Most people are familiar with the idea of a Copy Edit. This is when someone (or you yourself, though it is VERY hard to do it yourself) goes through your copy and tries to catch all the typos, bad punctuation, nonsense paragraphs, etc.
This is usually the very last step done on a book/story before it is sent for whatever form of publishing you have chosen.
There are two steps before that which I believe every book (fiction or non-fiction) must go through do:
The first one is a “beta reader” (the second step will be the subject of my next article).
What is a beta reader? Well, this refers to a beta test which is: “a trial of machinery, software, or other products, in the final stages of its development, carried out by a party unconnected with its development.”
In the case of a book, this is getting someone other than yourself (and your immediate family and friends) to read the book and tell you what you they think.
Why not just your immediate family and friends? Well, two reasons:
1) They are your family and friends; they want to encourage you in whatever your dream is and they don’t want you to fail. They don’t want to discourage you and they don’t want you to give up. So most of them (while maybe not all of them are like this) will hold back, they will tell you some things, but not everything.
2) They may not actually be your target public. If you wrote a science fiction piece, but your immediately family and friends aren’t regular readers of that genre, they won’t really be able to tell you what the readers of the genre will think.
So therefore, you need to find beta readers.
You can do something like jump on a social network like GoodReads (which as a budding author, you should already have an account on and be connecting up with people), join some groups there and ask for beta readers.
If you want help, you can find a service like mine where I will find you readers, manage the collection of input for you and advise you on what to take a look at and what to ignore.
Doing this step will give you some great feedback on what people, who actually read your genre, really think of your story. They will catch holes, spot clichés, spot over-used scenarios that others may miss.
Once you collect this information, you can decide what to do with it.
Personally I go for at least 10 beta readers. Then I ignore a lot of the comments that only one person said (unless it really rang true for me).
The only time I edit something that I am on the fence about it being an issue is when the majority have commented about it. Obviously the readers didn’t like it and so I can change some things about it.
However, no matter what they say, I never change something I don’t agree with. After all, it is my book and my vision, so I try to stay true to myself.