If your book has got stuck at the first draft stage, it’s probably because you are struggling to do your revisions before you send it off to an editor. Revising your first draft is one of the most difficult stages in writing a book, but one that can make all the difference to the quality and readability of the end product. It will also reduce the cost of editing because your editor will need to do less work for you.

writing approach

Getting started with revising your first draft

To make revising your work easier, do multiple drafts and focus on solving specific issues each time you edit.

This is how you need to do your revisions:

  1. Check the structure, flow and logic of the entire book.
  2. Work on each chapter individually, focusing first on content, flow and logic.
  3. Work on each chapter individually, focusing next on detail such as spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc.

The Big Picture Edit

Do this edit in one go. This way, you will be more likely to notice the glitches and repetition. Set aside a couple of hours and get out your red pen or your pencil. You need to do this edit on a print-out of your book.

It’s better to be neat when you edit!

Your big picture edit is all about checking your content, flow and logic. Read through your work quickly so you can mark and make notes about anything that stands out. You’ll know when something isn’t flowing very well because it will jar when you read it.

However, don’t spend a lot of time analysing what is wrong during your read-through, just mark passages that stick out and make a note of your immediate impression of what is wrong i.e. repetition, logic, flow. Use simple language and words that make sense to you.

Once you have gone through and read the whole book, you need to look at the passages that didn’t work and decide whether each one needs to be rewritten, cut, expanded or moved to a different place in the book. This is all you need to decide at this point.

Make the changes you need to make to the book but avoid getting bogged down in how you have expressed your ideas or any other issues that you notice. Focus on getting the big picture right. When you have done your edits, read the book through again and check that there are no more problems with its content, flow or logic. When you are happy, you can begin to work on getting the details right.

The Sense Edit

The sense edit is the one where you check that each chapter makes sense on its own, that each main heading is in the right place in the chapter and that you have made all your key points. This read is also about ensuring your writing makes sense and that you have got your point across.

  1. Work on each chapter individually and do multiple drafts.
  2. Print out the chapter you are working on.
  3. Read through the whole chapter quickly and note anything that is not working. Work quickly so you avoid getting bogged down in the detail.
  4. Go back and look at your notes, make the changes you need to make either directly onto the screen or onto the printed copy.
  5. When you have input all your changes, save the chapter as Version 2 and print it out again. Mark the print-out Version 2. Read it through and look for any other errors. As you eliminate one set of errors, you will clear the way to spotting another set. This is normal.
  6. Input your corrections and save this as Version 3. Print and read it again. Keep doing this until you are happy that the chapter is as you want it.

Of course, you don’t want to go on working on a chapter indefinitely so set a limit to the number of drafts you do at any one time to three. This will keep your perspective fresh. Three should be enough anyway, unless you have big problems with your book or you are being hyper-critical.

The Detail Edit

This is the level of editing a copy editor does for you. Once you have gone through each chapter and eliminated all the issues relating to your content, flow and logic, you need to work on getting the details right. The detail edit is all about getting your grammar and spelling right. It is a good time to check your facts, make sure you have been consistent in your use of capitals in headings, use of numbers (numerals or words), dates and the display of quotations and lists.

The main part of detail edit can easily be done by your copy editor, who will undoubtedly notice things you have missed and pick up on errors you have not seen. This is what a copy editor is for, and so if you do not want to do a detailed edit yourself, leave it to your editor and focus on getting the content itself right.

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Deborah Taylor
Deborah Taylor

Hi, I'm Deborah Taylor and I'm a publishing consultant and book-writing mentor. I work with established business owners who want to share their message by writing a book but are struggling to get started (or finished). I help them write, publish and launch a stand-out, attention-grabbing book that will raise their profile, reach more of their ideal clients and grow their business. I am a trained editor with over 15 years' publishing experience with major blue-chip UK publishing companies such as Hodder & Stoughton, BBC Books, Cassell and Pearson. I have produced books on every subject under the sun and with professinals and experts from a wide range of professions, from chefs and gardeners to life coaches and career consultants. I would love to help you write a book you love and that will raise your profile, attract new clients and bring you exciting new business opportunities.