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Home / Fiction Writing / How To Edit Your Novel: The Ultimate Crash Course

How To Edit Your Novel: The Ultimate Crash Course

Lesson 7: How To Do Your First Read-Through

So you’ve done your first major structural edit. That’s pretty amazing. Virtual high-five!

Now’s when things start to get really exciting. The finish line is slowly but surely appearing on the horizon…

Now, we head back to page one.

Here, you’ll be doing a read-through of your whole novel from start to finish.

Either print out your manuscript or copy the file so you have access from a tablet, iPad, or e-reader.

Have a notepad and pen ready.

It’s important that you get away from your computer and desk, so that you can experience your book as a reader would.

Although you’ll be making occasional notes, you should treat this experience as though you are reading for leisure.

Throughout this reading, you’ll be wearing two metaphorical hats…

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1. Reader Hat


First and foremost, you are going to attempt to read your book as a reader would.

Make a tea, sit out in the sun, and do your best to get lost in the story and characters you’ve created, as though it’s the first time you’re meeting them.

Enjoy it.

But what about when you come across mistakes? Or things that don’t make sense? That’s when your next hat comes in handy…

2. Editor Hat

During this reading, you shouldn’t be scribbling corrections on every page (that’s what a copyedit is for).

However, it’s worth noting down when you come across something that doesn’t quite make sense – these errors are often created during the structural edit.

You may have moved a chapter elsewhere, or gotten rid of it completely, but forgotten to delete references to it.

And that’s fine! Don’t pull yourself too far out of the reading experience just yet.

Simply note down the page number, paragraph number and issue in your notebook, and continue reading.

It’s important that you don’t fixate too intently on righting errors or rewriting scenes at this point. Your job at this stage is to experience your novel as a reader.

Ask yourself:

  • Does the narrative flow?
  • Are you left wanting more information on something?
  • Does everything make sense now?
  • Does the pacing work?

Most likely, these are issues that you addressed in your structural edit. You just need to make sure you’ve used the right remedy for them, and that the manuscript has now improved.

Pay extra attention to chapters or scenes that you recall changing significantly, and make sure they’re consistent with the rest of the novel.

Task: Using our suggestions from this lesson, take some time to read through your entire novel from start to finish, making notes along the way.

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Lesson 8: Update Your Manuscript Again


You’ve finished the first read-through of your novel! How do you feel? Superb, we hope!

You’ve achieved so much already, and it’s only getting better.

From your read-through, you’ll have a bunch of notes in your notebook that will need addressing.

So here’s what you should do…

1. Copy and paste the text of your DRAFT-2 document into a new document.

Save this as ‘TITLE-DRAFT-3-DATE’, and be sure to back up your work!

It’s important to keep your drafts separate like this so that you can refer back to earlier versions any time you need.

It’s also a great way of seeing how far your manuscript has come, and it allows you to feel a real sense of progression.

2. Using the notes you made during your read-through, take your time to address each issue you find.

In some cases this may be a quick fix; in other cases it may take some brainstorming and rewriting.

Remember this isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon – so taking additional time here will likely save you lots of headaches later!

If you need to, revisit our solutions to common problems. You may find that a few different ones apply to you now.

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Lesson 9: How To Copyedit Your Novel


Remember, a few lessons back, we learned about what copyediting is? In case you need a quick refresher, copyediting is refining the manuscript at a sentence level.

In this lesson, we’ll be correcting spelling and grammar, debating word choice, ensuring consistency, and more.

The Basics

Spelling and Grammar

These are the obvious corrections that need to be made, and will likely occur throughout your manuscript.

If you’re using a word processor like Microsoft Word, this will alert you to most spelling errors – however, don’t rely on it.

Use it as a guide only. A word processor won’t pick up on a lot of words that are incorrectly spelled in the context of a sentence, it won’t know if you’ve made up a word (such as in a fantasy or sci-fi novel), and it won’t know your preferred spellings for words with multiple spellings or spellings for different countries.

The best practice is to stick to a dictionary commonly used by publishers.

Whether you purchase a hard copy or sign up for a subscription is completely up to you, but having access to a dictionary is essential.

If the dictionary includes multiple spellings of a word, the best practice is to go with the first one. That will be the most commonly used.

Note: One instance in which you can sometimes get away with misspelling words is in dialogue. If you have a character whose dialogue is phonetically reproduced – that is, written exactly as it sounds – then it’s fine to have strange or incorrect spellings of words. However, when you’re editing, you should be sure to check that any such misspelled words are still comprehensible to the reader.


Syntax is the way words are arranged to create a complete sentence. In other words, it’s the order and structure of a sentence.

The general order word order of an English sentence is as follows:

Subject + Verb + Object

However, in fiction, writers tend to bend the rules according to their writing style and what kind of book they’re writing.

So, without wanting to get too technical, the key to revising your sentences with syntax in mind is not necessarily that they fit the above formula, but that they flow.

The best way to test this is to read aloud. Anything that feels clunky or jars you as you’re reading is most likely an issue with syntax. Is there a better way of ordering the words in this sentence? Could you cut any superfluous words?

Note: While reading aloud, also ensure that you’re varying the length of your sentences. If all your sentences are the same length, or if a lot of them are too long, readers will be easily bored or confused. Try to create a mixture of short, medium and long sentences.

Doing so may involve breaking some strict syntax rules, but as long as the writing flows and makes sense, that’s a liberty a writer can sometimes afford to take.


In addition to correct spelling and use of grammar, one of the most important tricks to polishing your novel for submission is consistency.

You need to ensure that details such as character names, place names, and chosen variations of spellings are consistent throughout the manuscript.

For example, don’t start out with ‘Tracey’ and later on change to ‘Tracie’. Inconsistencies create confusion for the reader, and irritation for the editor. Choose one variation and stick with it.

A helpful way to ensure consistency is to create a style sheet for your novel. Note down how you’ve chosen to spell names, places, and words with variable spelling, and refer to this list as you copyedit your novel.

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Common Spelling & Grammar Errors



1. It’s vs Its


This is a massive pet peeve among editors because it’s such a simple fix.

‘It’s’ is the contraction of ‘it is’, while ‘its’ denotes possession. For example: ‘She stared at the horse. Its shimmering coat was beautiful to behold.’ In this case, ‘its shimmering coat’ refers to the shimmering coat belonging to the horse; the word denotes possession, and as such does not need an apostrophe.

If you’re unsure, ask yourself: what meaning are you trying to convey? Expand the word into ‘it is’ and see if it makes sense. (In the above example, ‘it is shimmering coat’ does not make sense, and does not convey the meaning of the sentence.) After this, you should be able to amend the sentence with the appropriate version.

2. Wrong Choice of Words

Often when you’re writing, you’re caught up in the moment and don’t necessarily realise when you’ve used the wrong spelling or variant of a particular word.

Look out for these common errors:

  • their/they’re/there
  • you’re/your
  • aloud/allowed
  • who’s/whose
  • lead/led
  • lose/loose
  • steak/stake
  • break/brake
  • affect/effect
  • inquire/enquire
  • peak/peek/pique
  • a lot/alot
  • into/in to
  • onto/on to
  • loose/lose
  • less/fewer
  • chose/choose
  • then/than
  • compliment/complement
  • farther/further
  • nauseated/nauseous

Be sure that the context around a word is correct, too. If in doubt, always look up the word in the dictionary for an example of its usage.

3. Who/That

‘Who’ is for people, ‘that’ is for things.

For example, ‘She was the one who had told him’ is correct – not ‘She was the one that had told him’.

4. Incomplete Comparisons

‘The train was faster and lighter…’ – than what?

If you’re using comparative language, ensure that the actual comparison is complete.

5. Possessive Nouns

In general, most possessive nouns will have an apostrophe. However, writers can get confused as to where this apostrophe goes.

  • If the noun is plural, include the apostrophe after the s. For example: ‘the cats’ milk’.
  • If the noun is singular and ends in s, you should also include the apostrophe after the s.For example: ‘James’ yellow car’.
  • However, if the noun is singular and doesn’t end in an s, you should include the apostrophe before the s. For example: ‘Kristy’s yellow car’.

6. Use of Commas

Commas seem like a simple thing to use, but there are actually a few ways they can be used incorrectly.

Remember that a comma’s function is to indicate a pause between parts of a sentence (or to separate items in a list). If a comma is inserted in an awkward spot, it interrupts the flow of the sentence, creating an awkward jolt for the reader.

Perhaps the most common mistake involved with the use of commas is the comma splice. This occurs when you insert a comma between two independent clauses in a sentence. (An independent clause is a phrase that can stand on its own as a sentence.)

This is easier to see in an example:

The girl was a mess, her clothes were covered in dirt.

In this sentence, both ‘the girl was a mess’ and ‘her clothes were covered in dirt’ are independent clauses.

Since they’re separated by a comma here, what’s created is a comma splice.

Instead of a comma, there should be a full stop dividing the parts into two separate sentences: ‘The girl was a mess. Her clothes were covered in dirt.’

Alternatively, the comma could be replaced with a semicolon: ‘The girl was a mess; her clothes were covered in dirt.’

7. Hyphen vs. En Dash vs. Em Dash

There are three types of dashes: a hyphen (-), an en dash (–), and an em dash (—). (En and em dashes may also be referred to as en and em rules.)

You’ll notice that a hyphen is shortest, an en dash is medium length, and an em dash is longest. In your novel, you’ll most likely only be using two out of these three types.

The first type will always be a hyphen. The hyphen is used to denote multiple words that have a combined meaning. For example, ‘She was consumed with self-doubt’; ‘He needed a pick-me-up’; ‘It hit with earth-shattering force’.

Tip: Whenever you’ve used a combined adjective, like in the last example above, you only need the hyphen if the first word does not end in -ly.

The second type will be either an en or em dash. These have the exact same function, and the one you use is purely a stylistic choice. (Publishers will usually have a preference, so check the submission guidelines

The function of these dashes is to indicate a break in a sentence, or – in cases such as this one – to set apart parenthetical statements (that is, statements inserted into the middle of a sentence that continues around them).

En dashes are spaced, while em dashes are unspaced. Compare them in the following sentence, which demonstrates the ‘break in a sentence’ function:

He called out, but it was too late – she was gone.
He called out, but it was too late—she was gone.

As always, consistency is key. Choose the en or the em dash and stick to it throughout your manuscript.

8. Incorrect Capitalisation

You should capitalise all names, place names, languages, nationalities and titles.

If you’re putting together a style sheet as we suggested above, ensure it includes preferences for what is and isn’t capitalised in your novel.

9. Using the wrong spelling for your country

Some words have a slightly different spelling depending on the part of the world in which they’re used. For example, ‘realise’ is the Australian/UK spelling, while ‘realize’ is the American spelling. Same goes for ‘centre’ (Aus/UK) and ‘center’ (US), ‘colour’ (Aus/UK) and ‘color’ (US), and many more.

Task: Copyedit the first three chapters of your novel.

In your notepad, jot down any recurring errors – perhaps where you’ve misspelled the same word, where you’ve favoured a ‘pet saying’, or where you’ve made a grammatical error such as ‘its’ and ‘it’s’.

We’ll use these notes on recurring errors shortly.

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