Monday, July 15, 2013


by Jodie Renner, editor & author

This is one of three popular articles I wrote and took as handouts to the panel I was in called
"How to be a Masterful Editor - of Your Own Work" at Thrillerfest in New York in July 2013.

See the article below, and scroll down for links to the other two related articles on revision, self-editing, cutting word count, and saving on editing costs.

Congratulations! You’ve finally finished the first draft of your novel! Give yourself a huge pat on the back and go out and celebrate! Then put it away for at least two weeks while you concentrate on other things, before going back and starting on revisions.

Here’s a logical, workable approach to the revision process that produces good results:

1. After you’ve finished your first draft, put your story away and concentrate on other things for a few weeks or even a month. Let the story percolate in your subconscious for a while.

2. Meanwhile, share some or all of your story with a critique group or send/give the manuscript to volunteer “beta readers” — smart, savvy people who read a lot of fiction in your genre. Tell them that at this point you’re looking for big issues only — parts where they felt excited, confused, curious, delighted, scared, worried, bored, etc. For suggestions and a list of possible questions, see my blog post, “15 Questions for Your Beta Readers -- and to focus your own revisions” on The Kill Zone blog.

3. After your break of a few weeks or so, collect the reactions of your volunteer readers or critique group. Go through them and note any that you really like; perhaps ask for clarification of suggestions or more details.

4. Save a new version of your manuscript under the current date and go through the whole thing, revising on-screen for big-picture changes only. Incorporate any new suggestions you like, and re-save each new version as you go along, using the current date in the file name.

5. Big-picture editing: Reread your manuscript from start to finish, making separate notes only on big-picture changes you’d like to make, such as plot, structure, characterization, point of view, pacing, etc. Delete or condense any boring scenes. Maybe start some scenes and chapters later and end earlier, or change the order of some of your scenes or chapters. 

– Does your basic premise stand up to scrutiny? Do all of the major plot points make sense? Do you notice any inconsistencies in timing, setting, character or plot? Consider rearranging some chapters or scenes, or changing the chapter breaks to earlier or later.

– Is your opening compelling enough? Clear enough? (See my blog posts on your first pages: “Act First, Explain Later” and “Those Critical First Five Pages,” on The Thrill Begins blog.)

– Are your characters complex enough? Is your protagonist charismatic and likeable but with inner conflict? (See “Creating Compelling Characters” on The Thrill Begins blog.) Do you have too many characters? Is your point of view all over the place? Anchor it in one of the main characters most of the time. (See my articles on Point of View, POV 101, POV 102, & POV 103, on DP Lyle’s blog, The Writer’s Forensics Blog.)

– Does the story drag in places? Is there enough conflict and tension? Suspense and intrigue? (See my book Writing a Killer Thriller.) Revise, condense or delete any scenes or even chapters that lack tension and intrigue and don’t drive the story forward. 

6. Find your (or create a) story outline and “to-do list” or plan of action and update it as you go along, taking into account advice from your beta readers or critique group, as well as your own ideas. Check out my post, "Creating a Scene Outline for Your Novel" on The Kill Zone blog.

7. Once you’ve done that, send your revised story to a freelance editor, or share it with your critique group or a few more volunteer readers – preferably ones who haven’t read an earlier version. 

8. Once you get feedback from beta readers, change the font of your manuscript to one you really like and print it up to read, rather than on the screen. A different medium will help you look at it with fresh eyes.  Also, find a comfortable spot in a different setting, away from your computer or normal working place to read it. All three of these little tricks will help you see the manuscript as a reader instead of as a writer.

9. Stylistic editing: Now go back to the beginning and start editing for wordiness, voice, style, and flow. Streamline your writing to make every word count. Take out whole sentences and paragraphs that don’t add anything new or drive the story forward. Slash excess wording, repetitions, or overexplaining. Take out unnecessary little words, most adverbs and many adjectives, eliminate clich├ęs, and pump up your nouns and verbs to bring the action to life. See my book Fire up Your Fiction for lots of revision tips with before-and-after examples.

10. Dialogue: Read just the dialogue out loud, maybe role-playing with a buddy or two. Do the conversations sound natural or stilted? Does each character sound different, or do they all sound like the author? Amp up the tension and cut down on any empty phrases, overly wordy monologues, stilted, overly formal language, complete sentences, too-perfect grammar, etc. See my blog post “Writing Effective Dialogue” on The Thrill Begins blog.

11. Proofreading: Now go through and do a basic copy edit and proofread for grammar, spelling, and punctuation, or get someone who’s really good at English – or better yet, a freelance fiction editor or proofreader – to do it.

12. Change the font to a different one, for example Georgia, and print up the manuscript, double-spaced. Sit down with it and read it through once with a piece of paper under the line and keep moving the paper down the page. Then read it out loud, crossing out excess words and sentences, and noting changes and suggestions between the lines, in the margins, or on the back.

13. Open up the screen version and add these new changes into your document.

14. Repeat last two steps as needed, until your manuscript is compelling and polished, before sending it off to a literary agent or acquiring editor, or self-publishing. This whole revision process could easily take several months. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot by putting it out too soon.

15. Better yet, at some point along this process, send your manuscript to a reputable freelance fiction editor so you can get a professional, unbiased look at it from someone familiar with the genre and up on current fiction-writing techniques, reader preferences and industry standards. 

Copyright © Jodie Renner, July 2013

Is your book too long? Check out these concrete tips: “How to Slash Your Word Count by 20-50% – without losing any of the good stuff!” 

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: FIRE UP YOUR FICTION, CAPTIVATE YOUR READERS, and WRITING A KILLER THRILLER, as well as two clickable time-saving e-resources, QUICK CLICKS: Spelling List and QUICK CLICKS: Word Usage. She has also organized and edited two anthologies. Website:, Facebook, Amazon Author Page.


  1. Outstanding advice, start to finish, Jodie!

    I love your idea to change the font and print out the manuscript. This would never have occurred to me.

    Also like the concept of TWO rounds of Beta readers, with the second person/group having never seen the earlier draft. Smart!

    Thanks for sharing this.

    1. Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Jim! I'm glad you find my tips useful.

  2. Excellent points, Jodie. Love your blog.

  3. Thanks for sharing this useful info..