Do you struggle with editing? Me too. Editing was my frenemy until I learned about layered editing from Rachael Herron. Read on for my lessons learned.

Recently I found myself deep in editing for the second novel in a sci-fi trilogy.

In May 2018, I attended the Sell More Books Show Summit in Chicago where author Rachael Herron spoke about revising your novels. She asked the audience, “How many of you hate editing?”

I slowly raised my hand, glanced around, and saw I wasn’t alone! Herron went on to say she hoped to change our minds. Her mission: to convince us that editing is not only the most important part of writing but also the most fun. 

Despite being skeptical, I listened with an open mind. She taught us the concept of layered editing. 

In first draft mode, you’re writing as fast as you can: get black on white, fill your blank screen with text, and stuff story into all the chapters of your Scrivener doc.

First drafting is your hustle mode. Editing is when you put on your reader goggles. 

Next comes the dreaded phase of editing which Herron proclaims is actually FUN.

Her revision process includes several layers of edits:

1. Setting – Do the places in your book come to life? 

2. Character description – What details do you share? Is it enough for the reader to form an idea of your characters?

3. Character voice – You don’t want all your characters to sound like you, right?

4. Emotional/visceral feeling pass – What do you want readers to feel in each chapter?

5. Dialog tag pass – Search on “said” and see whether you can remove unnecessary dialog tags.

6. Lyrical pass – Tighten up your prose line by line.

Only when you’ve gone through all these stages should you attempt to do a final read through and ship the manuscript off to your editor. 

If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. But what’s the alternative? You hand over a shitty draft to your editor and piss him or her off. Not good.

edit a novel

Rachael Herron at the 2018 Sell More Books Show

I applied Rachael Herron’s layered editing on my second novel. To my pleasant surprise, I had more success this time muddling through the editing phase. I credit Herron’s method completely. 

Here’s what worked for me (How To Edit A Novel):

1. I started a new Scrivener doc and saved it with the date (and backed it up on my Google drive).

2. To keep me on track and hold me to my deadline, I created an editing task list which you see below.

edit a novel

My self-editing task list. Guess what? I made my deadline!

Knowing exactly what I had to do each day kept me from procrastinating. If you’re a productivity nerd like me, estimate the time required for each stage and then compare to your actual time. Constant improvement is important in the author business. 

3. I printed my full outline and also the full-length manuscript. I read through chapter-by-chapter. I made light copy edits, but mostly I wanted to compare my outline to what actually happened in the chapters and get those to match.

Based on Herron’s advice, anytime I caught a plot issue such as a weak scene or a character action that didn’t make sense, I jotted it onto a post-it note. 

With each round, I ended up with a pile of post-its that I addressed before moving on.

4. I worked through the task list and tried to meet my deadline. Pretty simple. My goal was to get everything addressed before doing a final read through. 

I recommend your final read be on paper or via e-reader. The important thing is to read it on a medium that’s different from the one you write on. Your brain will catch more errors and you’ll feel more like you’re reading something new.

Most of us don’t have the luxury of time, but if there’s a way you can “rest” your manuscript for a week or even a few days, that may also improve your next revision. 

I’ll be back in a later post to share more about my journey to rapid-release my first sci-fi series. Thanks for reading. I hope this article gave you some helpful takeaways. 

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