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How to Edit Your Novel

Completing your novel is a momentous achievement. After months (or years) of hard work and sacrifice, your first impulse might be to start submitting it willy-nilly—time is of the essence, right? In reality, you shouldn’t even think about sending your novel to an agent or publisher (or publishing it yourself) before you’ve put it through the vetting process multiple times.

These guidelines from The Beginning Writer’s Answer Book will help you revise your novel and prepare it for publication:

 How to Edit Your Novel

The process of editing is one each writer develops on his own, through experience, trial and error. There is no definite number of drafts you should write before you can consider the manuscript finished. There are, however, some techniques that will probably prove helpful.

First of all, if your schedule allows it, set the work aside for a few days. After the writing has had a chance to cool, errors and awkward phrases will jump out. Once you do look at the work, try to cut it. Eliminate anything that isn’t essential, as well as redundancies, irrelevancies, statements that are too obvious, unnecessary words, and circumlocutions. (Don’t worry about being too brutal; you can always put material back.)

Let the material rest again (for at least an hour or two), then read it aloud. This is probably the best way to discover awkward phrasings. If you stumble over something, fix it. Reading aloud also can tell you where you’ve cut too drastically, damaging the rhythm of the piece.

Assess the logical order of the remaining elements. Some writers use highlighters or colored pens to color-code the work’s major elements to make sure the structure best suits the point they’re trying to make. Next, check your word choices. Look for imprecise verbs and weak nouns that require too many modifiers. Finally, check for consistency of verb tense, verb agreement, punctuation errors, and misspellings.

It is possible to overedit. If, for example, you find yourself rewriting everything over and over (and never actually submitting your work), you might be using editing as a means of avoiding potential rejection. Most writers, though, are far more likely to be hurt by too little editing than too much.

 Tips for Avoiding Rejection

As you edit your novel, look for the weaknesses that most often cause rejection: unsympathetic or flat characters, unrealistic dialogue, slow pacing, a boring beginning, lack of voice, and bad or clichéd writing. You’re probably wondering: How do I know if I have flat characters or a slow pace or any of these weaknesses? Show your manuscript to people you can trust to give their honest opinion, and if they all give you the same criticism, that’s a red flag.

One last option is to attend a writing conference or workshop that offers a session or course on revision. Sometimes these sessions are very interactive and feature hands-on editing; other times they’re lecture-based. Either way, they can help you spot and understand your weaknesses in a fraction of the time it would take you working alone.

These resources from Writer's Digest will help you polish your manuscript to perfection:

Workshop: Revision & Self-Editing course from Writer's Digest University

Book: From First Draft to Finished Novel by Karen S. Wiesner, published by Writer's Digest Books.

On-Demand Webinar: Book Publishing Options Today: What's Right for You, with author Kelly James-Enger.

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