How to Revise and Edit Your Novel
Writing a novel is certainly an accomplishment, but if you want a chance at selling the book successfully, you’ll also need to invest in revision and editing. Your first draft probably isn’t perfect, by virtue of the fact that nearly all first drafts are flawed. There are likely plot holes, poorly developed characters, and poor turns of phrase peppered throughout the book that are holding it back from success.
Long before you get ready to print your first paperback, you’ll need to put together a plan for revision and final polish. So how can you do it?
Outline the Goals of the Novel
Assuming you already have a first draft written, take a moment before you return to reading it. Without flipping through the pages, outline the main goals of your novel. Consider:
- The main story. What is the plot, from beginning to middle to end? What is the narrative curvature that you follow? Are you able to cleanly identify this, or is the plot somewhat muddled? Is it predictable or does it offer something original?
- The themes. What are the main themes of this novel? What points are you trying to make? For example, are you trying to explore the way that technology keeps us disconnected from each other? Are you attempting to showcase the flaws of a certain political philosophy?
- The characters. Who are your main characters and what are they like? What are their defining features and why are they important for the story?
- The unique elements. If you want your novel to be successful, it needs to be distinguished in some important ways; if it’s a carbon copy of books that already exist, nobody will want to read it. What makes your novel unique?
- The impact. What are your readers supposed to walk away with? How is your book supposed to make them feel? What should they be thinking?
Be sure to write these goals down so you can reference them later.
Take a Break
Next, take a break. It’s very hard for us to catch errors in our own work. According to psychologist Tom Stafford, “When we’re proofreading our own work, we know the meaning we want to convey. Because we expect that meaning to be there, it’s easier for us to miss when parts (or all) of it are absent. The reason we don’t see our own typos is because what we see on the screen is competing with the version that exists in our heads.” You can distance yourself from that “version in your head” by spending a few weeks – or even a few months – without working on your book.
Re-Read and Evaluate Your Goals
After this period of time has passed, take a moment to re-read your novel in its entirety while referencing your list of goals. Pay attention to sections that conform to these goals and help you achieve them – as well as points of deviation where your goals falter.
Identify Global Issues and Correct Them
At this point, you’ll be ready to identify “global” issues – problems holding your book back from success on a fundamental level, throughout the story. For example, is there a character throughout the novel who just doesn’t serve much of a purpose? Does the plot take a hard left turn in the third act, compromising your original vision? Take the time to rewrite these accordingly.
Repeat the Process
You’ll likely have to repeat this process a few more times before you iron out all your global issues. Don’t be hard on yourself; this is part of the process.
Get Feedback and Advice
After you have a draft you’re satisfied with on a global level, consider recruiting friends, family members, and other writers to read your work and provide their feedback and advice. They can likely see things in your work that are invisible to you, and they may have suggestions for how to improve it on a global level.
Identify Local Issues and Correct Them
After you’re certain all your global issues have been corrected to a satisfactory extent, it will be time to focus on local issues. These include things like word choice, phrasing, and semantic and grammatical errors. You’ll likely need to comb through the novel a few times to catch all of these, and it may be in your best interest to hire a professional editor to make sure there are no typos in your work.
After you’ve gone through all these steps and you’re absolutely confident in your novel’s integrity, you’ll be ready to print and/or distribute it. There are a variety of options available to you, including reaching out to publishers, but with the tools available online today, it’s remarkably cheap and easy to print your book yourself.