Editing: How many drafts do I do?

How many drafts is acceptable when editing a novel?

It's Only A Rough Draft

There appears to be some debate in the editing circles about when the ‘eternal editing cycle’ ends. We certainly want to present our best possible work to the public, so we have to edit ourselves. We cannot present work with too many typos and mistakes – unless it’s artistically designed that way.

We can DIY our novels and make it the best we ourselves know how to make it, then ship it out. This route leads to heartache if we go public too soon. People are cruel with their reviews and will stop reading if you don’t have a quality story, then they will tell you about it.

We have to have others look at it. There seem to be a couple ways to do this. Traditional publishing requires you use an editor and certainly, self-publishers can hire one. This is costly. Traditional publishers will pay the editor for you, but that is on the promise that you sell a lot of copies for them. You have to get an agent and query and get a deal first, which can take years. Self-publishers may hire one, knowing that you get what you pay for. Some are very expensive.

Beta readers or critique partners seem to be the way to go. They will look at your content and offer up grammatical and content editing notes. Each person will find different errors. This is useful in polishing your novel to its final draft. You can put their notes side by side and see what errors they all caught and where their opinions differ.

When do you stop polishing your novel and call it done?

Some writers are never satisfied with their scenes. They look at the conflicting advice and they choose which person might be more right and they try it. They rewrite many times, calling each rewrite a draft.

Tip Number one: Don’t compromise your original vision.

You will make more work for yourself if you like someone else’s idea better but it changes too much of your book. If you really don’t like your book that much, do a complete rewrite and write it like it’s your final draft. Put everything in it. Don’t say “I’ll go back and fix that in draft 2” or “That’s what a second draft is for”, just write one draft.

Tip Number two: Rewrite the offending paragraph below it, with notes near you, then cut the original version out.

Don’t nuke your paragraph, rewrite it and mess up your story even more. Keep it where you can refer to it, then when you have created the replacement, delete it. You can also save older versions or older paragraph pieces in a document to refer back to later. If you are using Google Docs, there is an option to restore to a previous draft.

Tip Number three: Use an outline

If you didn’t outline your story to begin with (planners), then go and write one now that it’s finished (pantsers) and note the awesome tidbits you forgot you wrote that might be loopholes or might solve a problem you have later. For instance, I once wrote that a character had a brother. I forgot that morsel. I could use that later to solve a problem (or create one) and it wouldn’t seem like I threw in a deus ex machina.

Tip Number four: Know when to call it done.

At some point, you simply are going over tiny details that don’t even matter. Whether you are querying for traditional publishing or self-publishing, you have to allow your manuscript to be as good as it is going to be. You are human and you have limits. You will second-guess yourself and that’s when you have to stop.

Option number one is: Wait until a real editor comes along and tells you what to do with it.

Option number two: If you’ve sought outside eyes and they’ve left you good comments and you’ve made your changes, then it’s time to end the endless editing cycle of splitting hairs. Get that book baby out into the world!

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