Editing a manuscript is a long and (sometimes) grueling process. It’s a necessary step, because no manuscript is perfect.
But how do you know when to stop?
How do you keep from falling into an endless cycle of revisions?
Write the whole book first.
Don’t edit your first chapter five times instead of writing chapter two. This is a good way to never finish the book.
There are exceptions to this. Some people can make editing as they write work for them and still finish books. For instance, I edit as I go, but only minimal edits (fixing misspelled words as I type them, things like that). Sometimes, I’ll stop progressing to go back and make a change earlier in the manuscript, but only if it’s a pivotal thing, something that I need to do because it alters the character arcs or plot.
Everything else gets tacked on at the end of the manuscript with a note that says, “Add such and such to this specific scene.”
That’s enough to convince my brain to let it go for the moment while ensuring that it gets fixed after the book is finished.
If you’re wondering if your first chapter is good enough for you to stop editing it and write the next chapter, the answer is yes. Write the next chapter.
Once the book is finished, if you fall into a cycle of fifteen to twenty rounds of edits, and you’re unsure whether it’s done, try these:
Step away from it for a little while.
If you’ve pored over your book time and again, and you don’t know if needs something adjusted or removed or added…
Step away from it for a week or more.
Coming back with fresh eyes is insanely helpful for seeing things you didn’t see before, or for realizing that you were overthinking.
Hire a pro for at least one round of edits.
Please. At least one round of editing needs to be done by a professional. I promise, they’ll see things you didn’t, and it’ll help you get some peace of mind.
Accept that there will always be a typo or two (or ten) left scattered throughout the book.
A book is the product of a human, and humans are incapable of perfection. I believe the industry standard is somewhere around 1 typo for every 10,000 words, but obviously you’re not going to count them. If you could find them to count them, you’d just fix them.
But if you feel like you’re close to that point, as long as you’ve done story and grammar edits in addition to hunting for typos, you’re probably good.
When in doubt, have someone else (someone you trust to be honest with you) take a look.
Honestly, you should have someone else look at your book before publication, no matter what. Be it critique partners, alpha readers, or beta readers, you need other people’s eyes on your work.
Your brain will fill in words where they’re missing because you know what’s supposed to be there. Other people don’t, so they’ll like see these things.
Your brain will also fill in backstory and world building because you know what’s supposed to be there. Again, other people don’t. They can show you what you’ve missed. (Or what you’ve overexplained.)
Or tell you when they think it’s ready and that you’re just doubting yourself unnecessarily.
Doing this before sending your manuscript to a professional editor could actually save you money. Every problem fixed before the pro gets their hands on it means one less thing for them to find, and thus, potentially fewer rounds needed with a pro.
But basically, when it gets to a point where all you’re doing is taking out a comma or addressing a typo once every ten (ish) pages, or better yet, when you get your manuscript back from the pro and can scroll through ten (ish) pages between corrections, publish that bitch!
Stop tearing your hair out hunting the four typos that slipped through seven rounds of edits.
(Btw, seven rounds is my average for editing, including the professional edit and a sweep with Grammarly. Older works got more to bring them up from my early writing abilities to my current abilities.)
Subscribe for sneak peeks and updates on my upcoming books (and get a free short story).
Check out my gritty, literary sci-fi and fantasy books here.
Find me on Goodreads.
Want to help fund this blog and my writing efforts? You can support me directly here.