I was recently asked this on social media by a fellow writer: how many drafts does someone write before their book is finished?
This is a very hard question to answer, in that there really IS no “right” answer—you write as many drafts needed until the book’s events feels cohesive, the dialogue seems realistic and snappy, and the world-building makes sense.
For some authors (Lee Child, for instance), only one draft is reportedly written before sending it off to editors. That is definitely not the norm, especially when you’re a newer author. Here are some tips and guidelines regarding the drafting process of your book from start to finish:
1) Write The First Draft As Fast As You Can.
Stephen King stated in his fantastic manual “On Writing” (read our blog post about the best parts here!) that a first draft should be completed in no more than three months. That equals out to around 44,000 words a month if you write 2,000 words a day and take weekends off, ending with an 88,000-word first draft manuscript in two months.
2) Let It Sit For Several Weeks.
Now, this is the part that a lot of indie authors have trouble with, for the simple reason that we can control our publication process. However, just because you can choose to redraft and upload to online distributors right away doesn’t mean you should. Leave the manuscript alone to work on other things, allowing space between you and the story for at least a week or two (though Stephen King recommends six weeks).
3) Read Through The Entirety of The Manuscript.
Making notes of changes on Post-Its or a notebook. Some indie authors like NYT best-seller J.F. Penn print out their manuscript and hand-write changes in the margins, scribbling out sentences or entire scenes, and outlining additional scenes that must be added.
4) Write The Second Draft.
For many, this is the most difficult step—world-building must be refined (how exactly does your flying ship work? Magic? Technology?), characters are whittled out of their molds to display their motives and personality traits, and dialogue is refined to sound appropriate for each character. Some authors choose to do this in conjunction with the next step:
Here is an in-depth post about what exactly a developmental edit (also known as a content edit) entails, but the short definition is that it explores all of those character relationships, world-building and story arcs in your first (or second) draft and presents substantial suggestions on how to achieve the aforementioned results in step 4. Developmental edits are vital if you are a new author still grasping your own voice and the publishing market in general. These criticisms will illuminate your strengths and weaknesses overall in writing, providing valuable insight on where improvement is needed for all future works.
6) Write The Next Draft, With Developmental Edits In Mind.
This is going to be a lengthy rewrite, due to the possibly intensive changes your developmental editor suggests (though it’s all for the betterment of your work!).
7) Send The Revised Draft To Beta Readers.
These are a couple individuals who enjoy your genre and agree to read your work, providing their opinions on anything that doesn’t make sense, kept their attention (or lost it) and more. Read a guest post I submitted on author Jenny Bravo’s Blots & Plots blog about Why Beta Readers are Vital to Your Novel for advice on where to find them. Once the feedback returns, calculate whether there were repeat criticisms, and consider changing those things.
Once you’ve completed the next draft with beta reader feedback, now it’s time to fix those grammatical errors. There are two levels of editing when it comes grammatical changes: copy-editing, which adjusts sentence structure for better flow, replaces repeat words, and analyzes continuity issues (a character’s hair was blonde but is now brown). A proofread will fix grammatical issues like improper punctuation, indentation, spelling and the occasional word replacement. Midnight Publishing does both, and we provide a complimentary editing sample of your first 1,000 words to show you what we can do for your manuscript (and explore what it needs most).
Midnight Publishing prides itself on offering the best services for every individual author—if proofreading is the only thing needed, that is what we will recommend. Contact us anytime to discuss a free editing sample to get your manuscript from first draft to publishable!
To see the journey from a first draft to publication in six months for my award-winning novel “The Charismatics,” see this post on my personal Ashley R. Carlson blog!