Writers Boon Blog


  • Ask the Editor: Tips on Revising a Novel
    Part 1

    Adrienne Moch, Susan Hughes, Penny Cockerill, Michele Perry, Vonnie York, Molly Terry


    Manuscript editing


    It’s all done and finished. Well, almost. You’ve typed The End. However, you feel like the hard work is only beginning. For many authors, revision time is anything but fun. As new and exciting ideas for a next novel start cooking away in the back of your brain, your interest in what’s now slowly becoming your old manuscript, slowly wanes. Yet, if you want to improve your chances of making your manuscript marketable, you have to go through with it. As Ernest Hemingway said — 'The only kind of writing is rewriting.'

    “The only kind of writing is rewriting” --Ernest Hemingway

    To learn more about how to revise a book before sending it to your editor, we turned to some of the most trusted Writers Boon editors for help: Adrienne MochSusan HughesPenny CockerillMichele PerryVonnie York and Molly Terry.

    In this presentation, they will share their best revision tips, teach us how to go about the rewriting process and tell us how many rounds of revisions authors should go through.

    If you’ve just finished your first draft, or you’re about to send your book to an editor, this article is for you.

    1. Take a step back.  Forget about your book for a while.

    Make sure some time has passed between completing the writing and starting revisions — maybe a week or two — so you can look at it with “fresh eyes.” -- Adrienne Moch

    Get involved in other projects, start writing your next book, cast away any thoughts on your current manuscript. In How to Make a Living as a Writer, James Scott Bell recommends waiting for three weeks before looking at your writing again.

    Only with the fresh eye of forgetfulness can you effectively spot inconsistencies and other issues with your story.

    Revision involves waiting.

    2. Ask for feedback. Listen to feedback.

    Revising your novel is as important as writing the manuscript. Ask a few people whose opinions you trust to read the manuscript and offer feedback. -- Adrienne Moch

    I often find clients overthinking their work, which can do more harm than good in the writing process. I suggest they get the book written and out to their beta readers. Revise from those suggestions, self-edit, and then get the book to a professional editor for polishing. Following that edit, revise again. If major changes have been made, a second edit would be a wise investment. If not, a thorough proofread is a must. Then let the book go. It’s a slow process, one that should not be rushed if the writer is serious about producing a top-quality manuscript. --Susan Hughes

    Ask at least one person to read your novel and give their opinion. You are very close to your book; another pair of eyes will have a fresh perspective. --Penny Cockerill

    Accept your book could use a little work.

    3. Start reading at a slow and careful pace. Pay attention to the plot and your characters. For now, ignore grammar and sentence structure.

    Editor Michele Perry gives some great ideas on questions authors should ask themselves before changing the manuscript’s file name to ‘Final Manuscript’.

    • Is your plot interesting and engrossing?
    • Are major plot issues resolved, and do they make sense?
    • Is the main plot introduced in an engaging way?
    • Are lead characters interesting?
    • Do characters have strengths and weaknesses?
    • Are characters dimensional?
    • Does dialogue advance the story?
    • Is dialogue appropriate for the character?
    • Is dialogue appropriate to the scene?
    • Does pace vary?
    • Is the pace of each scene appropriate?
    • Does pace increase/decrease tension?

    Once you are happy with your main narrative structures, it’s time to check the following:

    • Check all the styles of the paragraphs.
    • Check all your facts.
    • Check all your grammar, punctuation, and sentence structure.
    • Make sure all your word choices work and are correct.
    • Check your rhythm.
    • Check your clarity.
    • Check the tone.

    Then save that file and send your manuscript out into the world!

    Editor Vonnie York, agrees:

    When revising your novel, start globally with the overall structure. Are there plot holes? Are any scenes lacking conflict or not advancing the plot? Are the characters’ goals motivating their actions?

    After you have addressed structural, organizational, and focal issues, move on to style and technique.

    Beautiful prose will not salvage a novel that’s missing key structural elements.

    4. Become the reader.

    When you're deep into revisions, you need to think like a reader and not like an author. The parts you love might be confusing or out of place or not even relevant. Keep asking yourself, 'if I was reading this for the first time, what would I think?' Looking at your work like a reader makes it easier to determine which bits readers will love and which bits they will hate, and that's vital. --Molly Terry

    Think like a reader and not like an author.

    5. Continue to study the craft.

    Improving your knowledge on the writing craft also helps. Holly Lisle, an experienced writing coach, offers a number of amazingly useful and fun writing classes. You might want to check them out. 

    • Any questions for us about book revision? Head to Writers Boon Q&A and ask away. The most trusted editors on the web will give you the right answer.
    • For help with crafting and editing your story, check out Writers Boon list of writing software and editing software. Or, our carefully selected books on writing and editing.