1. Sit down with the book and read through it. When you read something you like, put a star in the margin. When you don’t like something, just make a simple checkmark. I use DIB which means, Do It Better. The point is not to judge the manuscript, but to get ready to edit it
It’s important to remember that everybody’s rough drafts kind of suck. It’s meant to be a sketch of what the book is going to look like. You get to erase and rearrange and make it gorgeous in later drafts.
2. Make a note of the themes that are showing up and the images your subconscious has coughed up. Trust me you’ll have both of these things. They might be a little soft at this point, but try to find some images you can work with. You might see motifs of water or repeat images of birds or…whatever. Just notice anything that seems to resonate.
3. Once you’ve done your read, go directly to the computer and make your own notes on what is working and what is not working, just as if you were an editor. Also gather the notes and comments of your readers if you have them.
4. Make an action list of things that need to be done. If the a character is failing, your job is to figure out why and come up with ways to fix that. If the setting is thin, or the sexual tension is too soft, make notes. The list will have two parts: things that need fixing, and how the repairs will be done.
It isn’t easy, of course. But having an action plan will take some of the sting and struggle out of the process and make it much more manageable.
5. Polish to a shine. Once you’ve done your repairs, go through each scene. One scene at a time to layer in the things the book needs. If it feels slow or soft or dull, try some things on to see what might make it better. Again, go back to your primary senses. What are the colors in this book? What is the setting and how are you putting that on the page—are you using all five senses? Where can you add imagery to underline your theme? (For example, in a book about ghosts, I used images of the Day of the Dead—marigolds and skeletons).
6. Do one more read through—read the book aloud. This will reveal more flaws than almost any other technique, seriously. You’ll hear clunky language, catch repetitive works, notice that you have used the word “luminous” 16 times. It’ll help you catch plodding language and places where you’ve just missed making a paragraph sing.
7. Finally, make one more pass, polishing, removing repetitive words (there will always be a couple of words that are overused in any manuscript), smoothing it all out one more time. Check characterization, plot, emotional arc, subplots, ending.