Editing a Self-Published Novel

photo: imagery majestic/freedigital photos 

One advantage that authors who go to the traditional route have over those of us leap into the  independent unknown is  an editor. Without one of these, we have to either be extremely detached when doing our own revision, or find some other people to help us see the flaws in our work. Because, as one of my favourite writers about writing says,  all writers produce “shitty first drafts.” (I’m quoting Anne Lamott in case you wonder!) 

Yet, in spite of an overall positive response I still had niggles and doubts. The main doubt was about its length. Because I almost always write first drafts that have a lot of repetition and too much explanation, these first drafts are generally longer than my finished piece of writing – whether that’s a short story, an article or a novel. (I’ve just removed the first two paragraphs of this article, including a sentence that seemed witty and clever when I wrote it.) 

So, with this in mind, when I set out to write Drawings, I imagined its first draft would be around 120,000 words and that I would end up whittling that down to 90,000. Instead, the first draft was closer to 160,000 words. Way, way too long for a first novel. I tidied, pruned and rewrote. Most people said the novel didn’t seem long, but
I wanted to know that for the people with whom it resonates I had written the best novel that I could. I kept pruning. 

Eventually I stopped pruning at 138,000 words, and uploaded it to Kindle where it was calculated to be around 436 pages. 

As far as I know, most readers of Drawings in Sand have been women, and the one person who said he didn’t like it was a man, so I was a little concerned that perhaps it wasn’t a novel men would read. However, at least two men have given it a 5 star rating on Goodreads, both of them total strangers to me. It was also a man who gave me the best constructive criticism the finished novel has had so far. This man has never written fiction in his life, but he has been an avid reader as long as I’ve known him – and since he’s my father I’ve known him all my life. 

Conversations with my father

One of the reasons I uploaded Drawings onto Kindle was so that my father could read it. Approaching ninety, he has had cancer for four years and macular degeneration combined with inoperable cataracts mean that he has extremely poor eyesight. He reads the Kindle with the font setting at the second  biggest it can go, and with a magnifying glass. (If you set a Kindle to its largest font setting you get about four words to a page.) As you might imagine this takes a bit longer than reading a book would do, and I am very grateful to my father for reading Drawings in Sand.  

Several times while he was reading it, Dad would ring up and tell me what stage he’d got to. He noticed that each chapter ended with a cliff-hanger and this made him want to read on. He noticed that the main character, Stella, was growing wiser as the book progressed, and he told me how he hoped she would ditch her boyfriend, Macklin. (Stella and Macklin have a fiery relationship, but to find out how it works out, you’ll have to read the book if you haven’t already.) 

When he’d finished he also told me that towards the end it seemed to drag a little at times, particularly some dialogue went on too long. 

My Dad a few years ago, before his eyesight failed

It’s almost a relief when someone else voices your own the niggling doubts. After our conversations, I got out my editing pen again and with Basil Bunting’s words in my mind I cut every word I dared. (Basil Bunting was a poet who in the 1970s advised his students to “Cut every word you dare.” His advice has been repeated by many tutors since.)  Drawings in Sand is now around 9000 words shorter, and to me it feels like the novel it was meant to be. 


  1. I MUST read this book – I can’t wait. I’ve downloaded a Kindle on to my computer, so it’s just a matter of time…when I finish these 10 books I have checked out from the library, HAHAHA.
    I also might have to consult with you when I get to ebook publishing. I have some stuff in the works (no details…I don’t want to jinx myself)…but yeah. Awesome, awesome post!! Tweeted.

  2. Cyndi, I know what you mean about having 10 books to read. (Actually I think I should times that by 10!:-)) So no pressure – I just hope you enjoy Drawings when you get to it!

    And yes, do get in touch when you’re ready to publish your ebook. I’m definitely not an expert, but I am learning! I’m looking forward to hearing more about your book, it sounds intriguing…

    Thanks for the comment and tweet!

  3. Wow Yvonne that is an awesome thing to accomplish completing your novel. I am working on my first one ever as well, and I’m doing it on Hubpages. I actually created an Blogger location to market it, create a buzz and to help others whom are just getting started with novel writing online.

    This blog post in particular of yours was very helpful for me, and mainly because I tend to drag my explanation of things on and on for too long LOL.

    I get that long winded crap from my mother I guess, and so yeah I may need to take your advice here for sure. I have yet to count the total numbers of words my first novel has, but that was cool towards the end how you explained the cutting down of 9,000 words from the massive 138,000. I could see it being a issue and surely after the initial shaving you had done. Cool stuff, and also a wonderful factoid you added up there, I never heard of that quote you used to point out your technique of making the needed cut.
    Oh and you father must be a truly honest dude, thanks to him, he helped you improve your novel, and that was cool of him to do for ya.
    Nice blog you got here, I will surely share it for you.

    Your bud Mike aka the Cloud Dude 🙂

  4. Hi Mike, great to see you here and I’m so glad to read that you found this useful. I tend to long-windedness myself, at least in first drafts, so it’s very useful to get opinions. I’m working on 2 more posts on this same subject – Learning from critiques and feedback, and how to be your own editor. I should have them up in the next few days.

    And my father is a cool dude for sure, even at ninety!

    Thanks for popping by.

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