A publisher once told me, she tells her authors to “puke it out.” As crass as that sounds, I agree. Don’t try to edit as you go along; get the story out of your head while it’s fresh.
When I edit, I read the entire novel without touching a finger to the keyboard. I download to my Kindle and simply highlight. It allows me to read as the prospective reader. My mind remains focused on the story, not the editing process. And, something I might have suggested the writer remove, might make sense once I’ve read the entire manuscript.
Next, go back chapter by chapter and add the emotion and action you may have missed on the first run through. Then, read again, preferably aloud. The moment something stumps you, stop and edit accordingly. If you, as the writer, get tripped up, imagine the reader. They don’t know the characters as intimately as you do.
Another good technique is to make a list of common, rookie writing mistakes. They’re easy to find. Follow some of your favorite agents' blogs and Twitter accounts, and believe me, they’ll tell you what they hate (I’ll do that here in a second). Add to your list commonly misspelled and misused words, again this is not difficult to locate. You’ve all read books and blogs that the author didn’t see the need to edit properly. What bugs you? Head hopping, the use of passive statements, the overuse of words such as very and hopefully. Too many dialog tags is one of my peeves, and sometimes, “he said” is sufficient. The tag is only there to remind the speaker who’s speaking. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Let the characters' words and actions speak for themselves.
This process should put you minimally at three self-edits, but don’t think for a minute you are through. Nope, now you need your Beta to read your masterpiece. When she’s finished and has made her suggestions, rewrite, and read again. Don’t want to upset you, but you’re still not finished. Now, you need a professional editor, or if your work is clean, a proofreader will suffice. But wait, there’s more. After you receive your manuscript back from your chosen editor, you need to accept or reject her recommendations, and yep you guessed correctly, read through your work one final time. So, Darin Calhoun, you are correct. My suggestion is at least six to seven read-throughs before you are ready to query or self-publish.
Anything less and you’ll just be a blip on the screen.