Recipe for Editing a Novel

Novel EditingUnlike other authors, I don’t jump with joy when it’s time to edit. As a rule, I have my worked edited by a professional before sending it out. I loathe editing or did until very recently.  Having reviewed the results of the edit of my latest novel revealed my shortcomings at self-editing and forced me to rethink my process and craft a guideline for the work ahead.

Recipe for Editing a Novel


1 printed copy of your finished manuscript (can be substituted with a short story, poem, op-ed, etc.)
1 Copy of The Chicago Manual of Style
1 Copy of Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary
1 Dog-eared copy of Roget’s II: The New Thesaurus. 3rd ed.
1 Copy of Steven King’s On Writing – specifically the chapter on editing
1 Freelance Professional Editor
1 Ballpoint pen
$$ – $$$
Several Boxes of Chamomile Tea
Quiet room
Comfy chair
Patience (you will need this for the rinse and repeat sessions)


  • Text to voice app
  • Devoted cat or dog who loves the sound of your voice)


Make a pot of tea, carry to the quiet room, and place on a side table next to the comfy chair. Retrieve printed copy of manuscript and ballpoint pen before taking a seat in the comfy chair. Next, read aloud to devoted pet over multiple periods. Drink tea as needed.

Use the pen to circle:

  • Awkward worded sentences
  • Misspelled words
  • Overused words
  • Word repeats (notice my use of word in the first four bullet points, actually it appears throughout the recipe)
  • Missing commas and any other punctuation left out or added incorrectly
  • The word that (will be needed later)
  • Numbers –refer to The Chicago Manual of Style on when to spell out and when not to
  • Inconsistencies such as timeline, the age of the character, etc.
  • Poor sentence and paragraph transitions
  • Too much showing, not enough narration and vice versa
  • Audit for unnecessary dialogue tags or missing ones
  • Excess use of filter words: for instance, if you’ve written your character thought or wondered or saw something. Ask yourself if you would truly say in your head, I wonder or I thought. Of course, you wouldn’t. Even though you do wonder and you do think, you don’t tell yourself to do either, you just do it. Right?
  • Watch for use of passive voice and verbs
  • Remember the 5 C’s of copy editing
    • Clear
    • Correct
    • Concise
    • Comprehensible
    • Consistent
  • Capitalization
  • Use of Italics
  • Refer to your copy of The Chicago Manual of Style for guidance
  • Consider word choices–is there an alternative option? Is there a stronger word?
  • Check tenses–are they consistent throughout the MS?



  • Use the find and replace function (assuming you are using MS Word) to count the number of times you have used
  • Tab to each instance and ask yourself if the sentence can be written without it.

It’s finally time cook.

Update the e-copy, repeat the steps noted above as many times as is necessary. You’ll know you are ready to move forward when you can read through the edited text or prose with ease.

After several revisions, it is time to solicit the assistance of a professional. I strongly recommend hiring and editor to scrutinize your work before hitting submit and/or self-publishing.

Once the edited document comes back, brace yourself for the expense, comments, edit recommendations, and the endless red lines. Brew a pot of tea or pour yourself a glass of wine or scotch, then return to the quiet room and take a seat in the comfy chair. Take a deep breath, sip, whichever beverage that accompanied you from the kitchen, and then open the edited document.

AFTER reading through the changes, accepting and revising your story, save and put the document in a drawer for at least a week before printing and starting the process over.

One more printed copy. One or several more reads, notes, and subsequent updates.

Read it aloud–yes, again–to your devoted pet (or the wall). With the trusty ball point pen prepare to circle any oddities and faux pas’.

Optional:  Use a text to speech app to read your words back to you. It’s an excellent way to catch what your eyes will and somehow never do.

Go back to the e-copy and make the necessary edits. Refer to Mr. King’s chapter on editing and recommendation to reduce word count by at least ten percent.

Rinse and repeat.




It wasn’t until the edited copy of my MS came back from the freelance editor I had just hired how disrespectful of the editing process I’ve been.  Shame on me.

Don’t shortchange the importance of rinse and repeat.


I’m a writer and hoarder of one-size-fits-all panty hose. Until the hose fits over my bum, I write to provide an alternative view on writing and perfection.

5 thoughts on “Recipe for Editing a Novel

  1. Yes, you’ve spelled it out perfectly, and humorously here, too, of course, Brenda. Editing is not for the faint at heart. It is a grueling, painstaking, hair-pulling, ego-smashing business. But it is necessary!!! (I can’t put enough exclamation points after that statement.
    Yet once all is processed, and the book is finally in print, all those cups of tea and glasses of wine were well worth it.
    Blessings to you, my friend! Can’t wait to see the final copy!
    Martha Orlando recently posted….Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On MeMy Profile

    • Ah, Martha… it was a fun post, which started out as an interview question from a blogger. I didn’t really want to spell it out and thus let my mind have fun. I think there is more tea than wine, but it’s good to play now and again.

  2. I think there hasn’t been enough wine involved in my revisions. Great post, so much to relate to.
    I highly recommend Shawn Coyne’s Story Grid. It’s been invaluable to my editing process.

  3. You’ve supplied an abundance of helpful information … and then come to a fine realization. After all is said and done, Brenda, along with many rinse and repeat cycles, there is no substitute for the services of a well-referred professional editor. *eagerly awaiting your pub date*:-)

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