How many times should you edit your novel?

We’ve talked about the editing process on this blog before but not about how to know when your book is finished. There are no exact answers, but with these editing tips, you can decide for yourself when to stop working on your future best-selling novel.


So how many times should you edit your novel? And how much editing is too much?

Related reading: How to edit a novelThings to remove from your novel

Don’t skip any stages of editing a book

I know it can be tempting to finish editing your novel as quickly as you can, but I can’t over-emphasize the importance of editing. It’s where you really make your writing shine. The first draft is just you telling yourself the story.

Instead of going from the first page to the last during every round of revisions, you should have a clear goal whenever you’re editing your novel and only focus on that. (I go into more detail about it in my post about things to look for when editing a novel.)

Whether you decide to edit your novel in the same order as I do doesn’t matter as long as you address each aspect of your story. Only after that, you’re ready to fix the nitty gritty details like spelling and grammar.

How long does it take to edit a novel?

How long should you edit your novel?

How long does editing a book take is relative. It’s impossible for me to give you an exact timeline but generally editing takes a lot longer than writing the first draft. At least, it should.

You can absolutely churn out a first draft in 30 days but you shouldn’t expect to fully edit a novel in a few weeks. I can tell you that editing a novel takes months, but how many months totally depends on how well you had planned your novel, how fast you edit and if you’re getting any outside help with the process.

If you want to make the editing process as quick as possible, you need to plan your novel incredibly well. That way you’ll end up making fewer mistakes with your storyline and you’ll end up with less rewriting. Sure, it takes a little more time to start with, but a great outline saves you so much time in the long run.

What if you’re not any good at editing?

What to do if you're not good at editing your stories?

What if you want to make your writing better but you just don’t have the skills? It would probably be extremely frustrating to keep staring at your manuscript not knowing what to fix! I hope you read my blog post on editing your novel because having a focus for each round of edits is massively going to help with the whole process.

There’s also the option of getting professional help. There are editors for different parts of the editing process so you can get the exact kind of help that you need. If you’re feeling lost with the different types of book editing like “copyediting” and “developmental editing”, don’t be afraid to contact an editor you’ve found and tell them exactly what you need help with. If they’re not the right fit for you, they’ll be able to tell you that and they might be able to refer you to someone else.

Don’t be a perfectionist when editing your novel

Wanting to write a fantastic novel that your readers will love is a good goal. I’ve seen writers settle for a lot less and it makes me sad every time. But the difference between this and perfectionism is hat perfectionism isn’t about wanting to produce great work. It’s about wanting to be above criticism because you’re scared. That’s a pretty selfish goal.

Why perfectionists don't finish writing their novels

There aren’t published novels out there with no mistakes and nothing to fix. Where the Crawdads Sing and The Family Upstairs – just to give you two examples – are incredibly popular books that both have their flaws and could have used more editing. And those books had been read by several professionals before they got published, so don’t expect yourself to be able to write a flawless book all by yourself. Even with a team of editors, it just isn’t feasible. The perfect book doesn’t exist.

Just do your best, okay? Make sure you look at every aspect of your story, including storyline, scenes, characters, dialogue and settings, and make sure you choose the exact right words. Then put every comma where it needs to go and make sure every single word is spelt correctly – ask for help if needed. That’s the most you can do.

Apply feedback to your manuscript

Maybe you think you’ve got a solid story in your hands, but then you get the feedback from your beta readers and you realise you still need to make changes. That’s okay!

I know we take it very personally when people criticise our writing, but if you want to write a GREAT story and not just an okay one, you need to be prepared to accept feedback and learn from it. Not every reader will be right about what isn’t working and why, but if multiple people are saying the same thing, they might be onto something.

Take the hint

This should be your number one priority if your manuscript keeps getting rejected

If you’re trying to get traditionally published and you’re getting nothing but rejections, it’s not the time to sit back and wait.

People like sharing stories about successful writers who didn’t get a publishing deal until after 200 rejections, but they’re leaving out something important. More than likely, those authors were improving their manuscripts whenever they got any feedback from agents or publishers. They weren’t just pushing and pushing the same manuscript until they got a yes.

Yes, you do need to believe in yourself and keep trying if you want to get published. But you also have to be humble enough to realise that your perfect manuscript isn’t so perfect after all. Not every great book ever gets published, but if you’re getting nothing but rejections, you might want to look at why that’s happening.

When to stop editing your book

When should you stop editing your book?

You can’t make a book too good by editing it too much, but you can fry your brain while doing it. Try to avoid that!

If you find yourself fiddling with the same details and scenes, you might be overthinking it. There aren’t right or wrong answers when it comes to writing fiction, so you can’t choose the universally correct words no matter how many times you edit your writing.

When you find yourself editing something over and over again and you’re not sure when to stop, ask yourself this: what is this trying to accomplish? If you can’t pinpoint exactly what you’re trying to fix and why, you might just be acting out of insecurity and worry. Just stop editing and do what I tell you next:

Give your writing time and space

When you think you’ve finished editing your book and there’s nothing more for you to do, or perhaps you’re getting sick of the whole editing process and you just want to be done, it’s time to take a break.

Leave your story for a few weeks. Read some books and maybe do some writing exercises that aren’t even supposed to produce “good writing”. Give yourself a break and then come back to look at your manuscript with fresh eyes. Read it ONCE, write notes about any glaring issues you find during your read and then fix those issues.

In theory, you could spend the rest of your life editing your novel, but you do have to draw the line somewhere.

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