OLD POST ALERT! This is an older post and although you might find some useful tips, any technical or publishing information is likely to be out of date. Please click on Start Here on the menu bar above to find links to my most useful articles, videos and podcast. Thanks and happy writing! – Joanna Penn
As authors I believe it is our responsibility to make our books the best they can be.
As independent (indie) authors it's even more important to produce an excellent book because of the widespread criticism about the lack of quality. I've just sent my second novel Prophecy (re-published in 2015 as Crypt of Bone) to my beta readers and in this video [5:55 mins], I explain my process of drafting and edits.
In the video, I explain:
- How I have just sent Prophecy to my beta readers and how some people don't consider the full extent of editing, rewriting and beta readers in the timing of their publishing schedule
- The first draft to me is when you can read end to end with no missing bits or [must research this] [put fight scene here] etc. You should be able to read it end to end as a story. I print this version out and read it in entirety.
- I do a big structural edit at this stage. I rewrite scenes, restructure and delete sections (Here I explain why deleting 20,000 words is sometimes necessary). I added in bits I missed as well as foreshadowing and other layers to make it a better read. After this big second draft, I print it out again.
- In this 3rd draft, I line edit, change repetitive language, fix typos etc to create a clean draft for beta readers.
- Beta readers will read the book as if they bought it and give me feedback and comments. Importantly they will also mention anything that jolts them out of the ‘fictive dream'. My 7 beta readers are a mix of professional writers but also my family whose criticism is sometimes hard to take. We need thick skins in this business! They have 2.5 weeks to read and provide feedback.
- Then I will make changes based on feedback. It won't be everything mentioned but if there are commonalities I will fix these issues. It won't be a complete rewrite but it will be a tidy up at this point which will create the final draft.
- I will then submit to a copy-editor/proof-reader who check the grammar & typos in the final version so it is as professional as possible.
- These things take time but it is critical that you put the best version of your book up for sale. I personally hate the accusations of bad quality that is laid on self-publishers these days. There's no excuse for it!
Tiffany Fulton says
I’m so glad that you posted this information, Joanna. I am in the midst of the editing process right now. One person who I submitted the first draft of my work in progress has finished editing it and sent it back to me and I’m so nervous what they found. I also discovered an error with a verb that I used at the end of a sentence after I sent the draft off for editing! LOL This is a very important step for writers. Much appreciated!
Joanna Penn says
Hi Tiffany, well done for letting someone else critique your book. It’s a tough step but it’s got to be done. I don’t think a problem with a verb is that big a deal – that’s what the copyedit step is for and someone can help you with that. I think beta readers should be giving larger scale feedback around story structure, where they stopped reading, that type of thing. If they had bought this book, would they be happy or what was wrong with it? I hope you found the feedback useful but remember to balance it with your own thoughts and also those of other people. Having 4 or more beta readers is good because you can see patterns. Not every one will like your book after all – and that’s ok!
This was just what I needed to read today, I’m feeling very reassured! Purely by accident my plan exactly follows your suggestions. It just seemed right to me to do it this way.
I’ve finished the first draft, very rough but the whole story is there. Now I’ve identified all the things which worry me, so at the moment I’m jumping around and adding in scenes where things dont make sense or re-writing scenes that need to be stronger. I’m trying not to fuss too much with issues of style but getting it as good as I can.
After the third pass to polish the writing, I’ll have to get some beta readers. That is my big worry at the moment, as the writers I know personally are not a good “fit” and I really dont want to ask family or close friends. I’m quite nervous of the idea of beta readers but I know if I find the right ones, that will make such a difference.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Masha, for my first novel I used friends and acquaintances who had read books in a similar genre, so they weren’t writers. Now I know more people so I can ask writers but to be honest, readers in your genre is a great place to start.
Suzy Turner says
For my first book, Raven, I got about 5 or 6 friends (who also happen to be in journalism / editing) to read the book for me before giving it to another close friend who just happens to a school teacher. I didn’t use a professional editor because I just couldn’t afford one!
I think they all did a pretty good job of it. My second book, December Moon, I had read by my teacher friend before I paid a copy editor to do it.
For my third book, The Lost Soul (which I am writing at the moment), I’m looking for a few other beta readers to read it before my friends and teacher get their hands on it!
Raven is free on Amazon now, by the way and it’s in the Top 100!! I’m delighted!!
Joanna Penn says
That’s fantastic Suzy, I’m thinking of doing free when I have a few more novels to sell as sequels. The way you’ve done editing is also a great way to start & as you say, you have moved into using pros.
Christopher Wills says
Thanks for this post; it’s fascinating reading how other writers edit. After I have sorted the structure, story and characters I use two techniques for my final edits.
First I read my novel aloud. For some reason this helps me spot mistakes but also it helps me pick up on sentences that don’t flow. If I can’t say it easily I change it.
Second I use delay. This is hard because it is so easy and quick to self publish but as you say it is critical to get your best version up for sale. The longer I can leave my novel between writing and editing the more objective I am. To see if this is true for you, read something you wrote years ago, possibly on a notebook when you were toying with the idea of writing full time. If you can spot mistakes or improvements, you will benefit from using delay as part of your edit process.
I find that writing another book whilst the edited one is in delay helps. Then you kind of leapfrog over the books, making sure that each book always has a delay before a final edit. 🙂
Joanna Penn says
Hi Christopher, thanks for this. There’s an in-built delay naturally by using beta-readers. By having 3 weeks between giving it to them and getting it back, I get some rest time. Funny enough, I am back at the library tomorrow working on research for novel #3 so I’m moving on as you say!
How do you rope people in as beta readers? I am in a critique group, but they are seeing the MS chapter by chapter.
Joanna Penn says
Hi Lucy, for my first book, I just asked friends who like the type of books that Pentecost is similar to. So these are not writers, just friends who read. I also had an English teacher read it, but I also paid for a pro edit earlier in the process. To me a beta read should be as if they have bought it, so not the same as critique groups reading chapter by chapter. I don’t write in a linear fashion so it wouldn’t make sense to me to do that anyway.
Clare Price says
Joanna, thanks so much for this post. I have been following this process for my novel and getting lots of push back from self-pub friends that say I don’t need to do all the revising and editing I’m doing. Everyone of them is getting a link to your post. 🙂 This is my first novel so I may be doing more than most. Here’s my process: hired a brilliant young editor and we are doing three revs — two plot/character revs and one sentence structure rev. My 8 beta readers are getting the manscript after the first plot/character rev so their comments can be incorporated into the two remaining revs. Finally I have another person who will do a line copy edit. Then I will get the book into production. I beleive self-published books should have the same standards applied as traditional books and both readers and authors will benefit from the new publishing options. Love your Blog!
Andrea Bandle says
Very helpful advice. Novice writers, though should be aware that it’s best to have someone else do the content edit, as they may have structure issues that either they are not aware of, or are uncertain how to resolve. Unfortunately, taking these shortcuts in either editing or cover art is what often creates the unprofessional self published books that can put a damper on the industry.
Liz Broomfield says
As an editor, I’m glad to see people all extolling the virtues of using a professional editor. Not because I want to make more money out of hapless authors, but because the image of especially self-published books is bad editing, and it puts a lot of people off. I get people talking to me about this all the time (I don’t know whether they think I’m responsible for all editing in all books, or something!) and it really does put people off. So an investment in editing at the beginning may well garner word of mouth recommendations (I’m not the only person who mentions the editing in my book reviews) and more sales in the long run – it will certainly be better for your reputation.
If I may say so here, it’s worth asking editors you talk to if they offer special rates for individuals who are self-publishing their books. Many of us will do this, and also get a quotation up-front for editing per-word, then you’ll know how much you’re going to spend. Also check if they are doing a line edit or a substantive edit which identifies plot holes, issues with characters, etc. If you’ve got a good group of beta readers, you may be able to get away with a line-edit.
Good luck with your books, everyone! It’s a privilege to see into the writing process.
laura Reese says
Hiring a freelance editor is a necessity! It not only gives you a different perspective, but it opens you up to new ideas, and gives you a much-needed breather from the work that you (as an author) are so close to!
Liz – I appreciate you offering your advice! I know that hiring a professional can be a daunting task and is a substantial investment. A special rate would be much appreciated!
Liz Broomfield says
Hi Laura – I hope I make it as un-daunting as I can – working a great deal with authors and with people who are not native English speakers, I am extremely aware of the struggles people have to express themselves and their fears about being “shown up” or crticised. I stay professional but, I hope, kind at all times and remain very respectful of the effort my clients have put into their work – whether it’s a novel or a PhD.
This is the best summary I have read or heard about the process. Great Job and Thanks.
laura Reese says
Thanks Liz! And equally important is for authors to be open to comments. There’s nothing better than a fresh pair of eyes on a page 🙂
Victor Paul Scerri says
It’s so nice to hear from people who talk straight from the heart. W all need help, one way or another. For the most of us, we are busy in our own little worlds and would love a free helping hand. It’s healthy to feel unsure in our search for perfection, but the truth is, we often can’t afford to pay for it. We all have our fears. Mine is in the way I mix narrative with dialogue. We are all unique and to find a writer who writes in any way similar is sometime daunting. Hence, without that extra pare of eyes we don’t feel rewarded with awareness. I don’t have time in my schedule to read pages of manuscripts but if writers were prepared to share their first manuscript page and pass it on wouldn’t that be a cool thing to do?
Rick Crawford says
I’m trying to cut a manuscript to make it the right length for the age group I’m targeting. It has been a great exercise. But what do you cut when it’s as bare as you can make it?
Joanna Penn says
When it’s as good as you can make it – that’s when you hire an editor 🙂
Rinelle Grey says
That’s basically the process I’m working through with editing. Starting with the big picture, working out what I want the story to say, and making sure it says it, that my characters are likeable and consistent. I don’t have a lot of beta readers (most of my friends are parents, and don’t have a lot of time for reading), but I did get a professional critique, and it’s been really helpful. I’ll probably go professional again for a line edit once I’m sure the story is everything I want it to be.
Hannah Scott says
Hi Joanna, my name is Hannah, I am a freshmen and working on a book. I was wanting to know if you have any advice you could give me. M y book is about three kids and thier mom in a war zone. I have watched your video and picked up a few things I need to do, butI was wondeing how to make the story come alive to my readers. Can you help?
Joanna Penn says
Hi Hannah, There’s lots more articles in the writing category http://www.thecreativepenn.com/category/writing/ but I also recommend using an editor to refine your book http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2012/12/07/after-first-draft-whats-next/
as an editor will help make the book better e.g. engage readers.
Hi Joanna just want to say thanks for taking the time to help other would be writers, I’m just starting out on my venture or should i say adventure of writing my book.
I have downloaded the Author 2.0 Blueprint so cant wait to read it.
So thanks again