All books, whether fiction or nonfiction, for print or digital delivery, need editing. If you realize this before you start to write your book you can relax during the writing process, because you know that you’ll fix problems in a later draft.
Although you can hire an editor — if you’re submitting to a major publishing house an editor can be very useful — you should do the editing on the first and second drafts yourself.
This is because you know your book. You know what you want to say, so hiring an editor before your book is ready can cause damage — there’s every chance that you’ll lose your vision for your book.
So, let’s assume you’ve written a first draft, and are ready to edit.
1. Create an Outline from What You’ve Written
Your first step is to read through your book, and create an outline from what you’ve actually written. Create the outline in another document, and print it out.
If you see gaps in the structure where you need material, mark these areas on the draft.
2. Use Index Cards to Rearrange the Structure of Your Book
It’s a rare book which doesn’t need major structural changes. Get a stack of index cards, and if you’re writing fiction, write a sentence for each scene on a card.
Lay the cards out on a large table, or on the floor, and move scenes around.
3. For Fiction: Is There Suspense?
Rearranging your scenes is essential if you’re writing a novel. You don’t want to reveal too much too soon. Your book should keep up suspense until the final page.
4. For Nonfiction: Do You Deliver on Your Promises?
If you’re writing nonfiction, decide whether you deliver on the promises you made in the title, and in your book proposal.
This is easy to miss, believe it or not.
5. Cut Away the Undergrowth
Now you’ve got the structure of the book the way you want it, it’s time to take a machete to the undergrowth. This can be hard, but steel yourself.
If you’re writing fiction, eliminate characters who aren’t necessary. If you’re writing nonfiction, cut everything which doesn’t contribute to what you want the book to deliver to readers.
All done? Great. Now rewrite, tightening as you go.
Once you’ve done the rewrite, you’ve completed your second draft, and your book is close to ready to send out.
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