Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Art of Self-Editing, Part 4

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

We covered a lot of territory over the last few months. The previous blogs in this series are below, at the end of the post.

Now, we’re coming toward the end of preparing our manuscript for submission or self-publishing.

It’s time to write the third draft. Or maybe yours is a higher number. Doesn’t matter how many drafts you take to get to this point. My award-winning novel, Journey to Riverbend, went through eight drafts before winning its award. And then it went through one more draft through the publisher.

The key to revising is recognizing, as Jerry B. Jenkins puts it, when all we’re doing is changing it, we’re not making it better. Unfortunately, there is no magic formula for knowing when we’ve reached this point. The moment comes as a realization after prayer and working with others we trust that we’ve done the best we can. And we trust God to do the rest.

This revision is when we incorporate the comments and feedback from our beta readers into the manuscript.

Please don’t see this as merely tweaking. We enter this revision with a commitment to rewrite as much as we need to. This is where we kill any darlings that escaped the earlier drafts. We tighten our writing, cutting extraneous words—Yes, we’ll still find them. And cutting or tightening scenes, chapters, characters, and anything else that hinders our story. 

The first thing to do is read all the comments and answers from our beta readers. When we see criticism, remember—we asked for it. They took the time and made the effort to help us. We need to respect that by giving close attention to their efforts. Identify areas where the beta readers agree on something. If two out of three of my readers tell me there’s a problem in a specific area, I fix it. If I’m still not sure, I may ask them to re-read such a section to clarify that I got it. 

Helpful Resources
Self-editing is not something we do in a vacuum. As I’ve noted in this series, we have critique groups and beta readers to help us. We also have the expertise of other authors and editors. There are conferences, workshop, and webinars. 

And there are books. The best things about books are they’re always available at our desk in print or e-book. I prefer print for highlighting and margin notes. And their batteries don’t give out when I need them most. 

Three I recommend are:
Revision and Self-Editing for Publication(2ndEdition) by James Scott Bell. Writer’s Digest, 2012. This book gives excellent tools and advice for taking our first draft to finished manuscript worthy of publishing.

Self-Editing for Fiction Writers[2ndEdition) by Renni Browne and Dave King. Harper Collins, 2004. In this book two professional editors teach writers how to apply editing techniques to turn their manuscripts.  A valuable resource that never seems dated.

Troubleshooting Your Novelby Steven James. Writer’s Digest, 2016. This book provides practical instruction targeted the problem areas and weak spots in our stories. 

What other resources have you found helpful in self-editing your work?

After we complete this process, we’ve probably done all we can to prepare our manuscript. But I would argue we’re not done yet.

Next month, in the final installment in this series, we’ll take a look at bringing in a professional editor.


Don't Miss the Other Posts in this Series

Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest.

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.

Connect with Henry on his blogTwitter and Facebook.


  1. Thanks for all these great, encouraging tips Mr. Henry. Have saved each post sir. God's blessings...

    1. Thank you, J.D. I'm blessed you find them helpful.

  2. Thank you for these wonderful tips. :-) Have a blessed day!

  3. Thank you, Melissa. I pray these tips help you on your writing journey.