Edit Your Book: 6 Steps To Rescue Unfinished Fiction Or Nonfiction

Can you edit your book, even if you haven’t finished it?

Of course you can. Start by assessing what you have, and what your book needs, so that you can finish it and publish it.

The steps below will work for both fiction and nonfiction; I recommend them to my book coaching clients.

Edit your book: can you publish immediately?

Your book may be ready to publish now:

  • If you’re writing fiction, could you create a novella or a short story from some of the content?
  • Could you create one or more short ebooks from your unfinished nonfiction book?

No? If you can’t see an easy way to publish what you have, here are six steps to edit your book and finish it.

A tip: create a publishing deadline, and an Amazon pre-order—do it now.

1. Edit your book: outline what you have

When you edit your book so you can complete it, your first step is to read through your book, so you can create an outline from what you’ve written.

Use a pen and paper to create a list outline, or create quick headings, then print the headings—just the headings. You’ll use them in the next step.

You can create your headings by numbering and titling scenes in fiction; in nonfiction, create sub-headings in your chapters. Although you’ll delete many of these headings later, they’re essential for you to develop a structure for the project.

If you see gaps in the structure where you need additional content, mark these areas on the draft.

2. Use index cards to rearrange the structure of your book

It’s a rare book which doesn’t need major structural changes: structure may be the reason you gave up on the book. It’s time to fix that, and regain your inspiration.

Get a stack of index cards, and if you’re writing fiction, write a sentence for each scene on a card. Lay the cards out on a large table, or on the floor, and move scenes around.

For nonfiction, snip the quick headings you’ve printed, then paste each heading onto an index card. As with fiction: lay out your headings; move them around.

Move unneeded or repetitive scenes and nonfiction sections to a “delete” pile.

Like your new structure? Duplicate your project file. Then rearrange your material to the new layout. Move deleted scenes to a separate file. It’s unlikely you’ll need them, but keep them for safety’s sake. (If you use Scrivener, create Snapshots.)

Make notes for additional content you need to create.

3. Fiction: check for opportunities to create suspense

You need conflict and suspense on every page.

Look for opportunities to build suspense.

You don’t want to reveal too much too soon. Your book should keep readers in suspense until the final page.

4. Nonfiction: deliver on your promises

If you’re writing nonfiction, check to ensure that you’ve made promises to readers in your title and blurb. Readers must know why they’re reading. If you haven’t promised readers any benefits they’ll get from your book, make the promises now.

Then ensure that you’ve delivered on those promises in your text.

5. Slash: get rid of any undergrowth

When you edit your book, you need to get rid of extraneous material.

If you’re writing fiction, eliminate characters who aren’t necessary. If you’re writing nonfiction, cut everything which doesn’t contribute to the promises you made to readers.

6. Rewrite: edit your book to add content and smooth transitions

You’re in the home stretch now; the end is in sight.

Rewrite where it’s necessary: add any content that’s needed, add transitions, and—kudos to you!—you’re done.


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