How to Revise a Novel

How to Revise a Novel: A Step-by-Step Guide for Writers

Congratulations, you’ve completed your novel! That’s a huge accomplishment, and you should be proud of yourself. But before you take the next step, you need to revise your work. Whether you plan to query literary agents, submit to small presses, or hire a professional editor, learning how to revise a novel is a critical skill for any writer.

Revising your novel allows you to revisit the story with a more objective approach than you had while writing. It’s a crucial step and deserves the same care and respect as the drafting process. In this article, we’ll talk about the steps to the revision process, along with how to revise a novel efficiently and effectively.

Step 1: Take a Break

The first step in revising your novel is to take a break. Put your manuscript aside for a few weeks or even a month. This will help you get some distance from your work and make it easier for you to approach it with objectivity. While your manuscript is resting, you might work on your reading list, start a new writing project, or take a break to focus on friends and family.

Step 2: Read and Make a Plan

It’s often easiest to read your manuscript from start to finish before you actually start making changes. During the initial read, take notes about major issues that need to be addressed. Then you can brainstorm solutions and list specific tasks for improving each of the areas.

For example, you might decide a plot point needs to be developed further. Specific tasks may include adding scenes or clarifying background information.

While you’re reading, ask yourself a few important questions.

  • Are the characters’ motivations clear?
  • Are the characters’ and/or narrator’s voices consistent?
  • Is there tension and conflict throughout the story?
  • Is the pacing even?
  • Are there clear and high stakes (consequences if the protagonist fails to reach their goal)?
  • Is the setting easy to visualize?
  • Does every scene contribute to the story in a meaningful way?

When you finish the read-through, you should have a basic revision plan, with primary objectives and smaller tasks. Remember it’s okay to change your plan. But it helps to have something to work from.

Stay Organized While Revising

Keep track of changes, notes, and feedback in a way that works for you. This can be as simple as keeping a notebook or using a software program like Scrivener. When you begin revising, make sure you have access to your prewriting materials, including research and outlines.

Step 3: Start Revising

Now it’s time to start revising your novel. Work through your revision plan one task at a time. As you make changes, remember to save multiple versions of your manuscript so you can go back to earlier drafts if needed.

Structuring Your Revision Process

When revising, it’s important to begin with story-level elements and work your way down to the prose level. Start by addressing issues that require large-scale, sweeping changes. Then work your way down to smaller changes. In doing so, you won’t waste time moving paragraphs around only to wind up cutting or rewriting the entire scene.

Tips for Revising Your Novel

  • Be honest: This is one of the most challenging things to do, but it becomes easier with practice. Be honest with yourself about whether aspects of the manuscript are working or are necessary. It doesn’t matter how much you love a scene if it doesn’t belong in the story. Practice setting aside your emotions and making decisions based solely on what is best for the manuscript.
  • Conflict is king: Stories require conflict, and it should be evident in every single scene. For each scene, consider how the events contribute to the main conflict, and pay attention to the scene’s smaller conflicts. Remember, conflict is what happens when the character wants something and something else is in the way. It’s as simple as that.
  • Stakes, stakes, stakes: As important as conflict is, it doesn’t mean a thing if there are no stakes. What is the worst-case scenario if the character fails to achieve their goal? If the reader can’t answer that question clearly, they won’t be invested in the character’s journey.
  • Step away if you need to: You let your manuscript rest before beginning your revision process, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take another break. If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, stressed, or frustrated, it can be beneficial to pause your revision process. Step back and get some distance from the work. Then you can approach it with fresh eyes.

Step 4: Get Feedback

Once you’ve made significant revisions to your manuscript, it’s time to get feedback. Reach out to beta readers, writing groups, or critique partners. Take their feedback into consideration and make any necessary changes to your manuscript.

Step 5: Edit Your Manuscript

After you’ve incorporated feedback, it’s time to edit your manuscript. You’ll probably complete multiple editing passes, addressing things like sentence structure, word choice, stylistic consistency, tone, and clarity. Finally, you will proofread your story to make sure it’s free of errors.

How Long Does It Take to Revise a Novel?

If you’re wondering how long it takes to revise a novel, the answer is: it depends. The revision process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months or even years, depending on a variety of factors, including:

  • The length of the manuscript
  • The complexity of the story
  • Your comfort level and experience

One of the biggest factors, though, impacting how long it takes to revise a novel is your writing process. If you wrote from a deep, well-developed outline, your revision process may not take as long. However, if you wrote by the seat of your pants, you may have a long revision road in front of you.

Of course, the amount of time you can dedicate to revision can also impact how long it takes. If you’re able to devote several hours a day to revising your manuscript, you may be able to complete the process more quickly than if you only have a few hours a week to spare.

Ultimately, the length of time it takes to revise a novel will vary for each writer and each manuscript. It’s important to approach the process with a flexible mindset and be willing to adjust your timeline as needed. Remember, the goal is not to rush through the revision process, but to create the strongest possible version of your story.

When Should I Start Revising My Novel?

When it comes to your novel, it’s best to wait until you have finished the first draft before diving into the revision process.

Completing a rough draft gives you a better sense of the overall story and characters. With the draft complete, you’ll be able to address the work with the full context. It’s much easier to identify larger issues with plot, pacing, and character development when you have a completed manuscript to work with.

Revising as you go can be tempting, especially if you are a perfectionist or are worried about making mistakes. However, it can also be counterproductive. Revising too soon can slow down your progress and make it more difficult to see the big picture. It can also lead to a cycle of overthinking and self-doubt, which can be detrimental to your creative process.

How Many Times Should You Edit a Novel?

The editing process is different for each manuscript, often varying even for the same writer. But it’s safe to assume that the process will require multiple rounds of editing. At the bare minimum, you should expect three passes:

  1. Revision: Making big-picture, story-level changes
  2. Line editing: Strengthening the prose
  3. Proofreading: Catching residual errors

How Long Should It Take to Edit a 300-Page Book?

Like with the revision process, the amount of time necessary to edit a novel depends on factors including the author’s experience, writing process, and availability.

According to the Editorial Freelancers Association, the median pace of work for professional line editors is 4–6 pages per hour (with one manuscript page equaling 250 words). That comes out to 50–75 hours to line edit a 300-page book (75,000 words).

The reported median pace of work for proofreading is 11–15 pages per hour. For 300 manuscript pages, that equates to 20–28 total hours of work.

These are of course estimates, and the actual time it takes to edit a book can vary. It’s also reasonable to expect non-professionals to edit at a slightly slower pace.

FAQs About How to Revise a Novel

Q: How long does it take to revise a novel?

A: The length of time it takes to revise a novel varies depending on the length of the manuscript, the writer’s experience, and the extent of necessary changes. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to several months.

Q: Should I hire an editor to revise my novel?

A: Hiring an editor can be beneficial, but it should not be seen as a replacement for your own revisions. After making the manuscript the best it can be without professional help, then consider hiring a developmental editor.

Q: How many drafts should I expect to go through when revising my novel?

A: It’s common for writers to go through multiple drafts when revising their novel. The number of drafts can vary, but you’ll likely have three or four drafts before you’re ready to submit to a professional editor, literary agent, or publisher.

Q: What if I feel overwhelmed during the revision process?

A: Revising a novel can be a daunting task. Break the process down into smaller tasks, and don’t be afraid to take time away when needed. Setting the work aside for a little while can help you approach the story more objectively and clear the frustration that can build up during a long revision process.

How to Revise a Novel You’re Proud to Share

Revising your novel is a crucial step in the writing process. We’re in a very special position as writers. No matter how bad our first draft is, no one ever has to see it. That gives us the freedom to write without fear, knowing that we can improve the story during revisions.

Of course, that means we actually have to put in the time and effort to revise. Start by letting your manuscript rest so you can approach it more objectively. Then create a revision plan and follow through with big-picture changes. Finally, edit and proofread to ensure your work is ready for submission or professional editing.

Although revising a novel can be a time-intensive process, it’s worth it. Remember that the time involved isn’t nearly as important as the final product. You’ve already put so much time and effort into writing your book. Make sure you’re fully invested in the revision and editing process, no matter how long it takes.
When you’re ready for professional editing, get in touch with our team at Blue Pen. Whether you need developmental editing, line editing, or a full editing process, we’ll show your story the care and respect it deserves.

Related Articles



Thank you for contacting Blue Pen. We will be in touch soon.

In the meantime, check out our help documentation for answers to questions about publishing and our services.