10 Steps for “Working” Your Manuscript

by Beth McAuley

Published at 2016-05-11


What does it mean when we say an author is "working" the manuscript? It means that we recognize that the author is making the time to rewrite, revise, and reshape the manuscript as often as needed to make it ready for publication. We have the pleasure of working with many authors who seem to know instinctively how to go about doing this, and to watch them at work is inspiring.


These 10 steps outline how you can approach the demanding task of "working" your manuscript. These steps do not make the revising easier, just more manageable. And they are not a "quick fix" to the revising and reshaping of your work. But they do outline some basic steps to keep in mind when inevitably you are faced with revisions, not only once, but twice, and possibly once or twice more.


1. Believe in your work and know your audience


One of the most important anchors for any writer is knowing who the audience is. Who are you writing for? Why are your writing for these readers?


Maintain a strong belief in your work—its vision, what you want it to do for your readers, why it is important for you to write it—and know that the energy you are investing is making the vision stronger.


2. Don’t set unrealistic publishing goals


It’s true that publishing can be an instantaneous process given today’s publishing technology. It is also true that many who self-publish their works skip the editing process altogether or rely on quick edits of their work provided by self-publishing services.


Know at the outset that your work will need time and attention prior to publication. If you are self-publishing, allow at least two rounds of revisions for your work. If you are going to submit to a publisher, allow at least three rounds of revisions. A publishing company knows when a manuscript is in its fourth, fifth, or even sixth draft. The writing is stronger, the structure is sounder. It shows that the author is a working author.


In either case, you want to deliver the best to your audience.


3. Hire an editor


A trained editor can provide assistance and guidance throughout the writing process. Yes, there is a cost involved, but this is worthwhile investment in you and in your craft as a writer. The support, feedback, exchange of ideas, and shared interest in your work will benefit you and enhance the quality of your manuscript.


4. Give yourself time and make a commitment to working the manuscript


Always begin the writing process far in advance of whatever publishing goal you set for yourself. Give yourself the luxury of time for revisions.


Make a commitment to yourself and to your editor that you will work the manuscript through at least two sets of revisions. Then book in the time for this process. If you have a long manuscript, this may take a few months.


Be realistic from the outset. Writing a manuscript takes focus and discipline, and so does working through the revisions.


5. Expect revisions and don’t be afraid of the edits


You must expect there to be revisions when your editor sends the edited draft back to you. These revisions will be suggestions for changing wording, writing in new paragraphs, elaborating on explanations, taking out paragraphs, moving sections around. A good editor will make these changes clear and easy to understand and follow.


Once you receive the manuscript, sit down with it and give yourself time to begin the process. Open the document, take a deep breath, and dive in. You may want to scroll through it quickly to see the extent of the revisions, then take a break and come back to the beginning.


You may not agree with all the suggested changes. Make notes as you go: what you agree with, what you don’t. What changes are making sense, and what changes don’t quite work for you.


Work with your editor’s suggestions … and then make your own.


Set goals for completing the revisions: five pages a day, one chapter a day. And stick to it.


6. Pace yourself


Work a bit every day, according to your goals. Or let the revising process overtake you and go with it!


Reorganize material as needed. Rewrite and revise. Stay calm.


You can’t rework your manuscript in one setting. This process takes time. Pace yourself.


7. Step away from the work, give yourself a break, let the work breathe


Give yourself breaks. Revise your schedule as you go to allow some separation from the work.


Let your manuscript breathe. Then go back to it.


Read from the beginning and see if you missed anything. This will also help you get back into the flow of revising so you can pick up where you left off.


8. Don’t panic, it will get done


Take your time. Pace yourself. Don’t panic.


You have the time for this process, and even if you feel panic-stricken, remember that you wrote the first draft. That was so much harder! At this stage, you are beginning to refine your writing, giving more shape to the idea behind your work, sharpening your voice.


Read and reread as you go. Be critical, but also recognize the improvements to your work.


9. Send your revised draft to your editor … expect more revisions


Let your editor know when your revised draft will be sent to her/him. Editors need time for reading too, so be prepared to give your editor a few weeks to review your new draft.


Any revisions made from this point forward will be less onerous. The editing will focus on how you managed the changes: does the text flow? Is your voice strong and clear? The editor will catch new errors, smooth out awkward phrases, correct grammar and spelling, flag anything that seems out of place.


10. You are done when …


When the final changes come back to you, book in time to work through the final round of revisions. This is one more chance for you to polish.


Tweak the introduction. Finalize the table of contents.


If you have reached your editing goals for clearer structure, stronger voice, better flow, concise grammar and spelling, then you are done. Congratulations!




For more tips on revising, read Chris’s blog, “Let Me Rephrase That – The Fine (and Necessary) Art of Revising.”