Once you finish your messy draft, you need to clean up your text before you send your book to be formatted for publication!
These four steps for doing this are:
- Big picture revision (6 hours)
- Polish (detailed revision) (6 hours)
- Send to beta readers and apply their feedback (5 hours + 4 weeks of inactive time while your beta readers have your book)
- Send to editor and apply their feedback (8 hours + 4 weeks of inactive time while your editor has your book)
Big picture revision
In your first revision, you're looking at the big-picture issues - which means you are not worrying about details like spelling and punctuation. If you do this work on your digital draft, make a new copy of it and save it as something like 'draft - revision 1'.
To do this level of revision, print a copy of your outline questions with their answers (the statements of argument for each chapter) - put your main statement of argument at the top of this page. Read through the statements of argument. Are they in a logical order? Are they all still focused on the original topic, or has your book changed focus?
It's okay if your book changes focus, but you need to make sure that its structure is logical so it will be useful for your reader. If you rearrange or remove chapters (move them to a new document; don't delete anything) at this point, print a new list of statements of argument and questions.
Go chapter by chapter
Once you're happy with your list of questions, start reading the book while considering these points for each chapter:
- Is the chapter focused on its statement of argument? If it wanders off topic, highlight or otherwise mark the passages that are off topic.
- Is each paragraph focused on one - and only one - main topic? Generally speaking, if you have at least 5 paragraphs per side of A4, yours are probably focused. If you have longer paragraphs - check their focus and consider breaking them into smaller ones.
- Have you discussed each topic/issue in the right amount of detail for your reader?
Time to move
When you finish, move any paragraphs/sections that need to be moved (remember some of these may be moved to a 'to be used later' document). If you haven't already, make a copy of your digital draft and save it as something like 'draft - revision 1'. Doing this will save you from any risk of deleting something you meant to keep or otherwise losing your earlier work.
How you divide your time for this step is up to you. You can set aside a day or two to focus primarily on this task, or you can spread the 6 or so hours you need for it over a couple of weeks.
Polish (detailed revision)
If you have an inner critic or inner perfectionist, you now get to let them out to play - for a little while. Do not let this revision become a stalling point.
First things first
Begin by running spell check. Also, if there are any words you know you consistently mistype, run a check for those (use the search tool for this - PC: ctrl+f; Mac: comand+f). For example, I usually type form when I mean from, so I'd run a search for form to find all the instances in which I did this - spell check can't help you when you spell the wrong word correctly.
Next, it's time to attempt the impossible: proofread your own work. We can't really do that because we're too clever for our own good - our brains will insist on seeing what we meant to type, not what's actually on the screen. Here are three ways you can improve your ability to proofread your book - choose one (don't do all 3, you have other things to do and a life to live):
- Read each chapter from the last sentence to the first. This makes you think about the act of reading and thus increases your chance of seeing sentence level errors, but it won't help you judge the flow of your book.
- Read your book out loud to yourself. For some reason, when we read out loud, we're more likely to see what's actually on the page/screen instead of seeing what we meant to type. Pause to fix mistakes as you hear them.
- Have your computer read your book to you as you follow along with the text - you're more likely to hear mistakes than see them. Pause to fix mistakes as you hear them. If you don't know how to access this feature, click the appropriate button below:
As with the first revision, how you approach this is up to you - make it your primary focus for a day or two, or spread the work out over a couple of weeks.
Once your draft is as clean as you can reasonably make it, send it to your beta readers.
To help your beta readers understand what you need from them (and to make it clear that you don't expect them to edit/proofread your book), send them a list of questions to respond to. In that email, you can also mention that once you've responded to their feedback, you'll be sending your manuscript to a professional editor.
Help your beta readers help you
Below you'll find the questions I send my beta readers (feel free to copy them or to adjust them to suit your book):
- Does the book make sense?
- Are there any points in the book where you feel like I’ve skipped a step or assumed you have knowledge that you don’t?
- Are there any points in the book where you feel like I’m explaining the obvious?
- How is my tone? Overly familiar, too stuffy, just right?
- What did you learn from the book?
- Is there anything else you want to tell me so I can make the book as useful to my readers as possible?
Give your beta readers 4 weeks to read your draft and respond to your questions.
Take a calming breath
When you get your book back from them, take a deep breath and calmly read through all of their feedback. As you read it, make note of any changes they suggest that you agree with (you are not required to take all of their suggestions).
When you finish, send your book to your editor.
Your editor will need at least 4 weeks with your book. If you need a tighter turnaround for some reason, expect to pay significantly more (like 2 to 3 times more).
When you get your draft back from your editor you'll need about 8 hours to go through all of their changes. Do not just blindly accept all changes - you need to look at each one to make sure you agree.
Editors are people too
Yes, your editor is a professional, but they are also human. They can make mistakes or misunderstand the point you're trying to make. This is your book - you must make the final decision on each edit.
Take regular breaks
Unless you're an experienced editor who's used to looking at fine details and edits for hours on end, plan to break the 8 or so hours you'll need for this task into smaller chunks - 30 to 45 minutes at a stretch.
You're ready to format!
Congratulations! You've cleaned up your text! Now, your book is ready for formatting.
If you're hiring a book formatter or self-publishing consultant, it's time to send the manuscript to them!
If you're doing it yourself, it's time to start that process. I have a course that can help you do this (assuming your book is mostly text-based): Format and Publish Your Book. In it, I show you how to use Atticus to format it and then how to publish to both IngramSpark and Amazon. Click the button below to learn more:
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