• Kathryn Dodson

The Revision Pyramid

When is my manuscript ready?

When we founded the Book Coach Network, we asked over 200 writers what gave them the most frustration and the most joy about writing. One frustration many writers shared was not knowing when their manuscript was “done.”

Types of Publishing

Once done, your manuscript could be published in a variety of ways.

  • Traditional publishing is where the publisher pays production and distribution expenses and can provide marketing support.

  • The "Big 5" publishers are Penguin/Random House, Hachette Book Group, Harper Collins, Simon and Shuster, MacMillan. Agents are almost always required.

  • Small presses are numerous, and agents may be required.

  • Self-publishing is where the author is responsible for production, distribution, and marketing expenses.

  • Hybrid publishing varies from company to company, but typically the publisher charges the author for production, distribution, and possibly marketing.

Whether a writer seeks an agent and a traditional publishing deal, or wants to self-publish, they need to determine when they are done revising their manuscript and can take the next step.

In today’s publishing world if your manuscript isn’t high quality, you won’t find success. Querying a manuscript that isn’t ready won’t get you an agent, much less a book deal, and publishing a book that’s not ready results in negative reviews and few readers. To help writers with this dilemma, I’ve created the Revision Pyramid.

Step 1 – Story Idea and Character Development

Do the big things work? Some writers revise as they go, while others draft from start to finish quickly. I encourage all writers to set their draft aside for thirty days after they finish. The time away gives you the distance you need to review the document with fresh eyes. Writers who revise as they write may have fewer changes to make, but they should read through the manuscript. A big-picture look at the draft can help determine if the story and the world it is set in makes sense.

Step 2 – Perfect the Storyline

Are there holes in the plot or a disjointed timeline? Does your main character have a believable arc? Do the plot and character arc combine to make a compelling story? In this revision, make sure your character’s internal journey is both on the page and is influenced by the plot. After this round of revision, you should have an irresistible storyline and a character that readers care about.

Step 3 – Pacing and Momentum

Does your story keep readers engaged? There are times when your story speeds along propelled by action, and other times it may slow because of dialogue and characters making meaning out of what’s happening. Readers need a balance of different types of pacing. A novel that is either all dialogue or no dialogue would be a slog. Momentum drives a reader to turn to the page. Everything a protagonist goes through should get them closer to or further from their goal. This builds momentum. Scene transitions should also be examined to make sure they leave a reader wanting more.

Step 4 – Language

Is the manuscript well written? Go through your document and make every sentence the best it can be. Fix mechanical issues like head-hopping (changing POV within a scene). Address grammar and other errors. By the time you’re through this step, your book is definitely ready for beta readers. Basically, the book is as good as you can make it without additional help.

Step 5 – Grammar Check

Is your novel error free? There are many grammar check programs out there. Some are free and fairly basic, like Grammarly. Others like ProWritingAid are incredibly detailed and analyze overused words, sentence length, and a host of other potential issues. AutoCrit is a similar program that also compares your writing to successful authors. Using one of these programs helps polish your manuscript.

Step 6 – Read It Out Loud

Does it sound as good as you think it does? You’ll be surprised at the changes you make when you read your manuscript out loud. If reading the entire manuscript is too taxing, then listen to it. Text-to-speech programs like NaturalReader can be downloaded for free. Or use the “Read Aloud” feature in Word. Don’t miss this last chance to make your novel the best it can be.

Can I Do the Steps Out of Order?

This isn’t a good idea. While it is easy to correct grammar errors and you may think this is a good way to get started, you’ll end up spending time correcting sentences that need to be rewritten or cut. To make the best use of your time, start with the big issues and save the smaller ones for later.

Is There a Faster Way?

If you use an editor or book coach, you can compress some of the layers. Many book coaches can help with story issues, and at the same time point out mechanical issues that need to be fixed. The number of layers your coach is able to help with depends to a large degree on your writing.

What if I Work with Critique Partners or Betas?

If you have experienced critique partners who are at or above your level of writing, that is wonderful. You will want to make sure the story makes sense and that you’ve corrected as many errors as you can first to get the most out of this type of input. Beta readers, people who “test read” your finished manuscript, are a critical part of the writing process. They are true readers and can tell you if they like your story, if it drags in certain areas, and other basic information. Make sure you’ve solved for all of the story-level, pacing, and mechanical issues you can before giving your manuscript to beta readers. You want their help with the things you don’t know are wrong with the story.

I hope this pyramid helps you decide when your manuscript is ready for agents or publishing. As you can see, at least as much work goes into crafting the story after you’ve written it as when you’re drafting. If you have any questions about the Revision Pyramid or anything else writing-related, please let me know.

Kathy Dodson


A writer herself, Kathryn loves helping other writers at every stage. She has a B.A. in English/Creative Writing, an MBA, and a PhD. With more than 20 years as an executive, she provides writers with effective strategies to take their books to the next level.

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