Step 7: Revise and Edit

    • Revising is NOT an altering of a word here and there.
    • Revising IS a “re-vision,” a re-seeing of the structure, scenes, character, etc.
    • No one’s first draft is perfect. In fact, no matter how well you developed your characters, you’ll find that you really get to know them when writing the first draft. This means that when you go back through the manuscript, you’ll some big changes and other minor changes.
  • TIP—You may not like this tip, but it taught me how to revise. It forced me to cut a lot and only leave the best writing. When you revise, I encourage you to print out the manuscript and “re-type” it from cover to cover, from scratch. Before you shout, “No way!” let me try to convince you through a little story. This happened accidentally for me. I’d taken so long to write Unveiling, that it moved from new computer to new computer a time or two. At one point, my computer crashed. I had copied the novel to a flashdrive, which could not be found. All I had left was a hardcopy. Before I burst into tears, I remembered a true Hemingway story I’d read in Hemingway’s biography:

Before he any of his fiction was published, Hemingway met an editor who wanted to see more of his writing. Hemingway instructed his wife, Hadley, to pack up his writing and bring it with her when she came to meet him. Hadley left the briefcase full of Hemingway’s work on the train while she went to purchase a bottle of water. It was gone when she returned.

In a letter to Ezra Pound, dated January 1923, Hemingway wrote: “I suppose you heard about the loss of my Juvenalia? I went up to Paris last week to see what was left and found that Hadley had made the job complete by including all carbons, duplicates, etc. All that remains of my complete works are three pencil drafts of a bum poem which was later scrapped, some correspondence between John McClure and me, and some journalistic carbons. You, naturally, would say, ‘Good’ etc. But don’t say it to me. I ain’t yet reached that mood.”


Why would Pound say “good,” because he remarked to Hemingway then when he set out to recreate those stories, he would only remember the best of what he had written and leave out the rest.


When forced to “re-type” my entire novel, it made it easy to revise and cut. When I hit a patch that wasn’t worth re-typing, I left it out. When I noticed that I’d said the same thing three different ways, I’d take the best only. When I came across a stinky scene, I completely rewrote it. From that experience, I learned how to re-see the project–and it’s made all of the difference in how I write and how I revise and how I edit. Never again did I re-type an entire manuscript–but I am grateful for the lessons I learned from the experience.

  • Use the editing checklist that follows. Once you’ve revised and revised, and you think it’s stellar, find a few good Beta-readers. Join local writer’s groups that have “critique” groups. DO NOT use your children, spouses or best friends—unless they, too, are novelists. You need fair and honest critiques of how to improve the text. What’s working and what isn’t working. If you’re worried about protecting your work, you can find basic literary non-disclosure agreements on-line. I do not recommend copyrighting until you’re manuscript is letter-perfect, because you can only copyright a book one time. In order to re-copyright it, you have to make major, major changes. This is informative only—I offer no legal advice—so go to the copyright office (a link is listed under the References tab on this website).
  • Developmental editing critiques story structure, character arc, consistency of dialogue for various characters, plotting, and more. If you feel weak here, hire a developmental editor to evaluate your story. If you feel that you’ve followed the steps above and your story is solid, move to Line Editing. Note: Shop around. Developmental editors will try to charge a few hundred to a few thousand. Don’t go broke—find someone with a solid reputation and within your budget. They’re out there.
  • Line editing is a check of grammar usage, punctuation consistency, name-place spelling consistency, and typos. A line-editor goes through a manuscript a line at a time and annotates the text, suggesting corrections. The author must “accept” or “reject” the changes one-at-a-time or all of them (the latter I don’t recommend). If you are a poor speller or have bad habits of mixing up “there” and “their” or you lack confidence in the final polishing, then hire a line-editor. This is not as crucial if you’re going to search for an agent, but it is a “have to” if you’re self-publishing. I am super at spelling and grammar—but I hire line-editors for the final polishing, since I miss bits in my own writing (can’t see the forest for the proverbial trees). Again, this can run a range of costs, so do your due diligence. More expensive is not always better. It’s just more expensive.


Editing Checklist:

  • Use “strong” and “appropriate” active verb
  • Use passive voice only when and where needed
  • Remove overused words: looked, saw, was, were, has, had, have been, got
  • Remove numbers–say it another way
  • Check for strong specific details
  • Check for strong sensory details
  • Beware of “information dumps” and remove them or find a way to weave the information into an active scene from your character’s POV
  • Revise–meaning re-see; cut ruthlessly–every wasted and weak word must go; it will speed up the pace
  • Make sure each scene invokes emotional impact and connects readers  (take out overly-emotional characters)

Beta Readers:

When you feel your manuscript is ready for publication (trust me–it’s still not ready)–find 2 or 3 Beta-Readers. A Beta-Reader is someone with a good eye who will critique your manuscript (ruthlessly). A relative, spouse or best friend cannot be a Beta-Reader. Where to find Beta-Readers:

1. Join a writer’s group in your area and get to know the members. Many writers groups have “critique” groups, where you can exchange chapters and get a free exchange of ideas. This is good for small sections or short stories, but find a few willing literary souls who will commit to read your entire manuscript. Two of my Beta-Readers are fellow authors, and a third is an avid reader. Writers groups are a wealth of information and, since writing is a lonely business, a place to share your passion for writing.

2. There is a Beta-Reader group on I have not used this group, so check it out (and send me feedback, please). Goodreads consists of avid readers, and I was happy to see they have a Beta-Reader group. This is an asset to authors. I have friends who also obtain book reviews from Goodreads members. There are also individual groups split by genre or reading interest. So, if you’re writing a historical novel, check out Goodreads historical novels groups. You cannot self-promote your books on Goodreads–it is not there for your advertising purposes. Show respect and read the rules before participating in any group. Goodreads Beta Readers group.

Revise Again

It’s time to revise the manuscript yet again, using the information you learned from your Beta Readers. Take the time to polish your gem. It’s a diamond, and you want every facet to shine, not submit a cloudy stone that has great potential.



First, why do you need an editor? Because a writer cannot see the forest for the trees when it comes to his or her own work. And because no matter how much we know about grammar and English, we make mistakes that others will catch. As a developmental editor, I do not need developmental editing, but I always use professional copy editors. NOTE: If you are planning to go the “Traditional Publication” route (described in the next article), the agent (sometimes) and/or publisher (always, if it’s a large press) will edit your work. Be careful–some agents may suggest editors to you, and ask you to pay for them. Some agents are now working with authors to self-publish, too, and they may ask you to pay for editors. Know what costs are up front. Again, costs cover a wide range, so do your homework. On the other hand, if an agent accepts your novel and represents you, and that agent sells the novel to a publisher, the editor at the publishing house (if it is a large press) will work with you on cleanup (as part of their services they provide to authors whose books they purchase).

There are two types of editing: 1) Substantive or Developmental Editing and 2) Copy or Line Editing.

Substantive or Developmental Editing: An good developmental editor is like a super-Beta-Reader. He or she has literary training, and the manuscript will be read with an eye to craft (characterization, plot development, pacing, dialogue, etc.) This editor will help you develop the story.

Copy or Line Editing: A copy editor should know the Chicago Manual of Style. This editor does not help with the story. He or she marks the manuscript to prepare it for publication (spelling consistency of character and place names, fact checking, catches typos or glaring mishaps in punctuation and grammar). Do not use a copy editor until you are ready to go to press. The copy editor will normally provide you with a “Style Sheet” showing words/names/place names. Example–if you used the word “blonde” did you spell it “blonde” or “blond” throughout the manuscript?

Go to Step 8: Traditional vs Self-Publishing


  1. Great advice, Sandra! Worth coming back to again and again.
    While retyping is a nightmare (that’s why I kept my typed dissertation in the freezer in grad school…for fear of fire in an old bldg. in an old part of Philly), it obviously has a payoff. Kinda like eatin spinach as a kid?

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