How to revise from reader notes

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Whenever you finish a draft, you’ve owe yourself the right to ask for outside eyes on the writing. Your beta readers or your evaluation editor is likely to get you an evaluation memo, or a page of notes. When the notes cover 80,000 words of a book, from several reviewers, then revising can feel overwhelming.

If you have a manuscript returned with comments in the margins, plus a development memo, that’s a pro’s approach. Read the memo first, take a day or so, then read the margin notes. Don’t feel like you’ve got to revise right away. Read the detailed notes and think about them, while you walk the dog, linger in the shower, or stand in the grocery line. You’re pondering, the act of absorbing the outside viewpoints. Some of your responses are going to feel assured right away. Other revisions will occur to you as you start rewriting.

Take your manuscript and break it up: by chapter, by section, by page number. 80,000 words feels less daunting when it’s ten or twenty assignments. The journey of your three hundred pages starts with a single page break. Then another and another, until you have all your book’s pieces defined.

This is the moment when you should consider Scrivener. While you make your page breaks, you can add a “##” after each one. Scrivener will use this hash-mark to break your manuscript into these pieces in its binder, automatically creating a fresh segment for each piece during the import.

See the trees

No Scrivener? Word allows you to create a document map, based on the program’s style pane. Word’s tool offers a shadow of the navigation and searching power you’d get out of Scrivener — but the point is that you need to be able to see the individual stands of trees in your forest of a manuscript. Some people do this by printing out their book and finding a table or a room where they can lay it across the floor.

Section by section, you see it. Then apply the notes, addressing them one at a time. You accept or reject each comment from the margin, or each sentence from the memo. You’re working on story now. Later on, there’s expression (a line edit) and then copyediting for self-published books.

You may have significant shuffling and reworking to do. Don’t despair. Every great book you read passed through this editorial waypoint. Spread out your work across a calendar, making milestones for each piece. Be less ambitious per day or week than seems doable.

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