How Many Edits Does a Story Need?

A common complaint I hear from readers against indie (or self-published) books is the lack of editing. With Amazon and other platforms making it so easy to publish, there are lots of writers who upload a book without any kind of edits, which is painfully obvious from the first few pages. There are also lots and lots of other writers who do work their most in making sure their book is the very best, which means rounds of edits, among other steps. In the last 2-3 years I’ve discovered new indie authors who have become my favorite ones to read and they are true professionals in every sense of the word.

And, of course, being published with a traditional publisher is not a guarantee that said book will be free of editing mistakes. In fact, more and more I find traditionally published books with typos and mistakes that should be easy to correct, and it makes me wonder about the type of editing they do in those publishing houses.

So the question is— how many edits does a story need? And what are those edits?

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The first draft of a novel is the raw material, the potential. Like the quote says, it’s the lump of clay waiting to be molded into something beautiful. It’s not ready for the world and it needs to go through edits and revisions.

What does this mean? Writers have different methods to do this, they have their own schedule and way of working, so I’m going to share how I’m doing it. It doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the wrong way; it’s just what  works for me.

After finishing my manuscript, I read it straight through a couple of times to look for mistakes and unclear parts. I also started looking for beta readers and critique readers. What are these? Some writers start out in critique groups, which means they belong to a group of other writers and they take turns critiquing each others’ works. There are many advantages to this, one of them being that it helps to grow the craft of a writer. I didn’t belong to such a group, but I’d been starting to make connections with other writers on Facebook groups. I had also joined the local chapter of the League of Utah Writers. I asked some of these friends if they’d have the time to read my story, and when they agreed to it, I sent it to them (in most cases, I later reciprocated the favor and read for them).

The word beta is the second letter in the Greek alphabet, and in the writing world a beta reader means the second person to read the story (the writer is the first one, obviously). Sometimes these betas are other writers who write in similar genres, and other times they’re readers in the target market for your book, which means they read a lot of books in that genre, and are very familiar with the ins and outs of it. This is good because they can point out the things that don’t work in your story.

Simply put, my immediate goal in having beta and critique readers was to find out if my story was absolute crap or if it had any merits and potential. I sent it to four writers and the initial feedback was quite positive. I applied some of their suggestions, and then sent it out to four other beta readers for more general opinions, did another round of edits, and sent it out again to four other beta readers. All in all, I had twelve beta readers (with a mix of writers and genre readers) in three rounds of four with revisions in between.

I then put my manuscript aside for six months while I worked on other projects (I started writing my second novel and a novella). I also started looking for an editor, a free-lance professional editor. In my research about editing I learned there are developmental (or content) editors, copy editors, and proofreaders (when working with traditional publishers, there are also acquisition editors and contract editors, but I’ll skip those since I’m publishing my book independently). What does it all mean?

  • Developmental or content editors look for mistakes and inconsistencies in characterization, structure, plot, conflict, and pacing of the story.
  • Copy editors deal with punctuation and grammar, sentence structure, consistency errors, and technical considerations (when needed).
  • Proofreaders take the last sweep, so to speak, and they look for mistakes, typos, formatting problems, and double check corrections.

Most editors will do a free sample edit to see if you’re compatible. I highly recommend a sample. I sent about six or seven samples to different editors, and I found those editors through recommendations from writer friends and authors whose style and books I love. I asked around a lot, took my time with research and the edit samples, and when I found my editor, I knew she was the right one for me.

Obviously, this is a process that takes time, but I believe that anything worth doing is worth doing well, and I’m on my own timeline. That’s one of the advantages of indie publishing—I can make my own schedule, and take the time to work through the edits. In the end, my book will be much better than that first draft was, and it will show for it.

If you’re a writer, what part of the editing process is your favorite? And if you’re a reader, does a poorly edited book keep you from liking the story?

  • Crystal CollierJune 11, 2014 - 12:27 PM

    You know, I like the entire process. Granted, I may prefer the second draft because it’s so malleable and you’re really looking to stretch, strengthen and amp it up in every regard. I guess it’s the creativity involved after the raw clay is sitting in front of you.

    As a reader, I don’t mind a typo or five, but when a word is used wrong or a character motivation is off, that’s when I debate putting the story down.ReplyCancel

    • LucindaJune 11, 2014 - 12:59 PM

      Agreed, Crystal. The other day I picked up a book by Bethany House and on the first page of the first chapter the word “prosperity” was used instead of “posterity” (in relation to photographs). That was it for me, I had to put the book down.ReplyCancel

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