You’ve worked tirelessly to finish that first draft. Now it’s time for editing and revisions, but where do you start? You’re so excited that you want to jump right in — but should you?

Believe it or not, the editing process may take you as long as writing the book. It’s not a simple one-stage process. When you’re ready to learn how to edit a book like professional editors working for Penguin Random House, read on.

Hide Your Manuscript

While you were writing, did you come across plot lines and characters that just weren’t working? When you came back to them a day or a month later, did they suddenly made sense? Well, that was caused by two things.

First, you let your conscious mind relax. You weren’t prodding at the problem, ramming your head against the wall, stuck in an endless creative loop. You allowed your conscious mind to reset.

Second, you gave your unconscious mind the power to take the reins. It’s extraordinarily powerful. It makes connections that your conscious mind could never hope to match.

Cognitive psychologists say that it makes up approximately 95% of our cognitive activity. But, to use that powerful engine, you need to do something counterintuitive. You need to avoid thinking about your book.

When you pick it back up again, you’ll have fresh eyes to dissect your plotlines, characters, and world-building. Tuck it away out of sight for one month. Yep, an entire month.

Learn Before You Edit

You’ve built up a monumental amount of energy, and you’re ready to learn how to edit a novel. Unfortunately, your manuscript is hidden away right now, so you’ll have to wait to learn. Or will you?

Novice editors need to learn a few things before they can edit a book. It’s much like pilots must learn a few things before they can fly a plane. Unfortunately, you think you gained enough proficiency during your English classes to compete with the pros.


You haven’t attained the necessary skills to try your hand at self-editing unless you’ve mastered some rudimentary language skills. Unfortunately, those skills aren’t taught in traditional English classes. You have to seek them out.

While your book rests, start reading some books about the craft. Read Steven Kings, “On Writing.” Pick up William Zinsser’s famous book, “On Writing Well.”

Then jump into “The First Five Pages,” by Noah Lukeman. Move on to “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers,” by Renni Browne. You need to understand your craft before you can produce a work of art.

When you’re finally ready to pick up your manuscript again, understand the principles behind everything from plots to punctuation. What you learned in school only scrapes the surface.

How to Edit a Book for a Middle Grader

Ok, now it’s time to start editing books! Start your journey with a shift in your perspective. This marvelous book of yours isn’t really for you.

You already know what you wrote, don’t you? You remember the amazing plotlines. You remember the steamy scenes and the unforgettable hero.

You don’t need a hundred-thousand words on your laptop to remind you. You know it intimately. You’ve written those words to share with other readers.

Guess what? If you want your book to be a success, you need to edit that book for your readers. And that may be a blow to your ego.

Novel editing is about shaping a journey for your audience.

Your audience needs to feel those plotlines are amazing and that hero was unforgettable. They need to marvel at the magnificent world and cry at the tragic ending. The only way to accomplish that is to reshape your novel for them.

And you need to do it in a way that creates the greatest impact. That means writing it for a middle-grader.

Your story will stay the same, but how you tell the story may change. You may need to shorten your sentences. You might have to cut back on your 10 cent words.

Do you need to simplify your plot or clarify your deeply philosophical question too? Give your work of art the chance to impact the greatest number of readers.

Down and Dirty Editing

Start with the big picture stuff. You’re thinking about how the sections and chapters fit together at this stage of novel editing. You want to know whether big concepts create a cohesive result.

  • Is all your content there?
  • Is it in the proper order?
  • Does the structure and content make sense?

You’ve got to make sure the entire story is on the canvas before you start filling in the finer details.

When you finish, move onto the line edit. This is when you start looking at your writing from a closer perspective. Now you’re thinking about section by section, paragraph by paragraph.

  • What point am I trying to make?
  • What emotions do I intend this scene to impart?
  • Is this clear and simple?
  • Could I make it shorter or more direct?

Finally, move on to the proofreading stage. For this, use the fabulous tools available on the market.

Scribus and Grammarly are two favorites for grammar and punctuation. Hemingway will help you spot your lengthy prose. If money is a problem, you can even use free tools like pdf editor and Draft.

When your program finishes catching all the flaws it can see, go back through and read your entire manuscript aloud. You’ll find countless more issues along the way.

When you finish, it’s time to put your manuscript away for another month. Remember what we said? Editing is a long process.

When you finish the second round of edits, its time to track down alpha readers. Have them read your book and give you feedback.

When you finish that, start on the third round of edits. Then it’s time for beta readers. After two rounds of beta readers and intermittent rewrites, you should be ready to publish.


What’s Next?

Now that you know how to edit a book, it’s time to put your brilliant manuscript in a drawer. Put that boundless energy into learning about your craft. Then you can shape your story for a wider audience.

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