5 Steps to Editing Your Novel

This week Bryan is covering how to edit your novel. How much should you self-edit, and at what point should you hire an editor? What about beta-readers? Bryan answers it all in his article this week!

Understanding the Different Stages of Editing

Editing. Love it or hate it, a writer must learn to live with it. Sometimes editing isn’t needed, but if you are writing for an audience instead of yourself, editing will become a huge part of your writing life.

The stages of editing are similar to parenthood. At first the edits are small and cute, but it doesn’t take long for the edits to grow and become challenging. Annoying comes to mind. Every writer handles their edits differently. I prefer to finish my novel before I edit, but when I’m done I know it’s only the beginning. Soon I’ll be faced with killing my darlings, trimming the fat and fixing every little typo I somehow created. 

The stages of editing are similar to organizing a messy room. There’s the planning, the organizing and the throwing out. It’s new stuff replacing the old and finally a clean/livable draft for your characters to enjoy. 

Getting a Fresh Perspective Before You Start

I am a huge believer in taking a break before the edits begin. When I finish the first draft I take a step back in hopes of gaining a clearer picture of what the hell I am trying to do. Yes, it can be a mess at times.

Recently my editor and I completed my third novel. No, it’s not completely finished. I will have beta readers giving it a final look. There may be small changes here and there but overall the story is told the way we had hoped. But it wasn’t always that way. At the beginning I missed a lot of things. I took the story in a different direction than I meant. It was a 500 page messy room. My solution: Take a break before the editing starts. By doing so I re-energized my mind and prepared myself for the real work that lay ahead. 

Our minds are fascinating. Our minds are our very own personal editors. It continues to work while we rest. By gaining a fresh perspective we are able to see the story unfold the way it was meant to be.

Editing the Overall Structure (Developmental Editing)

Definition of Developmental Editing: Developmental editing takes a broader look at your story, watching out for plot-holes, checking the pace, following story arcs and making sure everything makes sense in context.

I do not touch developmental editing. It is an entirely different beast. Developmental editing is advanced editing. High level and a place I will never reach.

This is where a professional editor comes into play. They are able to see the real story. The clean room surrounded by all the mess. They can drag it out, mold it into place and show the writer the story they were trying to tell.

Warning: Working with a developmental editor will be one of the hardest things you will ever experience. Think physical therapy on a bad leg. Lots of pain and sweat before the end result. But if you are determined to listen and work hard, a developmental editor will do wonders for your future book. 

Character Development & Voice

When the first draft is complete, the author has an idea who these people are. Their habits and looks and sound are there, but an author who is honest about their work knows it is far from complete. The characters have to be real. The sound of their voice, their actions and body language must have a natural rhythm for the reader to be engaged. It must be consistent from page one to the final line and that’s where editing comes into play.

Editing equals consistency, and consistency is all about character development. By editing away the things that are boring or inconsistent, the people the author is trying to create come alive and hopefully stay with the reader long after the book is read. The reader needs to care about these people and that is where a good edit will shape and cut and create a person that is real.

Line Editing and Copy Editing

Isabella asked that I create two separate sections for line and copy editing. I gave it a long look and thought about it, but in the end I realized that I lump the two into one, and so can you.

Definition of Line Editing: Line editing is a part in the book editing process where the editor aims to improve the clarity of a piece of writing. A professional line editor examines the manuscript on a sentence level, leaving suggestions for word choice, syntax, and tone to enhance the author’s writing style and the text’s overall effectiveness.

Definition of Copy Editing:  Copy editing (also known as copyediting and manuscript editing) is the process of revising written material to improve readability and fitness, as well as ensuring that a text is free of grammatical and factual errors.

If you look closely, you’ll see the similarities. Some will argue there is a difference and they are right but for me, it’s not enough to separate.

I am a lazy editor. I love to write, but when it comes to editing I have others do it for me. I have a great friend who loves to line and copy edit. She does it for free, and she’s the best. I know, I can’t believe my luck. But if you don’t have a friend like mine and your budget does not allow you to hire out, I suggest you study both, ask questions, and take your time. 

Copy editing and line editing are both time consuming and have been known to cause headaches and screaming from roof tops. You have been warned.

Going Elsewhere (Hiring an editor and using beta readers)

As I mentioned above, I’m not big on editing. I like to write the story and hand it over to a professional editor. But that’s not the entire story. One of the main reasons for doing this is talent or lack thereof. I’m not good at it.

I am constantly telling Isabella to edit my column anyway she likes and I do this for one simple reason: She is smarter than me.

I never know what works and that is why I have editors to pick up the pieces that I toss against the wall. One of the best choices you will make is hiring an editor. A professional editor is expensive. There is no sugar coating about it. Start saving your money the moment you decide you want to be a writer. Do your homework. Ask other writers in your style or genre for recommendations. Ask me. 

Working with an editor is a partnership. A relationship where the foundation is trust. 

At the very end, when there are no more words to edit, you will need a test audience. Beta readers. They will give you an idea what works and what doesn’t but most of all they will tell you if your book is entertaining. You can find beta readers by asking friends and family (but beware of sugarcoating!), or on social media. You will usually pay a small fee, or beta read their book in return.


By now you can see editing takes a lot of work and time and can be expensive. But if your goal is to build an audience, editing is a must have. There is no way to escape it. You have a great idea and it’s so great you can imagine a movie being made from it, but it will be nothing more than a dream from your raw material. That’s how important editing is. 

In closing, before you start, pause and ask yourself if you are ready for this? Editing is a whole lot of things. Most of all it is hard work but I believe it brings out the best in us. You have to be mentally ready but something tells me you’re already there.

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