A few weeks back, I posted my thoughts on what to do when your first novel draft is finished. I’m doing all of this as I go through the editing process for Babylon, so I figured it would be cool to share.
So you sent your second draft off to your “first reader,” your trusted pair of eyes. This blessed person has read the manuscript and came back with some suggestions. Chances are, they also caught some typos (though that wasn’t their main objective). You fix the typos and ponder the rest – do you agree with their suggestions? You may on some, and maybe not on others. There’s certainly no harm in granting a stay of execution for some of your prose until the next round of review. However, if your first reader points out any major holes or obvious problems, you best go fix them!
So, time for that third draft. Fix the typos and decide what you will re-write based on the first bit of feedback. This third draft is important! I typically print off 3-5 copies of this draft to distribute to my “A-Team.” These folk are not only willing to help you, they are the first opinions on your masterpiece. You’ve now had time to edit the whole thing at least 3 times. It’s put-up-or-shutup time for the manuscript. Keep in mind, this is still a “content” review. We don’t want anyone taking a fine-tooth comb to the grammar just yet. Generally, you’ll get a mixed-bag of comments and suggestions. If there is a common theme to the suggestions, try to look at those objectively and prepare to make some changes. Chances are, your readers picked-up on something critical you missed. Listen to them! More often than not, they are correct from their outside position. Of course, the opposite is also true – you may disagree and discard some suggestions. Let’s look at both situations!
With Eden, nobody liked a “side quest” I had the characters take on their way from Brasilia to Eden. Quite universally, I got: “why would they go off and do that, when they are focused on this?” My only answer was “because I liked writing it!” The story flowed much better without this added chapter and removing it was easier than I thought it would be. Oftentimes, your garbage can be removed with little to no pain. Funny how that works…
Conversely, I had one reader note that the beginning of Eden was too slow. I disregarded that remark because I knew it started in the thick of things better than most novels, and nobody else had the same complaint. With The Antaran Legacy, one reader didn’t think that religion would be a major factor in a futuristic society. Not being an avid sci-fi reader, I realized where she was coming from but respectfully disagreed. I kept religion a (minor) source of conflict in that novel as it is in many other futuristic yarns. It has its place.
So, that’s the process. Analyze each bit of advice and decide if it has merit for your work. Incorporate changes (or not) to arrive at revisions 4,5,6 and beyond. Widen your initial audience as you go to get more varied opinions (or reinforce existing ones). Then, at a certain point, you will (hopefully) be content enough to finalize the editing process. That entails a few more revisions on your own. Be sure to read the manuscript out loud at least once – you’ll be surprised at how many things you will edit after that exercise! Sprinkle-in those little recurring themes/messages/thoughts, and you’re off to the final step: send the darn thing to your editor!
NOW we’re editing for grammar/style. Be sure to hire a pro. Revise the manuscript once or twice after you get it back from your editor and you’re done! Some writers tweak for months/years after they get their manuscript back. I’m of a different mindset: ship it out! You’ve spent enough time with the story. Let it go! Set it free! And then move on to the next story. As a storyteller, that’s your job.