How to Edit the First Draft of Your Non-Fiction Book
Congratulations! You’ve finally finished writing the first draft of your non-fiction book.
I think it’s really important you take the time to celebrate your current level of success because not every aspiring author makes it this far. It’s at this stage of the writing process that many new writers find themselves confused about the next steps they should take. This next step in the writing process is editing but before you start looking for an editor, you need to edit your book first. This is often called self-editing or revising and rewriting. The point of editing your book before you submit it to a professional is to produce the best possible version of your book before you submit it to an editor. In this blog post, I will share with you, how to edit the first draft of your nonfiction book.
The process I’m about to share with you is relevant to non-fiction. I will eventually share how I write and edit fiction but I want to wait until after I publish my third book. This is to ensure I have an end-to-end process that works and produces measurable results. I recommend editing your book in stages to prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. Leave your book to rest at least a few days between edits. This is to ensure you place a bit of distance between you and your book to help you to become more objective.
I refer to this process as, ‘The Heavy Edit.’
The Heavy Edit
Many aspiring authors find editing as an overwhelming experience. In light of this, the heavy edit is completed in stages. To edit your book simply read the book in its entirety and pay attention to each of these points. You might want to view your manuscript in a different format each time or experiment with a different font to avoid familiarity. Write your notes in the margin in red pen, or using an electronic note system. If this is your first time editing it may help you to focus on one point at a time. This means you would do seven rounds of the heavy edit. This may sound like a lot of work but don’t skip it.
Editing is important because the last thing you want is a scathing review online from a reader who is unhappy with the lack of editing in your book.
#1. Look at the Book as a Whole
The heavy edit starts off with a macro view of the book and then zooms in on the finer details. Start off by reading through your non-fiction book and consider the answers to the following questions. Does the overall structure of your book make sense? Are the chapters in a logical order? If you’re using a programme like Scrivener, you can easily move the content around. Make a note of any change in chapter order.
#2. Look at Every Chapter in Detail
As you read through each chapter take a few moments to consider the goal of each chapter and its content. You may not have set an actual goal but every chapter has a purpose or aim. It’s important that you ensure you’re delivering on this promise. Ask yourself the following question as you read each chapter. Are you delivering what you have promised? If not, make notes as you continue on with this round of editing.
One of the biggest traps most writers fall into when writing nonfiction is they assume their reader knows what they know. As a result, they leave out important information the reader needs to move on to the next chapter or next step. Ask yourself the following question. Have you left anything out that is important for the reader to know in order for them to move onto the next chapter? If you have made assumptions about your reader’s prior knowledge, make a note to add in extra information to help your readers. When you write nonfiction it’s important that you make sure your reader is able to achieve the end result promised by your book. It’s now time to go through your book and make any necessary revisions based on your notes.
#3. Clarity + Relevance
You’ve now reached the stage of the heavy edit where you need to pay attention to clarity and relevance. It’s important that you convey your message and information to your reader in a way that is clear and not complicated. Pay attention to the way you’re explaining concepts or ideas. As you read through your book, as yourself the following questions. Is your writing clear? Where might your reader get confused?
The next step is to pay attention to the information you’ve provided. Is this information relevant? Delete any pieces of information that will not help your reader take the next step toward achieving the end result promised by your book. In my book, SMARTER Goal setting, one of the earlier drafts included a section on creating a life list. This section was about chasing experiences in life as opposed to just setting goals. The message of this section was in conflict with the rest of my book. It wasn’t relevant and would’ve caused my readers confusion, so my inner editor hit the delete key. This wasn’t something I loved to do, but it was necessary for my book.
#4. Sentence Structure
After you have completed the high-level edits from the previous three steps, it’s time to take a closer look at the structure of your sentences. One of the mistakes many first time writers make is constructing long sentences. As you read through your book look for long or complicated sentences where you have combined a couple of ideas. How can you say it is a simpler way?
Are you filling your sentences with filler words? A filler word is an unnecessary word. If the word is deleted the sentence still makes sense and its meaning has not been lost. Look for common filler words; like, that, just, so, very, and really. Read through the sentence and ignore the word, if the sentence makes sense without it, delete it.
One of the mistakes I make in writing is I have a habit of starting my sentences, in the same way, using a handful of words, over and over again. Pay attention to the way you are starting your sentences. Are they all starting in the same way? Take a few moments and consider how you can say it differently. It’s not possible to start every sentence in a different way; make sure, you’re not sticking to the same predictable pattern.
#5. Point of View
The majority of aspiring authors associate point of view with fiction but it’s relevant to non-fiction as well. In non-fiction point of view is all about how you refer to your reader. Unlike fiction where you can change the point of view from chapter to chapter, in non-fiction this isn’t the case; you need to establish a sense of consistency with your book’s point of view. How are you referring to the reader? For maximum effect use ‘you;’ the word you bring your reader into the book and helps them to establish a connection with you and your book. Read through your book and pay attention to how you’re referring to your reader, and make any note of inconsistencies; make any necessary changes before moving on to the next step in the heavy edit.
#6. Look for Passive Voice
When writers and editors refer to the use of passive voice, they’re referring to two types of verbs. These verbs are either active or passive; for example, the two kings are signing the treaty (active). This is an example of the previous sentence written with passive voice; the treaty is being signed by the two kings (passive).
Take a few moments and read through your book and pay attention to your verbs. Eliminate as many passive verbs as possible and replace with active and action-oriented verbs before moving on to the next and final step in the heavy edit.
#7. Spelling and Grammar
This step in the heavy edit process should always be completed last. You need to make editing changes before you go on to complete a spelling and grammar edit because any changes made after this will need to go through this edit. You can use tools like ‘Grammarly’ for this, but I recommend reading it through and checking for yourself. It’s not a perfect solution. I’ve tested this product out and it missed a few errors; as a result, I’ve realised there’s nothing better than the human eye. If you’re not confident about your ability to perform a spelling and grammar edit, you might want to give your book to a friend to read as well.
As always, I have an important question to ask you. Do you have any questions about self-editing, or do you have any editing tips to share? I want to hear from you. Let me know by sharing in the comments section below.
I’m Amelia. I write Mystery Novels under the pen name A. D. Hay. And, I’m the author of Missing, the first book in the James Lalonde series. On this blog, I help new writers to finish their first draft, prepare their manuscripts for professional editing, and when they get stuck in the first draft phase or are confused about the revision process. Right now, I’m editing and preparing my soon to be published mystery novels, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity for publication.