Step Two of Writing a Book
In the last post, I gave hints on writing your book. Now it's time to make sure your work appears in its best form, whether you plan to self-publish or submit to an agent. However you recorded your story, at this point it has to become a computer file. There are two reasons for that: first, modern publishing requires it, and second, it makes editing a whole lot easier.
You'll need to get to know your computer's editing aids, which can be frustrating but will pay off in the end. Things like FIND/REPLACE can save you hours of searching when you realize you changed the spelling of main character's name halfway through the story. When you get stuck, ask the internet. There's always a tutorial or a site where someone asked the same question you need answered.
There are different ways of going about the editing process, and individuals arrange them to their liking. I do several self-edits before anyone else sees the book. Sometimes I combine a few of the edits listed below, but here's what I want to know I've done right.
Timeline: Does the action happen logically over the period of time allotted to the story? Is the reader able to follow, or do I need to add phrases like "On Tuesday" or "The next afternoon"?
Sensory details: I tend to focus on plot the first time through, so I when I go back, I look for places I can deepen the reader's experience by providing detail. An editor once told me to make sure every page has at least one sensory experience OTHER THAN sight, meaning smell, touch, sound, and taste. Checking page by page for those other senses is a good way to get yourself used to including them automatically.
Character details: This is a good time to deepen the reader's understanding of the people they "meet" with backstory and additional information. There shouldn't be a lot of telling, so I think of ways to show the character's personality and mood, like with body movements or tone of voice.
Chapter flow: It might just be me, but I like chapter lengths to be somewhat uniform. If I find a chapter that's 32 pages long, I'll probably cut it in two or ever three, so its readability matches other chapters in the book.
I also drop the file into editing software at this point to see where the weaknesses in sentence construction, word usage, and punctuation lie. I use SmartEdit, but there are others.
Once I've done these edits, I send the book to my first reader, who reads the MS through and tells me what she notices overall. Does the story make sense? Are loose ends tied up? Is there something that isn't explained as well as it could be? Her reading begins the time away from the manuscript that I recommended in the last post. While she has the book, I do nothing with it. Once she's done, I note
her suggestions and return to the story with fresh eyes.
The next edit looks at the book overall, so here I have the computer read it aloud. That experience is good for noticing overuse of words and phrases, especially in the same paragraph or section. I hear awkward constructions and backward sentences (both usually fixable with a subordinate clause). By hearing the words, I notice unrealistic dialog. (Teen boys hardly ever use the word ubiquitous!)😄
When that's done, I submit the book to a "real" editor, meaning someone I don't know who gets paid to tell me how to improve the work. (I found some good ones on Upwork.com.) This edit is called a content or developmental or line edit (The lines between the tasks are blurry). This editor looks at the writing and suggests improvements in construction and storytelling.
The danger with contracted editors is that they might be afraid to criticize too much for fear you won't hire them again. That said, I think most editors understand that it's their job to pick the piece apart. I've only had one who didn't, and I should have paid more attention to the sample edit he did before we signed a contract. While it's deflating to get a MS back with page after page of suggestions, I can tell you that it's MUCH worse to pay out a bunch of bucks and get back a single line: "It's good." THAT'S the editor I would never hire again, because he gave me absolutely no help bettering my story.
Again, I leave the MS alone while the editor is at work on it. (This is where I work on publishing stuff, which I'll explain in the next installment.) With some writers, this edit involves multiple "passes" as editor and author hash out problem areas. Because I was for years an English teacher, editors have told me I'm a fairly "easy" edit, but I'm as prone as anyone else to leaving out details, making egregious mistakes (and reading right over them), and repeating myself. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. EVERYONE needs editing, and it should NOT be done by your cousin with an associate's degree in communications.
When the content editor finishes, I do a hammer-and-tongs edit, looking at everything and acting on the editor's suggestions when I feel they're merited. (I ignore them if they feel like the editor's personal opinions. It is, after all, my name on the front cover.) That leaves me with an almost-final manuscript, hopefully with a clear and compelling story told in a clear and compelling manner.
Then comes the copy editor. This person excels at the minutiae of writing: capitalization, spelling, hyphens, punctuation, and so on. She combs the MS for mistakes. She looks up writing standards as they exist today. (Mine, I confess, tend to come from the 1960s.) She gently informs me that I've misspelled pant leg...again.
When that edit is done, I enter the manuscript in my publication slots (Again, more on this next week.) I order author copies (Amazon will send you 5 for about $5 each. They have a band that says they are not the final version) and hand four of them to sharp-eyed readers in my local area. While they do their first reading, I do my last one with the fifth copy. When we're all done, I make any last corrections needed and finish the publication process.
As you can guess by now, all this takes months. It should not be hurried, because any overzealous speed tends to end in mistakes and embarrassment when your book releases.
See? Editing is simple...😕