As you finish your story and write THE END, you’ll likely grieve for the characters you will no longer meet each day as you write. Even so, I recommend putting away the manuscript for at least two weeks, preferably a month or even two. This helps to create distance so that when you begin the revision process,you can be more objective. Meanwhile, start a new project! You can begin a new novel or switch to poetry, essays, short stories or articles. By writing something new, you’re not putting all your eggs in that one novel’s basket. And your right brain can get all crazy on the page–you never know when something brilliant will emerge from your subconscious.
After this cooling off period, get out the manuscript. Print it out if it makes things easier and maybe even put this copy into a three-ring binder. Then sit down with a supply of sticky notes and read it like a reader would read–that is, all the way through without stopping to fix anything. Using the sticky notes, jot down notes of problem areas you spot as you read, but don’t tarry in one place too long. Besides obvious errors, note places where your interest wanes, where the action is minimal and check to be sure scenes make sense and flow well one into the next. Does the reader understand when and where they are at all times?
After your read-through you can begin to revise. Use your skills in self-editing to the best of your ability, but After you’ve done your best, consider hiring a pro to final-edit before you approach agents or self-publish. Beware–anyone can (and will) call him or herself an editor. Ask for a written sample of their editing (say 2-3 pages of your work before you agree to pay. Get recommendations from other writers or mentors you trust. Know the difference between substantive (also known as content, developmental, story arc or macro) edits and copy or line edits (grammar, usage and spelling errors). The former is crucial to your story’s structure and can result in a much better book. The latter should be done only after structural issues are addressed and corrected. When you are ready to shop for an agent or to begin the formatting process for self-publishing, your work will be in better shape if you follow these guidelines.