You may have spent years writing your novel, but have you considered how you intend to polish your manuscript? If your writing is weak—no matter how amazing your concept is—you’re going to have a much harder time attracting readers. That's why the revision process is just as important as getting those initial words on the page... or perhaps even more so.
So How Should I Revise My Work?
Polishing your manuscript through revision can take many forms. Here, we’ll look at the five most common options, analyzing the strengths and drawbacks of each one so that you can make the best decision for your manuscript’s unique needs.
Self-editing is the first stage of revision for many authors, in which you, the writer, identify areas of weakness in your draft and improve them through revision. For example, self editing may involve cutting exposition dumps, tightening the tension, filling in plot holes, reworking the structure, and examining word choice and flow.
Other methods of polishing your manuscript can be expensive, but self-editing and revising on your own is free of charge. However, this method does have its limitations. As the author, you know your story intimately… which means you are more likely to go easy on yourself, miss mistakes, or make choices that don’t work as well for readers new to your story. As such, I like to recommend writers put their manuscript away in a drawer (or in the darkest corner of their computer files) before beginning self-editing. Try giving yourself a few weeks, or maybe even a few months, to refresh and reset. Leaving your manuscript to simmer on your mental back burner can help spark new ideas for revision, and taking some time away will really help you to come back with fresher, more objective eyes.
2. Finding readers
Don’t be afraid to seek critique from other people! Outside feedback on what you’ve written is an invaluable tool to determine where your writing shines… and where it could use improvement.
If you’re on a tight budget or early in your revision process, consider asking your friends and family to read your manuscript and provide their opinions. Keep in mind, however, that your loved ones probably aren’t professionals. You should emphasize that you value constructive criticism, asking follow up questions to encourage more targeted critique.
If you have a larger budget, consider hiring a few paid or volunteer beta readers. These professional readers look over your work prior to publication in order to provide feedback for your revision. Due to their more extensive critique experience, beta readers provide more targeted and critical feedback than most friends and family can; however, they don’t provide editing and their commentary is usually limited to a brief form.
Whatever kinds of readers you use, if you’re seeing the same issue repeated across multiple sources of feedback, that’s a strong indicator that something isn’t working the way you want it to. However, keep in mind that not all readers fall perfectly into your target audience. As such, they might give you feedback that seems counterproductive. You won’t always agree with every suggestion, and you don’t have to! It’s your vision, and thus it’s up to you to decide what feedback to incorporate and how.
3. Joining a workshop group
Connect with your fellow authors through a workshop group! These groups of writers share their work with each other, usually within a set range of parameters (such as a word count or page limit), and then meet regularly to discuss the readings and provide critique. Since the members are all writers familiar with your craft, their feedback tends to be more specific than general readers—not only pointing out what works and what doesn’t, but offering specific suggestions and solutions for polishing your manuscript. Plus, you’ll evaluate and critique the writing of others in return, which can help you develop a better analytical eye for your own work as well.
However, workshop groups can be a serious time investment, and not all workshop groups are created equal. You want to find writers who can give meaningful critique, ideally from writers who are at a similar level to you or slightly higher. You may not agree with every suggestion, but you should see how the majority of feedback provides value to your revisions. If your group is “too nice” and doesn’t provide critique, or if their critique seems consistently baseless or out of touch with your vision, consider whether this is really the best group for your needs.
4. Hone your craft with writing classes or writing conferences
Like every art, it takes years of practice to master writing. Whether you're a debut author or a best selling novelist, there’s always something new to learn! Consider studying with a master, whether that’s taking a college course, online masterclass, or a writing workshop at a local bookstore or library. Though these courses are rarely free of charge, a good teacher can drastically improve your skills, making the cost an effective investment.
Attending writing conferences in your area, or traveling to attend them, can also be a cost-effective means of polishing your manuscript. These annual meetings of literary professionals include speeches from authors, editors, literary agents, and publishers alike, all providing you with meaningful advice on writing and publishing. For an additional cost, you can also invest in receiving individualized critique on your work from these experts. After submitting to them ahead of time, you’ll be able to meet with them during the conference to receive detailed professional feedback. However, since each of these experts will be doing multiple critique sessions during the conference, you only receive a limited amount of time with them—usually around ten to fifteen minutes.
5. Hire a professional editor
Editing is the most time intensive, and usually the most expensive, part of polishing your manuscript… so if you’re on a tight budget, you should strive to improve your manuscript on your own as much as possible first! However, there is truly no service as transformative for your manuscript’s quality as professional editing. Editors draw on years of experience in either writing, publishing, or both, dedicating their full focus and knowledge to strengthening your work. They provide not only compelling edits and thoughtful suggestions to your manuscript, but also meaningful feedback on how you can improve your craft in the future. Whether you’re working from a rough draft or a highly polished manuscript, your editor is your most invested partner in the revision process, helping you take your writing to the next level and preparing your for publication.
If your first draft carved out a rough shape from the stone, then revision is where you begin the fine work of chiseling out the details to make your story really shine. Investing your time, energy, and, yes, money in the revision process will help ensure that the quality of your writing matches the quality of your vision for your work. Just remember that every polishing method has its strengths and drawbacks, and they aren’t all created equal. It’s up to you to decide where your manuscript is in the revision process, selecting methods and trusted sources of feedback based on your manuscript’s unique needs.
Still have questions?
Let me know! I'm always happy to answer comments, or you can reach out to me at my contact page.