Chris has asked me to write an article about editing. Why me? I hate to edit, and I’m not very good at it, but my finished books (as opposed to this article) are error free. And that is the biggest complaint about self-published books. The errors, and I’m not talking about errors in formatting.
Let me start with a little story about one author that I know of. She is a very good writer. Her stories move along, and if anyone ever wrote a page-turner, it would be her. However, there is a problem with her books. She either doesn’t edit at all or she does minimal editing. The bottom line is that her lack of editing makes her books unreadable. At least for me.
I offered her advice once concerning her first book. “Take your book off Amazon and fix it.”
She responded that she might take it down for a day or two and make the fixes. Well, I hate to tell you (and her), but editing is a long drawn-out process. Sometimes editing a book can take longer than it did to write the original manuscript.
Now that I’ve got you demoralized, let’s see what I can do to help.
First of all, your job is to write. You come up with the story that everyone wants to read. But editing is a part of the process. Once you have written your story, read it through at least four times making corrections as you go along. Make corrections, but also tighten up the narrative, insert new dialogue, and fix anything else you find needs fixing. In other words, each time, read the story with an extremely critical eye. You will find that new ideas or better ways of saying what you’ve said will come to you during each read. I personally reread the previous day’s work before I start writing for the day. You would be surprised how much your take on what you’ve written can change overnight. This way, I get some editing done as I go along.
Next, get someone else to read your manuscript. Either a friend or a professional editor. If you have more than one friend willing to help out then by all means let them read your book and give you their two cents worth. But remember, not until you have gone over it at least four times yourself. Then take their suggestions and incorporate the ones you want into your story. Then YOU reread the whole thing again.
I have two friends who read my stuff and they put a lot of effort into making suggestions and pointing out to me that I don’t know where to place commas and other punctuation errors that I continuously make. They also give me suggestions on how to better state a sentence or to eliminate one altogether. My point here is that the more eyes that read your manuscript, the better. Because each set of eyes will see it from a different perspective and each will see things that the other has missed, yourself included.
Make no mistake about it. Writers cannot edit their own work. Steinbeck, Baldacci, the greatest writers in the world all depend on editors. And you see it time and time again when the first person they thank in their books is their editor.
Having said that, you are the only one that can sign off on the finished product.
I know it’s tempting to throw your stuff out there. We all want people to read our genius. I was the worst. But now in my dotage, I’ve calmed down. I will not publish a book until I’ve read it through at least fifteen times, and my editors, at least half that number. On my last book, I worked on the editing an average of eight hours a day, seven days a week for four months straight. After I sent it off, my editor came back with another correction. I fired her on the spot! Just kidding . . . I don’t pay her anyway. And I always read the last draft myself before sending it off to my agent. Notice I’m referring to my books. My blog is still a mess because I HATE TO EDIT!
One last piece of advice. Chris has a wonderful series on his blog titled, Dun Writin’-Now Whut?” by Susan Uttendorfsky. Read every installment. It’s pure gold.
Post Script: This is not about editing, but if you want to become a better writer, throw your TV out the window and read books . . . great books written by the giants in the field. Even if it is not your preferred genre. Think of it as going to school. You’ll learn more by reading a Steinbeck novel than taking a class where they tell you your diphthongs are all wrong.
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