Writing A Book: What Happens After The First Draft?

Many new writers are confused about what happens after you have managed to get the first draft out of your head and onto the page.

manuscriptI joined NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) this year and ended up with 27,774 words on a crime novel, the first in a new series. It’s not an entire first draft but it’s a step in the right direction and the plotting time was sorely needed.

Maybe you ‘won’ NaNo or maybe you have the first draft of another book in your drawer, but we all need to take the next step in the process in order to end up with a finished product.

Here’s my process, and I believe it’s relevant whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction.

(1) Rewriting and redrafting. Repeat until satisfied.

For many writers, the first draft is just the bare bones of the finished work and often no one will ever see that version of the manuscript. Remember the wise words of Anne Lamott in ‘Bird by Bird’ “Write shitty first drafts.” You can’t edit a blank page but once those words are down, you can improve on them.

editing arkane

My rewrites and edits for Pentecost

I love the rewriting and redrafting process. Once I have a first draft I print the whole thing out and do the first pass with handwritten notes. I write all kinds of notes in the margins and scribble and cross things out. I note down new scenes that need writing, continuity issues, problems with characters and much more. That first pass usually takes a while. Then I go back and start a major rewrite based on those notes.

After that’s done, I will print again and repeat the process, but that usually results in fewer changes. Then I edit on the Kindle for word choice. I add all the changes back into Scrivener which is my #1 writing and publishing tool.

(2) Structural edit/ Editorial review

I absolutely recommend a structural edit if this is your first book, or the first book in a series. A structural edit is usually given to you as a separate document, broken down into sections based on what is being evaluated.

I had a structural edit for Pentecost in 2010 and reported back on that experience here. As the other ARKANE novels follow a similar formula, I didn’t get structural edits for Prophecy and Exodus. However, I will be getting one for the new crime novel when it is ready because it is a different type of book for me.

Here’s how to vet an independent editor if you are considering one.

(3) Revisions

When you get a structural edit back, there are usually lots of revisions to do, possibly even a complete rewrite. This may take a while …

(4) Beta readers

Beta readers are a trusted group of people who evaluate your book from a reader’s perspective. You should only give them the book if you are happy with it yourself because otherwise it is disrespectful of their time.

This could be a critique group, although I prefer a hand-picked group of 5 or 6 who bring different perspectives. I definitely have a couple of people who love the genre I am writing in as they will spot issues within the boundaries of what is expected, and then some people who consider other things.

My main rule with beta readers is to make changes if more than one person says the same thing. Click here for more on beta readers.

(5) Line edits

Editors Notes Exodus

Line editor’s notes for Exodus

The result of line editing is the classic manuscript covered in red ink as an editor slashes your work to pieces!

You can get one of these edits before or after the beta readers, or even at the same time. I prefer afterwards as I make broader changes of the book based on their opinions so I want the line editor to get the almost final version.

Line edits are more about word choice, grammar and sentence structure. There may also be comments about the narrative itself but this is a more a comment on the reading experience by someone who is skilled at being critical around words.

The first time you get such a line edit, it hurts. You think you’re a writer and then someone changes practically every sentence. Ouch.

But editing makes your book stronger, and the reader will thank you for it.

(6) Revisions

You’ll need to make more changes based on the feedback of the beta readers and line editor. This can sometimes feel like a complete rewrite and takes a lot of detailed time as you have to check every sentence.

I usually make around 75% of the changes suggested by the line editor, as they are usually sensible, even though I am resistant at first. It is important to remember that you don’t have to change what they ask for though, so evaluate each suggestion but with a critical eye.

(7) Proof-reading

By this point, you cannot even see any mistakes you might have made. Inevitably, your corrections for line editing have exposed more issues, albeit minor ones.

So before I publish now, I get a final read-through from a proof-reader. (Thanks Liz at LibroEditing!) After Prophecy was published, I even got an email from a reader saying congratulations because they had failed to find a single typo. Some readers really do care, for which I am grateful and that extra investment at the end can definitely pay off in terms of polishing the final product.

(8) Publication

Once I have corrected anything minor the proof-reading has brought to light, I will Compile the various file formats on Scrivener for the ebook publishing platforms. I will then back the files up a number of times, as I have done throughout the whole process.

(9) Post-publication

This may be anathema to some, but the beauty of ebook publishing is that you can update your files later. If someone finds a typo, no problem. If you want to update the back matter with your author website and mailing list details, no worries. If you want to rewrite the whole book, you can do that too (although some sites have stricter rules than Amazon around what is considered a new version.)

time and moneyBudget: Time and money

Every writer is different, and there are no rules.

But in terms of time, your revision process will likely take at least as long as the first draft and probably longer (unless you’re Lee Child who just writes one draft!). For my latest book, Exodus, the first draft took about 3 months and the rewriting process took about 6 months.

In terms of money, I would budget between $500 – $2000 depending on what level of editing you’re looking for, and how many rounds. You can find some editors I have interviewed as well as their prices here.

I believe editing at all these different stages is important, because it is our responsibility to make sure our books are the best they can be. But if you can’t afford professional editing, then consider using a critique group locally or online. The more eyes on the book before it goes out into the world, the better.

What’s your editing process?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. Do you have a similar approach or something completely different?

Top image: BigStockPhoto old spanish manuscript, Bigstockphoto time and money

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  1. Robert Williams says

    Hi Joanna

    I have been a writer for a long time. I have published a small-town magazine where I live. I was also a journalist in the Army but I have never published a book. I just completed my second draft and did notice a lot of errors and had quite a few add-ins. I have enjoyed reading your suggestions but I do have one question. How can I be sure someone won’t steal my idea. Thank you for what you do for new authors. Robert.

  2. Mirna says

    Hi Joanna,
    I love how much information you have for people like me that have so many ideas in mind but don’t know where to start. After reading your blogs I feel excited to know which direccion to head on next. My question is, where can you direct me if I want to do a novel in both, English and Spanish? It would be easier to do everything in English and after Im all done with final drafts and editing, can I just take that novel somewhere and have someone translate it?
    Thank you

    • says

      Hi Mirna, you can hire freelance translators for your books but I don’t have any contacts in this area. You can also sell foreign rights / translation rights and keep the English rights – there are lots of options now. All the best!

  3. Dink Thomas says

    Thanks Joanna
    I’ve only just recently finished my first ever first draft. I’m lucky to have a good friend who used to be an editorial jounialist and the book reviewer for the newspaper we both work at. She recently retired and said with the time she now had on hand she would help with doing the editing. When I sent her the before mentioned first draft she said “Great now the real hard work starts.” I was a bit dumbfouned because I hard already worked really hard to write my first draft. After just reading your information on editing I now see where she is coming from. Thanks for the insight it is a great help.
    BTW I have very low expectations with my first book, if I can get one person to read it (not counting my girlfriend) I will be very satisfied with my efforts.
    Cheers Dink

  4. says

    I loved reading through your steps. I’m currently going through my 3rd draft and it has been very time consuming. I remember the butterflies I felt when I finished the first draft, and you’re right it was bare bones. A structure with potential and I’ve since been writing, re-writing, sending it to betas and then re-writing some more. I can’t believe how much time goes into each draft. I started writing my book after I graduated college and here I am, two years later…still writing. Which is what I should be doing now but I googled ‘Well known writers redraft their books a lot’, and came across your blog. But I’m still writing…kind of lol. I’m glad to know I’m on the right course, and hope one day it will lead to a finished draft. Thank you for your article

  5. James says

    Hello Joanna,

    I have written a few novels but have not published them. I agree with everything you said about what has to be done after the first draft of a book is completed. I am also a teacher and one day the school principal brought a well known local writer into my class and told the students about a new book he just published. After the presentation someone asked him which draft was the most time consuming and I was surprised to hear him tell the class that he writes his 450 page novels a section at a time; that he doesn’t write in drafts. How can that be?

    • says

      Every writer is different, but some writers refine each part, so mini drafts of each part, rather than writing the whole thing and redrafting the whole thing. Some authors have written so many books that they have internalized the process, but many of them read and edit yesterday’s work before they start today’s. I would also say that some writers still like to keep the writing process a mystique – whereas I am of the community that shares everything and tries to make it accessible. Basically, there are no rules – and who cares, as long as the finished product is worth reading … and for me, and most others, that means multiple drafts and edits.

  6. jenaiya fuller says

    Hi im am 14 yrs old. My name is jenaiya. I am writing a book about the teenage Christian life. I will be done by the beginning of November. I have a question though. After it is typed, where do I send it? Is it expensive? How long does this process take? Can you please break it down for me because I don’t really understand.

  7. Hilda Hatter says

    Hello Joanna – I have been writing monthly publications for a magazine since 1992. In 1999, friends and readers suggested I write a book about the stories found in the magazine. Over a 22 month period I compiled and expanded upon the stories, printed drafts and edited and the whole nine yards. The non-fiction book was self-published in Sep 2004. It was professionally edited by a writer friend, copyrighted and is registered with the Library of Congress. Now, nine years later I am sorting through all the paperwork of drafts. What do I keep to prove I am the author of this book? The book is in a pdf form for the printer; I have a copy at this point. I started a small home business to sell the book and all records are kept in a safe place should I ever be audited. Question: what portion of the book do I keep for future reference? Do I keep the original draft before the book was sent to the publisher for printing? I look forward to receiving your expertise in this matter. Thank you in advance for your comments.

  8. says

    Thank you for the images! This may sound silly, but I began crossing out, rewriting, making notes on my manuscript and became frustrated. I figured this was not for me because I have so much ‘wrong’ with my writing. I was close to giving it up.

    I know that editing is part of the process, but seeing your line edits that look like my line edits I have hope for myself.

    I meant that as a compliment, you definitely helped me return to writing.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Kateri Maloney

  9. says

    Hi, I am seventy one and writing my first book so far I have done 22,000 words and the same amount if not more will complete my story. I am at the stage where Proof-Reading will take place very soon. Should I type the 22,oo0 words again prior to releasing my work to the Proof-Reader? thank you. Irene.

  10. Krista Frasier says

    Hi, I’m a ninth grade student doing a research project and my research project is about what comes after the writing of a story. If you would help me with more sources I can use to write this paper besides your wonderful information, I would be grateful.

    Thank you,

  11. Norton says

    I use Scrivener and am at that point in the process where I want to compile my book. Having written, edited, proof read and so on I am confronted with the concept of page layout. It seems I have to learn a whole new set of skills to get my book into a format that is readable. As an example I have a included several illustrations. When I compile they are not located centrally on the page and the text describing them is messy.

    My question is what method do you use to take all those crafted words from Scrivener and have them looking their best on the page so that the entire package of cover, words, and pictures looks immaculate?

  12. Pinkode says

    Hi Joanna, I’ve just completed the 5th draft of my WIP which I began two years ago. I’ve sent to readers (beta and nonbeta) and they gave good feedbacks. But I’m a college student and don’t really have the cash for an expert editor. I was wondering if I could try my luck by pitching to an agent or wait till I have the cash for an expert editor.

  13. says

    I just completed a structural edit and my manuscript is with my agent. Have to admit it feels good when you are done. Not looking forward to Line edits, they are even scary to look at, eek! Thanks for the post!

  14. says

    I don’t like the rewriting process because if I have to do it, I’ve really screwed up the first draft, in a major way, enough that maybe I need to restart it from scratch and pretend like the original one doesn’t exist.

    I don’t outline, so ideas don’t come into me in order — and that means I have to pay attention to the flow of the story as I create the first draft. I’m always moving back and forth, dropping this idea there or rearranging something. At one point I did the “Don’t revise until you get to the end,” and that was the utter worst for me because the story was out of order and salvageable. Now, I do all the work in the first draft, then it’s a fast edit to clean up anything that got in and doesn’t need to be. A beta, a little more house cleaning, and then a proofreading.

  15. Nichole Payne says

    Hello, I have a question regarding publishing this is my first time writing and I wanted to know what would be the best route to go for a children” s book? thank you

  16. says

    I formatted my draft myself and sent it to the publishing company.But the order of titles and subtitles changes or messed up.It will somehow once I change it into pdf and send it.What should I do in order that the publishing company may find it in good order ? Thank you in advance for your advice.Can you forward me your answer thru my email please ? I thank you in advance.Bekele

  17. Dana says


    Brilliant article here, this will help me out a lot.

    I am 16 years old and have started writing my first draft of my psychological horror novel.

    So far I am on 10,500 words. Iam currently writing it at slow pace and I want to speed it up, how many words are recommended that I do a day?

    • Joanna Penn says

      Everyone has a different practice – so there are no rules. For example, I don’t write every day all the time. I write 5 days a week in first draft phase, which is where you are. I try to write between 500 – 2500 words per day – which takes 1-3 hours usually. I don’t outline, which many writers do and it will make your process quicker. Check out some of the books here for more help http://www.thecreativepenn.com/books-for-writers/


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