I’ve become a revision fiend

I’m sure you’ve heard this before. But I need to tell it to you again. Book revision and editing will be harder and will take longer than the actual writing of your book. So be prepared to stay with it for the long haul before you start. In other words: Make the Decision to Do the Hard Work Before You Start to Write a Book.

Here’s a true story. After I wrote the first draft of my memoir I hired an editor who helped me prepare it for submittal to interested agents and presses. This took about a year. Then once I had a book contract, my publisher requested an enormous amount of revisions to that draft. So I spent another six months revising and editing my manuscript with the help of three writing friends who checked my work for repetition, inconsistencies, chapter organization, wording, and typos. Afterward, the publisher’s editor worked another month doing a final review and edit before producing the first hardback edition.

After my memoir’s release in May 2011 many readers informed me that they found typos in it. My then publisher promised to fix all typos in the next edition. However, that wasn’t to be. A year later I contracted with new publisher to produce paperback and eBook editions when the first press went out of business.

With that I got a huge shock. My very diligent new publisher found many more typos in my manuscript. His wife, an excellent proofreader, found even more. I also reread the book front to back at his request, and guess what? I found more errors.

The lesson is: producing a book manuscript is way more than just the writing. The rewriting, the revision, and the editing can take years. And I fear that many authors who self-publish their books don’t take the time to do this necessary work. They don’t spend the money to get a qualified editor and proofreader to help either. As my friend, Marla Miller says, premature publication by indie authors makes the rest of us – who have done the hard work – look bad.

Now that I’ve written and revising a novel, I took a novel revision workshop through the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. What I learned in that class was also eye opening: the first draft is really a compilation of many drafts. Here’s the list:

  1. The object of the very first draft is just to get the manuscript on the page – as fast as you can without stopping to revise or edit. I started with a list of scenes so I knew from the start how my novel would turn out. Other writers are pantzers – they just write from the seat of their pants. Once you’ve completed this draft, make a hard copy and read it through without editing. Instead make notes on separate sheets of paper for later reference.
  2. In the second draft, start filling in the gaps with research data and character development. This is also the time to fix plot points and inconsistencies and to incorporate any notes you took during your read-through.
  3. In the third draft fix what you broke in the second draft. Also get the manuscript ready to show to three or four Beta readers – people not related to you.
  4. Incorporate your readers’ notes in the fourth draft.
  5. In the fifth draft smooth and cleanup your writing as you get the book ready to show to three entirely different readers – also not related to you.
  6. Incorporate the second round of readers’ notes in the sixth draft.
  7. The seventh draft is for smoothing and cleaning up the changes you made in the previous draft.
  8. Here’s where I veered off a bit from this list. I hired a content editor who gave me ten pages of single-spaced notes. With those in hand I created the eighth draft, which entailed incorporating a lot of suggested new material. That was a problem because I had to make the new material look as revised and polished as the old. The new material also increased the word count – another problem.
  9. During the tedious and painstaking ninth draft, I reduced the word count from 103,052 to 97,377, split up some chapters, and reviewed and revised for consistency. Then I gave the novel to two more readers for more comments.
  10. Now I’m completing Draft Number Ten, incorporating comments from my last two readers. When that is done, my novel will be ready for a thorough line edit because – another guess what? – these readers didn’t always catch the same mistakes either. I plan to hire a professional editor to do the line edit rather than try to do it on my own. I’m afraid I’m too close to the material to do that successfully.

When all of the above is accomplished it’s time to submit to agents and/or small presses or work out a plan to self-publish. Then, incorporate your agents/editor’s notes in several more revisions.

Don’t be surprised if it takes at least a year – or in my case – many years to complete all these drafts. But I think the time spent has been well worth it. Revision and editing will give you the opportunity to layer and enrich your manuscript every time you go through it.

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.” author Arthur Polotnik.

Please let us know your writing and revision stories. I’m sure you have had

past experiences that are even more “interesting” than mine. 













  1. Amen , Madeline! Your detailed summary of the revision process mirrors my experience. I agree to that beta readers and professional editors are a must for any writer who wants to produce a marketable book. This excellent post is a valuable resource for all writers and I will share it. Best wishes as you work your way toward publication of your novel

  2. You described the agoningly long process too well and too accurately. It echoes mine and makes me wonder why I write. Or maybe why do I publish is a better question.

    • Madeline Sharples says

      Sorry to take so long to reply. Yes, revision is hard and it is necessary. It kind of takes away the pleasure of writing. However, it doesn’t stop me. Thanks for stopping by Choices.

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