How many drafts does it take to complete a novel?

You have finally finished your first draft of your story. Now comes the real work. The cutting, the editing, the rewriting, the expanding to make your first work closer into a publishable novel.

So how many drafts does that take?

There is no correct answer. It takes as many as it takes. I tend not to break down each going through of my novel as a “draft.” As I write the first draft, I am already going back and reworking it (see my post on editing and writing at the same time). And the second draft may take just as long as the first because it is multiple reads and re-working of the first draft. (But never a full re-write of the story as some authors say they do on their second draft.)

If pressed, I would say I do three drafts. Here is a general outline of my drafts.

First Draft

The first draft is obviously when you just get your story out. It may be rough or wordy, but you got the basic plot and characters down. Now how well this draft goes depends on many things. If you developed your world and characters or outlined your story, this draft will probably go better than if you just “winged” it.

Some authors consider the first draft a “junk” or “vomit” draft. This is for the people who just type without any planning or editing as they write. They write to get something on the page. I don’t write this way so my first draft never falls in this category. (See above about editing and writing at the same time.)

Second Draft

The second draft is going to involve some re-writing as well as cutting. You expand sections to add description and make your characters come alive. You delete scenes that don’t advance your story – even if they are well-written and your favorite. You make sure the timeline works.  Sometimes you may rework an area once or twice. Maybe you will rewrite it many more times.  (Ernest Hemingway admitted to rewriting the final words A Farewell to Arms, his wartime masterpiece, 39 times before he was satisfied.)

Optionally, you may have more drafts of rewriting depending on how much work your story needs. So this could possibly be drafts two through four…or five or even more.

When done with this draft, you may be ready to send your story to a beta reader. But they will undoubtedly have their opinions which you may feel the need to heed. That will mean more editing and adjusting of your story.

Note: One key to improving your editing is to take a break from the book between drafts. You will return with “fresh” eyes and catch more things that need to be changed.

Third Draft

The third draft is more about polishing. It is perfecting word choices, deleting words, tightening scenes even more and of course proofreading. This can be laborious as I can always find thing that I want to tweak and fix. But your goal is to finish the book, not keep piddling around with the same manuscript.

And finally you end with one final (or we hope final) read-through where you will deem it ready for publishing.

Now this is just a sample of how my work typically goes. Depending on the author, it can take many more drafts based on how much work needs to be done and what you consider a “draft.” Just as there is no “right” way to write a novel, each of us will have a different number of “drafts.” All that matters is that you take the time to polish and perfect your work BEFORE you publish it.

Reading Aloud as a Proofreading Method

I wrote last week about proofing everything you write even the simplest Facebook post. Proofing what you wrote whether it is a simple email or blog post to your actual full-length novel is extremely important. One of my favorite methods is to read your writing aloud.

Often when we read silently, our eyes skip small errors and typos. Reading aloud forces you to notice every single word. It can help you notice run-on sentences, missing words, awkward transitions as well as other grammatical or organizational issues.

It also lets you hear the dialogue allowing you to determine if it sounds like two (or more) actual people holding a conversation. (This is actually the best way to have natural sounding dialogue.)

The key to reading aloud is to make sure you are reading exactly what is on the printed page (or computer screen if you don’t want to print out your text.) You may want to follow along with your finger, pointing at each word. This helps you stay focused and not skip anything. Or you may want to cover up everything but the section you are currently reading so you concentrate on just it and not what is to come.

Another option is to read your work backwards, sentence by sentence. This helps you focus just on the text and not the ideas. It can be especially helping you catch sentence fragments.

Methods to reading aloud

Read aloud to yourself – Reading aloud encourages you to actually read each and every word.

Read to a friend – This can allow a second pair of ears to hear the prose and allow for additional feedback on what is missing or needs improving.

Have someone else read aloud – Allowing a friend to read to you lets you concentrate only on what is being read. You can note where your friend stumbles or gets lost. You do not necessarily need to follow along as they read but can certainly do so to make notes and corrections as long as you don’t start reading ahead.

An alternative to this would be to have the computer read to you. This works great as the computer will definitely read EVERY word.

For those of you who use Microsoft Word, this feature is already available to you. If not you can find many web-based services that can help you get your computer, smart phone, tablet or e-reader to read your work out loud for you. (Search ‘text to speech’ or ‘text reader.’)

For MSWord – At the very top of the screen is your Quick Access bar (circled in the below image). Click on the down arrow (Drop Down Menu) on the right. Select More Commands.


On the left side is a list of features/tools you can add to your Quick Access Bar. Go down to Speak and click the button to add it to your bar. Click OK. quickaccess2To listen to your text, highlight the text to be read and then click the Speak icon (now located on your Quick Access Bar).

No matter which method you choose to use, reading your text/novel/post aloud will be beneficial. 22


Take the time to proofread everything you write

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post on the need for people to be able to write a professional e-mail. Soon after that, the principal of my kids’ school sent out a long email riddled with grammatical and punctuation errors. Many of the teachers seemed quite embarrassed by it.

When we as authors get ready to submit or publish our book, we usually take great pains to proofread the text, whether we do it ourselves or hire someone else to do it. Even then mistakes slip through the cracks. But beyond your book, do you proofread everything you send? Or are you like the principal and just send something out without a second glance?

proofI have to say that I spend probably way too much time crafting my emails. I almost never jot off a quick message. I read and re-read it to make sure it says what I want it to say clearly. This actually is considered editing. It is the looking for grammatical and typographical errors that are considered proofreading. I typically give my email a once over for punctuation before sending it.

Now I can say for a fact that not all authors do the same. I get email correspondence all the time from authors for my Friday Featured Author spot. And then there are the submissions – especially the author interviews and author bios. Many times I see grammar, punctuation and style errors in these documents.

Now sometimes, I may make the correction such as italicizing the book titles, but often I don’t have the time to correct someone else’s work. I did put in paragraph breaks for the one author, who didn’t seem to think he needed any. This was on an excerpt, and I don’t know how he thought anyone would want to read this long block of text.

Both the emails and the submissions for my blog, in my opinion, should be proofread before submitting. These authors are putting their work out there for others to see. If I was a reader and I saw an interview riddled with mistakes in grammar and punctuation, I might wonder about whether the author’s books are this way too. (Of course, course I guess it could be reflecting poorly on me since it is my blog. I hadn’t think about that until just now.)

So my suggestion for authors is to proofread everything you write – from a quick email, to your interview questions, to your post on your own blog and of course your novel.

Some tips for proofreading:

  • Take a break between writing and proofing
  • Read the text aloud
  • Read it backwards
  • Use a grammar-checker – but don’t rely solely on grammar or spell check.
  • Print out your text and proof it on paper versus the screen.
  • Have someone else read it

As an author, you want to have the best image possible. To ensure that comes across to your associates and potential readers, please make sure you proofread all of your correspondence and anything meant for posting online.

Don’t be in a rush to self-publish

You’ve dreamed of the day when you can hold in your hands a copy of your own book. You imagine showing it off to friends and family as you proudly declare you ARE an author. But as you are preparing to self-publish your own book, I urge you to make sure you – or more importantly your book – are ready.

There is a lot that goes into self-publishing and marketing your book. But I am not talking about finding your target market or figuring out which method of advertising will reach those readers. No, I am talking about making sure the book you wrote – the one you are about to introduce to all those eager readers – is ready.

And this is not just advice for newbies. This holds true whether you are an author with two to three books or one that has a dozen or more under your belt. Don’t let anyone else tell you how quickly you should be putting out books. Just because one author spits out one every other month, doesn’t mean that you should do the same thing.

So what do I mean by “make sure your book is ready?”

I mean don’t hurry through the editing process. Yes, writing a book is a huge accomplishment. However, that is only the first step. Now comes the hard part – editing. It can take countless hours to weed out inconsistencies, fix timelines, refine word choice, and the list goes on.

The key with editing is that you can’t tackle all the editing issues at once. You need to concentrate on only a few at a time. (I use this revision outline to help me.) There is no magic number on how many times you will re-read your novel trying to improve it. And trust me, it is easy to get stuck on revising your wording.

There are a couple of tips I suggest for all writers.

  • Beta Readers/Editor – Have someone else read your book. A fresh set of eyes can catch inconsistencies and other errors in the plot.
  • Take a break. Don’t work on or read your novel for a period of time. When you come back to it, you will be able to see errors that you couldn’t see when you were slaving away on it daily.
  • Proofreading – You, a friend with knowledge of spelling and grammar, a teacher, run it through every grammar program you can find, or even hire a professional – or do all the above – to correct grammar and spelling. And if you make content changes, it needs to be proofread again. (That is why this is typically the last step before publishing.)

I can’t stress this last one enough. No matter how strong or compelling of a story you have written, there is nothing worse than turning off readers with a bunch of spelling and grammatical errors. And really by rushing to publish a book that isn’t ready, you are creating a negative image of not just you but other indie authors.

So rather than rush and put out a mediocre story. Take your time to rewrite, to edit, to polish and to proof your novel until it IS ready for all those hungry readers out there.

Why I didn’t hire a proofreader for my novel

The other day I read a blog about the importance of hiring someone to edit your book before publishing it. The writer couldn’t fathom any reason an author would not put out their best work which in her opinion meant having a professional editor review the book before publication.

While I agree that putting a professional, well-polished, grammatically correct novel should be the goal of all authors, I do, however, understand why someone wouldn’t hire a proofreader or copy editor.

Money. Pure and simple, I believe it is a financial issue. It doesn’t have anything to do with not valuing their work or not being a professional. Hiring a professional to review your book is not cheap.  I am one of those authors who didn’t have someone proof my first novel, Summoned, before I self-published it, and money is the reason why.

Now before we go any further, let me say that people throw around hiring an editor and a proofreader as if they are the same thing. While related, they are NOT the same. An editor is going to look for consistency and substance in addition to grammatical, spelling and factual errors. They are going to comment on improving the flow and consistency of your story. A proofreader is someone you hire after your work has been edited. They look for common grammar errors and typos.

Now back to my story…after the first few reviews of Summoned mentioned grammatical errors, I looked into having my book proofread.  The estimates for my 84,000-word novel were between $450 and $1400. It is hard as a newbie to justify shelling out that type of money. Yes, you want to be professional but think of how many books I have to sell to cover that cost. Summoned is available for $2.99, which means I make $2.05 on each book sold. Assuming I went with the low end of those proofing amounts, that means I would need to sell 220 books just to break even and that isn’t including cover design or any book promotions. I couldn’t justify that cost at the time.

And I am being a realist here because as much as I love my work and believe readers will enjoy it, there are millions upon millions of books out there. It is hard for an unknown to crack the bestseller lists or even make a decent amount of money. Roughly, half the self-published authors make $500 a year or less.

So since I wasn’t willing to shell out that type of money, but wanted to improve my work, I decided to invest in one of the leading grammar checking programs. After reading reviews and much research I went with Whitesmoke. Now this is a comprehensive grammar checker that will blow away what Microsoft Word does. Check out this comparison using actual sentences with errors.

Not only does it do grammar, punctuation and style, but it also alerts you to word repetitions and missing words. To use WhiteSmoke you must have an internet connection as their database of words and phrases is too big to be downloaded to your computer, plus they are constantly testing, improving and upgrading it daily.

Now I am not saying that Whitesmoke is perfect, and it can make suggestions that don’t fit into a fictitious work.  It is a time-consuming process as it reviews everything paragraph by paragraph. But when I ran it on Summoned I was amazed at how many things it caught. I then used it on Quietus (Book 2 in my trilogy) and The Search (my short story) before they were published. None of the reviews for either of these works have ever mentioned grammar or spelling being a problem. I am currently using it as I edit my upcoming book Destiny (Book 3 in my trilogy).

So should WhiteSmoke replace a copy editor? No. Could it replace a proofreader? Maybe.

But if nothing else, it can certainly allow those budding writers out there a chance to produce grammatically-correct material at a fraction of the price. Now helping them with the plot is a whole other issue.