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Ediquette: Can I send my editor my first draft?

ediquette, n. The etiquette involved in working with (or working as) a freelance editor. Read the entire series here!


You’ve finished the first draft of your novel at last, and you know it’s time to start revisions. But you’ve heard from other writers (or perhaps from Stephen King’s On Writing) that the first draft is for the writer’s eyes only. Do you really have to do another draft all by yourself before getting other readers involved?


Short answer: Most of the time, don't send a first draft to your editor. Read on for more about why this is and some exceptions to this rule.



Why you shouldn’t send a first draft to your editor.

First drafts are often messy, full of incomplete story arcs, unnecessary characters, and incomplete worldbuilding. Not to mention all the typos! From an editing perspective, it’s really labor-intensive to work on a first draft, which means it will cost you more overall. To be most efficient with your editing budget, it’s important to do as much self-editing as you can before sending your manuscript to an editor.



Image text: It's especially important to never send a first draft to a copyeditor or proofreader. Proofreading a first draft is like vacuuming a house you're about to demolish - a waste of time and effort. | editsbytoni.com

First drafts also tend to change a lot! You might delete entire plotlines, combine characters (or add more of them), or totally change the setting of your novel between the first draft and the second. And most writers will reread that first draft and come up with tons of ideas for revisions from the get-go. If you want to be efficient not just with your money but with your time, then you don’t want to hire someone to tell you all the things you already know need to be fixed. Save editing for when you’re stumped!



When it’s okay to send a first draft.


There are only a couple circumstances in which you may want to send a first draft:

  1. You have never done revisions before, and you have absolutely no idea where to go next with your novel. You don’t know what needs to be fixed, let alone how to fix it. For this situation, I recommend a manuscript critique/manuscript evaluation (or my Editorial Evaluation service) to help point you in the right direction.

  2. You have time and money to spare, and you just want someone to help you with your book every step of the way, even if it’s not the most efficient method. If this is you, then I recommend finding a developmental editor and starting the editorial process from the beginning.


If you’re going to send a first draft, some best practices:

  • Read back through your draft and note anything you think needs fixing. Pass this list along to your editor and ask them to confirm it, that way they can spend less time explaining things you already know.

  • Polish it up a little bit before sending. Fix any typos or other mistakes you find. This will make it smoother for your editor to work on, and thus more time- and money-effective for you.


Generally, revision goes more or less in this order:

  • Revise your first draft on your own, or after a trusted alpha reader or critique partner reads it and gives you feedback. (Unfamiliar with these types of readers? I have a post about that!)

  • Once you have your second draft, send to a critique partner (if you haven’t already) or an editor for a developmental edit or manuscript evaluation. Then revise again.

  • With the third draft, it’s time for beta readers. (Or another critique partner, if you have another.) Revise again.

  • Once you’re certain there are no more big, story-altering changes to make (which could be anywhere from the fourth draft to the tenth, depending on your process), it’s time to home in on the details, and so it’s okay to start reaching out to more detail-oriented editors, like line editors, copyeditors, or proofreaders.



In short, you pretty much never want to send an editor your first draft. Depending on the type of edit, you’ll want to send your second draft or a much later draft, both to save money and time on editing.


Have any questions about editorial etiquette? My inbox is open! Send an email to toni@editsbytoni.com

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