I know many writers think they can get away without revising or editing their work, or don’t know they need to, but trust me; it’s not a step you should try and skip. I’m speaking as somebody that knew nothing about revision or editing when I first started, and I came close to embarrassment.
When I started writing, I had many misguided ideas of what writing a book was really like. For one, I didn’t realize revision was a thing. I finished my first draft (though then, I thought it would be my only draft) and thought it was ready. I had finished my book! I didn’t know a thing about editing, either. I wasn’t connected to other writers. I did some spelling and grammar checks on my own, then had my mother–yes, you read that right–do the same. And…I thought that was it. We logged onto CreateSpace, and started designing the cover ourselves. We ordered our proof copy, without any further changes to the manuscript.
That copy we received was an eyeopener. The book was unfinished. There were formatting problems, it was too short, and most of all, there were many issues with the plot, characters, etc. I didn’t even realize the extent of how much work it needed at the time, but I knew I couldn’t publish. I needed to do a lot more work. Now, with a few years more experience, I can’t believe I came so close to publishing the first draft.
I’m not someone that did everything right, telling you all the steps. I’m somebody that came close to publishing without revision or editing, and wants to forewarn you. Publishing a first draft is like forgetting to put on pants and going out in public. You don’t want that, and neither does the public.
Revision happens after you finish your first draft. Revising is taking your story and making necessary changes/additions to the actual story (not the grammar, spelling, etc.). This is what you do when creating second, third, fourth drafts, and so on. One revision you make could be eliminating a plot-hole, removing an unnecessary character, adding descriptions, etc. You can revise your first draft before showing the manuscript to your Beta Readers (yes, you need those) and you should do so after receiving their comments. It may take three drafts or nine drafts before your revising has finished, but it must be done.
A major part of revision is adding or eliminating content. For example, over-writers will need to cut down their word-count by eliminating redundancies, unnecessary words, etc. An underwriter, such as myself, will have to increase their word count by creating new content and expanding on the old.
Editing is where you remove spelling, grammar, punctuation errors–things unrelated to your actual story. I can’t stress just how crucial proper editing is. Readers are reading a story to be transported, to feel something, to enjoy it. An unedited piece of writing, that otherwise might have been excellent, won’t deliver on any of this. If your reader has to work to understand what you’re saying, that’s what it’s going to feel like. Work. A reader can’t be lost in the words if they’re stuck trying to restructure your sentences, or get past misspelled words.
You should do self-edits on your manuscript, as well as professional. Self-edits should take place before giving your manuscript to Beta Readers, and before sending your manuscript to professional editors. Please note: a professional edit is a necessity. Use somebody that has made a career in editing manuscripts, not your cousin that happens to be an English teacher.
Publishers and Self-Publishing
If you go traditional publishing route, an unedited or unrevised manuscript will send you into the reject pile.
Anyone can self-publish, which means nobody is going to tell you not to publish that unedited story. You’ll end up with bad ratings, even if your story is great. I think this is most of the reason the self-publishing market often seems so saturated with unfinished, lower-quality books. The authors aren’t bad writers, they just didn’t know editing was so critical, and nobody ever told them, so their story gets drowned out by mistakes. Don’t let that be you.
Beta Readers will provide helpful feedback on your novel. They will help you to revise. That doesn’t mean you should hand them an unedited, unrevised manuscript. You should revise to the best of your ability alone first, do some self-edits, and then hand it over to your Beta Readers. They are helping you out, so you want to make it as easy as possible for them.
As a reader, I find it almost rude when I see an unedited book. You should want to do your best for your readers. You wouldn’t wear an unironed, wrinkled shirt to a job interview, right? Your reader doesn’t need to read your book–the employer doesn’t need to hire you–but, you need them. Even if it’s a nice shirt, or story, the reader/employer is still going to think you’re a slob when it’s not been cleaned up. The reader has lots of other books to choose from, and you need to make the best impression possible. So, respect that their time and interest is invaluable, and edit the book.
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With all of this in mind, go out and write your masterpiece!