Some things I learned while editing my latest mystery novel might help make the process go more smoothly for you.

Nail the weather (season especially) and the setting before doing anything else. The weather didn’t play a big part in my latest novel, so I only mentioned it once in awhile. The problem was it was fall at the beginning of the novel, and only about ten days later, it was winter. I’d forgotten which it was! Not huge because the weather didn’t have a large impact on the story, but I just know some readers would notice.

Try not to have your main character have two of anything to keep track of. My PI drives two cars–one, nondescript, for business, one, sporty, for pleasure. But it got mixed up in there when she loaned her business car to her aunt. I didn’t keep good track of what she was driving, and now I will have to search the whole document and be sure it’s the right car!

Pick your character’s names with care and try not to change them. Yes, the search feature will work here, but if you use certain names, the universal search and replace will put them inside words or at the beginning or ending, making for strange new combinations. Easier not to have to correct that.

Use the page break feature in your word processor at the end of each chapter. Then each chapter will start on a new page–nice.

Read the ending–last quarter or the third–several times. You’ve probably read the beginning over and over again, but as you get further in, you will probably read the later stuff less. Make sure everything makes sense at the end.

Print it out. I bought a ream of cheap paper and printed the whole manuscript in draft mode, single spaced. Next I corrected everything with a red pen, then printed it on the back of the first printing, after making a red slash through the other pages so if I dropped them in a heap, I’d know which pages were the newest ones.

While editing, have lots of room for three piles of paper and for a notepad. You have what you’re reading in your first pile, what needs fixing in another pile, and what’s okay in a third pile. Make notes as you go through–during the first run-through you will probably find several things that need fixing on pages you’ve already edited, so you will have to go back and find the spot(s) where you need to make adjustments. But don’t try to do it during the run-through itself. It gets too confusing.

Plan for large blocks of time with few or no distractions.

Take your time. After the first run-through, let it sit awhile and mull things over. You may need to do this more than twice–I ended up doing three print-outs, read-throughs and edits. Each edit took me part of a week, but I didn’t begin on the next one until the following week. I think this time is needed, especially if you don’t outline, to be sure all the pieces are in place, all questions answered, all details correct.

Then have someone else, preferably a professional editor, go through it for you. Only then can you be pretty sure that everything is just right. But don’t be surprised that mistakes will still be found. Hopefully they will be so minor, hardly anyone will notice.

I’m sure I’ve missed some things others may have run across while editing a whole novel. I’d love to hear them so next time, it might go even smoother for me!


  1. Good tips for all going through edits. I’ve let the book I’m editing sit for 13 years, and it isn’t any easier. My biggest problem is nailing the genre.

    • Good luck. I’m editing the second one that was supposed to be published by Quiet Storm back in 2005. It’s a female PI novel, so very easy to give the genre. LOL I’m not so sure you have to pick one anymore since NY isn’t running the show. Readers seem to love cross-genres. Let me know if you want me to look at it, or part of it.

  2. You may have misplaced the season, but at least you knew where she was 🙂

    I lose track of the days. I’ve had two Tuesdays in the same week before.

    • LOL, Carol, I’ve done that with the days. Now I put them in my table to keep track in the post-outline. I even keep track of the time of day there. Otherwise there would be 30-hour days and nine-day weeks.

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