How To Edit Your Novel Manuscript

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how to edit your novel manuscriptOn the long and winding path to publication, your fiction manuscript will go through many stages. There is the idea phase, when you get to brainstorm and put the story together. Often this is followed by creating an outline. Once you’re done writing the first draft, there are a lot of potential directions you could go, but this is a stage where you need to know how to edit your novel manuscript. 

How do you revise your first draft manuscript? There are almost as many viable answers to this question as there are to, how do you start writing one?

The key element you need to understand is that every novel manuscript is re-written at some point in the process. Here is a truth about writing – professional writers don’t publish first drafts. 

Whether you choose to self-edit your manuscript, bring the first draft to your trusted writer’s group, a team of beta readers, or a professional editor, understanding that the best writing is rewriting is critical to a polished final product. 

Now do you see why you’re going to want to know how to edit your novel manuscript?

How To Edit Your Manuscript | Why Is It Important? 

Before we talk about your many options for manuscript revision, I’d like to spend a moment describing why rewriting is so very important.

Terry Pratchett, famed fantasy author of countless classic books, once said that, “The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.” Pretty great, huh? You can find a lot of similar advice from other famous authors, but Pratchett’s take is my favorite. Translation? The first draft is not complete. The story is missing something critical to its success as a book. What is that?

You’ll hear creatives use the term “development” for their projects quite a bit. For an author, that’s what rewriting is – it’s developing your story, fleshing it out, making sure that the story’s execution matches the promise of that exciting original idea. I’ve seen authors get close to a finished product on the first draft, but close doesn’t count in storytelling. With the market more challenging, and with so many options available to readers, your story needs to be excellent. 

how to edit your novel manuscriptWhat Can I Do To Improve My Writing?

I’m going to describe four ways you revise your manuscript that cost little to no money. Each of these processes of manuscript revision are effective, costing little more than time.

1.) Self-Editing

For some writers, self-editing works fairly well. This is where you sit down with your manuscript, after you’re done with the first draft, and rewrite it yourself. Fairly insightful writers can make a lot of improvements on their work, but it’s not an advisable strategy for beginners. 

2.) Beta Readers

Beta readers are a special group of readers selected by the author to read the manuscript and offer feedback on the quality. The key here is getting the right people. If you have friends that are avid readers, and aren’t shy about telling you what works and doesn’t, send them your early draft. 

3.) Writers Groups

Most writers I know have trusted writer’s group in their corner. My group, which I adore, reads my books a few chapters at a time as I write them. By now, they know my story, my world, and most importantly, they know me as a writer. Their advice is invaluable

4.) Software

I threw this one in there because, to some extent, widely available programs like Grammarly and ProWritingAid can help improve the quality of your writing. They won’t tell you whether your main character is believable – at least not yet – but they can help you get past pesky grammar issues. For a lot of new authors, this can be a major barrier. 

What Comes After I Edit My Novel Manuscript?

As this blog suggests, revising your novel manuscript can become a very complicated and time consuming process. For most authors, knowing the point when the book is actually done is really hard to gauge. It’s just really challenging to know how good something is without outside input. 

Even after an author has self-edited their manuscript and received some outside feedback, it may still be the right time to involve a professional. How to edit your novel manuscript, especially newer authors, comes down to working with a professional. As a developmental editor, some of the best manuscripts I have ever read (and those that went onto be published) had already been through a rigorous self-editing and beta reading process before they got to me. 

A professional developmental editor can be a priceless member of your author journey. They’re objective and experienced. Most of them know the specific genre market and submission process you’ll face after completing the book. That professional eye can be brought in at any point, right after completing draft one, or after you’ve tried the other options. 

How To Edit Your Novel Manuscript | The Bottom Line

Results are really what matter the most. The idea is that after you’ve gone through a thorough manuscript revision, your book should be ready for its final presentation. Whether you’re planning on self-publishing, seeking a traditional publisher, or don’t know yet, the standard is the same.

I like to think that, ultimately, the audience you need to please is your readers. To do that, your manuscript needs to be in excellent shape, the best of the best.  


I hope this blog addressed some of your questions about how to edit your novel manuscript. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below. 

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