Sunday, September 18, 2011

So You Want to Write a Novel: Editing

*Satisfied sigh*  You've completed your manuscript.  It's finished.  You're done.  Well...not quite.  You have editing to do.

Editing is arguably the toughest part of the writing process.  If you're anything like me, you've been editing from the start: changing words, correcting grammatical or spelling errors, and rereading previous pages for readibility and fluidity.  But now, you have to take your manuscript and shred it apart to find high level errors you missed while writing.  You have to scrutinize plot, character development, and believability.  Plan to invest some time doing this because you have quite a few months ahead of you.  Yes.  Months.  You now have to make your book as perfect as an imperfect person can make it.  And a task that weighty never happens overnight.

The easiest way to do this is with the traditional editor.  You know, the person that charges anywhere from $250 upwards of $1000 to read and evaluate your manuscript, depending on the level of edits you're asking for.  They will proofread for grammatical and spelling errors as well as syntax.  If you want to take it a step further, they can evaluate sentence structure and readability, character development and plot inconsistencies.  This purchase can get pretty steep.  But there are other options that you can pursue; some may even do it for free.


Do you have an old English or Lit professor that was hard on you?  You could consider asking them to read your manuscript.  College professors can get pretty busy though, so make sure its a professor you respect, and who remembers you fondly.  Maybe on one of their lighter or inactive semesters, they will consider helping you, and most likely for free.  You should also seek out English grad students.  They are taught to look for the errors you're hoping to catch, and editing creative work is part of their graduate program.  If you're planning to self-publish, your publisher will most likely also have an editing package you can pay a little extra to use.  If none of these options works out for you, don't forget the suggestions made in the Writing segment of this series.  If you joined your local writer's association or a freelance writing workshop, there are tons of other authors and writers at your disposal that you could solicit for editing help.  If they are not available or able to help you themselves, they can at least point you in the right direction.

Now, of course, you could edit your novel yourself.  The video to the left, posted by The Editor's Blog, shows you how to do it step by step.  Essentially, they tell you what a traditional editor would be looking for if you were to hire one to edit your book.  However, in my opinion, it is better to get someone else to read your work, even if it's just an avid reader or one of the aforementioned suggestions.  A second (or even third or fourth) pair of eyes on your work will help you to catch errors you may not otherwise.  You have to remember: you've been working on and rereading your manuscript for months, maybe even years.  You know what it's supposed to say, so your brain may be filling in words, thoughts, backstories and other content you may not realize aren't actually in your manuscript.  Having someone else read through your work will help catch those questions you wouldn't otherwise ask because you know your own story so well.

For instance,  Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn, while editing her hit religious thriller, Pentecost, realized she had made a major character development error.  Her main character is an academic, but apparently has significant martial arts abilities.  However, because Joanna knew her main character's backstory, she neglected to mention how her main character acquired these abilities, leaving the reader questioning how her main character was suddenly able to go out and kick butt.  Joanna realized it was a significant part of the character's backstory she would have to weave in to the manuscript.  Thankfully, Joanna was able to catch this error.  But, what if you decided to edit your manuscript yourself and you didn't?  You would hate to see such a significant error plastered all over a book review after it's already too late to correct it.  (You can see the rest of Joanna's story here.)

Whatever you decide, editing is a tedious and involved process that takes time and patience to perfect.  Be diligent because you will get frustrated at some point.  Take a step back, regain your focus, and keep plugging at it.  Again, sharing the load with someone else during this process also significantly reduces your stress level.

So take the next 3-6 months and make your work as perfect as you can.

So You Want to Write a Novel Intro
So You Want to Write a Novel: The Idea
So You Want to Write a Novel: Writing
Next in this series: So You Want to Write a Novel: Publishing

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