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So you’ve finished your manuscript? Your first instinct may be to celebrate, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a big deal, and you should be proud of yourself.
But you’re not done yet.
After you finish the champagne, the next major step will be to hire a book editor. But you don’t want to jump to this step too early. Before you invest in a professional, there are a few things you need to do: take the time to revise, work with beta readers, and revise some more.
- How to reread your manuscript and take notes about what is and isn’t working
- How to revise your manuscript
- How to find and send your manuscript to beta readers
- Review and apply beta reader feedback
- How to self-edit your manuscript
- Find the right editor
Step 1: Reread and revise your manuscript
After you finish the novel, set it aside for a few days, or maybe even weeks. Give yourself some space from your story. Then, go back and reread it. The time apart can help you see the manuscript with fresh eyes and make it easier to spot glaring issues. You may be tempted to fix things as you go, but try to take notes as you read instead (recording things like page numbers for reference later, or putting comments in the margins). This keeps you focused on the current draft. After you’ve read the whole manuscript, go back through your notes and make any changes.
What to look for:
- Is the central conflict clear from the first few pages?
- Are there chapters (or scenes) where the events don't advance the plot or reveal something about your characters?
- Are you establishing your scenes with descriptions of the setting?
- Do the ends of your chapters propel the readers forward?
Once you’ve targeted the sections of your novel that need improvement, it’s time to dive in. All published authors go through this process, so don’t fret if it takes you a little while to get everything cleaned up.
At this point, it’s a good idea to reread the whole book again and see how your changes impacted the overall story. You may want to repeat this step a few times until you’re happy with the book. There is no exact science here, so trust your gut. When you think the manuscript is ready, move on to the next step.
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Step 2: Give your manuscript to beta readers
Once you’re confident your manuscript is in good shape, seek out a few beta readers to give you objective feedback.
Having someone else read the book is a great way to see how well it resonates with others. Beta readers can find problems you may have missed, whether a character doesn’t feel finished or there’s a loose end that needs to be tied up.
Beta readers, ideally, are not going to be your friends and family. People you know are more likely to sugarcoat their feedback or only offer praise, which feels good but isn’t exactly helpful at this stage. You’re better off finding people you don’t know personally. Look to online resources like Facebook groups, subreddits for writers, or other forums related to your genre, and ask for volunteers. It’s often customary to partner with someone and offer them a beta read for their manuscript in return.
You can ask your beta readers to simply tell you what they thought of the book. But it’s often a good idea to provide a list of questions, especially if there are certain areas of concern you want to address. Not sure what feedback to ask for? Start with broad questions about their overall impression, such as:
- Did you find the protagonist relatable?
- Was the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
- In your own words, how would you describe the setting?
- Was there anything you found unnecessary to understanding the core of the story?
Giving beta readers these questions along with the manuscript will make it easier for them to pay attention to those key areas as they read. Make sure to ask open-ended questions as well as specifics to allow space for issues you may not be aware of to come to light.
When reviewing your beta readers’ feedback, keep an eye out for repetition. If multiple people are bringing up the same things—such as disappointment in the ending or a desire to know more about a particular character—it’s a good sign you may need to work on these areas in your next round of self editing.
Step 3: Revise, revise, revise
After getting your beta reader feedback, it’s time to revise your manuscript yet again. You don’t have to apply every suggestion, but it is good to think about why your readers may have had feedback. You can always ask for more clarification about what stuck out to them.
The idea of beta reading is to step outside your own head and see the book through your readers’ eyes. So try not to reject their feedback outright if it conflicts with your perspective. Instead, apply the feedback by rewriting a scene or two. You may be surprised that it does improve the overall story, or you may find you’re still happy with the original, but at least you’ll know for sure.
Step 4: Final prep before you submit
After all your revisions are done and you’re happy with your manuscript, it’s time to put on your proofreader’s hat. This may seem counterintuitive when the next step will be to hire a professional book editor, but this step is crucial. This revision is going to focus on grammar, typos, and formatting. The idea is to get your writing as technically cleaned up as possible before you pay someone to read it.
No book editor worth their salt expects a manuscript to be in perfect condition the first time the author hands it over, but your editor will want to help you polish your story and make it shine. When you hand over a manuscript riddled with spelling errors, typos, and grammatical errors, your editor is going to have a much harder time assessing the quality of the story.
What to look for:
- Remove extra spaces. (Standard is one space after a period.)
- Use the settings to format all paragraph indents. (Standard is .25 – .5)
- Choose a consistent, appropriate font.
- Select 1.5-2 line spacing.
- Clean up basic mistakes—running the spelling and grammar checker is a must!
Step 5: Submit your manuscript to editors
After you’ve done all of the above, you’re ready to hire an editor. It’s important to find someone who understands your genre and edits and communicates in a way that complements your own process. There are plenty of book editors out there, many of whom specialize in different genres. Kindlepreneur has a comprehensive list of editors to help you start your search.
Don’t be afraid to ask about your editor’s experience, their editing style, whether they’ll be available after they return your manuscript for followup questions (and if they charge for this separately), and any other concerns you may have.
For more information about working with editors, check out the blog over at Invisible Ink Editing.