edits so you can produce a professional book. But even before you get to that stage, you’re going to want to make sure your book is as strong as it can be by going through some edits yourself.
In this post I’m going to take you through my process for my ‘developmental edits’. This is the stage where I'm revising the story, and making it as strong as possible.
It makes sense for this to be the first stage of editing you work on, because there’s no point in fixing all your spelling or making a scene read beautifully, if you then decide it’s unnecessary and needs to be cut!
Note: Different people have different methods that work for them, but this is the one that works for me!
My developmental edits process:
1. Print out the manuscript! I like to print out the manuscript because it stops me from editing and tweaking bits as I’m reading through.
2. Time permitting, read through your novel as though you’re a reader! Don’t make any notes. Just read it. It'll help you see how it reads to a reader, spark your inspiration, and give you a feel for anything that's missing.
3. Get a pack of different colored sticky tabs. Assign a color to each of the story elements you want to focus on. The story elements I like to use are 'character development', 'world building', 'plot', and 'structure'.
Sneaky marketing trick – I also like to assign a color tab to quotes that I think will be good to use in my social media marketing campaigns! I can then use these for quote art later.
4. Read through the printed manuscript again. Stick colored tabs to flag things that might need changing. E.g. If yellow is my color for ‘structure’, if I come across a scene that I think needs cutting, I’ll stick a yellow tab here. If there’s an area where I think I can elevate the worldbuilding, I’ll stick a purple ‘worldbuilding’ tab etc.
5. Now, open the manuscript in your word document. Add comments in all the places where you’ve stuck a sticky tab!
6. Click through the comments and fix / cut / add scenes in the places you’ve flagged!
My first round of edits for A Circus of Ink using this method!
This process gets me to a stage where my manuscript is structurally sound, the story/ characters/ world are as developed as I can get them, the plot makes sense, and I’ve tied up any loose ends/ironed out the plot holes.
At this stage I’m in a good position to get someone to read through this new revised version of the manuscript, to hire an editor (if I’m self-publishing), or to move onto my next stage of editing.
How do you edit your novel? Let me know in the comments!
LAUREN PALPHREYMAN is a writer based in London. She is best known for her supernatural teen romance series, Cupid's Match, which has accumulated over 50 million hits online and was published by Wattpad Books / Penguin Random House, October 2019. Find her on Instagram @LaurenPalphreyman and on Twitter @LEPalphreyman.
Get hold of her debut, Cupid's Match, here!