Are You Really Done Editing?

So you’ve finished editing. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your manuscript then spent countless hours cutting, rearranging, rewriting, reimagining your WIP. But have you really finished editing?

Time and time again I’ve seen new writers announcing to the world that their WIP is ready for submission after a month or two of writing and editing. I’ve seen the excitement turn to eventual disappointment when the stack of rejections arrives. And it’s frustrating. Because I’ve been there. I know how it feels. And when I see someone else making the same mistake I did, I kind of want to repeatedly bash my head into a wall.

But of course, that wouldn’t do anything but damage the wall and give me a migraine.

It goes without saying that finishing a manuscript is exciting, I mean, you just wrote a book for crying out loud, you have every right to be excited! And when you finish that first round of edits, it’s exhilarating—you’re that much closer to a completed, fully polished novel.

But 9/10 times, one round of edits doesn’t cut it.

I’m not saying that it’s impossible to write a beautiful first draft that only needs a round or two of edits—every writer is different and I can think of at least one published author that I know of that writes tight first drafts, but that’s not the norm.

I’ve written before about the Never-Ending Editing Syndrome, but I failed to mention the other end of the spectrum: not editing enough.

It happens; even I’ve done it, and it’s an honest mistake, because when you’re looking at your work it’s hard to tell when it’s ready.

A few years ago, the consequences of premature submission were relatively minimal: most of the time, agents just wouldn’t bite. It hurt, but the determined writer would move on and create another book. They’d learn from their experience and become better.

But now, with self-publishing available, the consequences are much more serious. Publishing an e-book prematurely equates to low sales and mediocre (or bad) reviews. It damages not only your reputation, but your self-confidence. It’s a crushing blow.

Of course there are ways to recover from such a mistake, but it hurts a lot more than being privately rejected by agents. So what can you do to prevent premature submission?

Get beta readers and critique partners. I recommend readers who aren’t related to you or your best friends. Friends and family tend to go one of two ways when it comes to beta reading and critiquing: too nice or too mean. Are there exceptions? There are always exceptions. But for our purposes I’d suggest finding at least one writer to look at your work first. They’ll be the most helpful in making sure it’s ready.

Take your time. Repeat after me: this is not a race. This is NOT a race. Don’t rush through the writing, don’t rush through the editing, don’t rush through any part of the process. I don’t care if it takes you years to finish. Don’t think about publishing when you’re writing. Don’t think about submitting to agents or when you’re going to self-publish when you’re editing. Focus on making your story the best it can be and worry about that other stuff later.

Do at least three drafts. To repeat what I said about exceptions, I’m not claiming that it’s impossible to write a tight manuscript in less than three drafts. However, I am saying that for many of us, three drafts is a minimum. Why?

The first draft is the first draft. It’s to get your thoughts down, to learn about your characters and slap down a basic plot. It’s where you learn about your story.

The second draft is the beginning of refinement. That’s when you prepare it for readers, when you deepen your characters and fill in plot holes and strengthen the weak sections of your manuscript.

The third draft incorporates feedback from your readers. It’s takes into account where people got bored, what they didn’t understand, what they thought could use a little more work and it fixes it.

By the third draft you’ve hopefully covered most of your problems. But unless you’re the Chuck Norris of editing (and maybe you are! I’m not doubting your ability, really I’m not), please don’t submit before you’ve done three.

Stop comparing. Stop that. It’s not doing anyone any good and it’s just going to get you all nervous and doubty and you really don’t need the added stress.

There’s isn’t a magic number of drafts when it’ll be perfect every time. Everyone is different, every manuscript is different. But if you remember to breathe, to take your time, to focus only on improving your work, then you’ll know when it’s ready.

And it’ll be worth the wait.

What are your thoughts on editing? Are three drafts too much (or too little?) Have you ever submitted too early? 

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