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Step Five: Editing

Updated on July 15, 2014

Edit Your Heart Out

Authors need to read their work, taking notes on what they want to change, add, or delete, then go back and make those revisions. They should do this for multiple drafts, checking for grammar, spelling, and content. Authors should also look for plot holes, areas that need further expansion or development, characters that seem flat or unnecessary, and decisions that could have been made to better the storyline; basically any mistakes in consistency or accuracy.

Editing Methods

There are a variety of ways to edit a work, depending on each individual author and editor. Common methods include printing out a hard copy of the manuscript and taking a red or blue pen to the pages, marking in the text and making notes in the margins or on the opposite page. For those who prefer the digital process, Microsoft Word has a function known as track changes which shows any editing done to the document. Editors can erase, rewrite, add, and more to a document where the writers can easily identify the changes made. Editors can also add notes about the changes, suggestions or ideas, and other comments about the manuscript.

Authors can utilize their own editing method for each project, by creating a document for excerpts, notes, and ideas for editing. Having a saved version of each draft can also help the editing process for writers who want to go back to the original draft to decide whether they like the changes. Placing sticky tabs and using highlighters on printed manuscripts can help the visually minded writers determine what needs to be changed.

First Draft Rules

The first draft will always be the worst draft. Authors need to remember that first drafts are never perfect, and need improvement from several editing sessions before it is ready for the light of day. Once a draft is finished, the novel is not automatically ready for publication. Authors should celebrate the ending of a first draft, but that’s only the beginning of the writing process.

Once a first draft is complete, as in, it now has a beginning, middle, and end, I recommend taking a small break from the project. Take a day or two to let your mind work on its own, without reading over the writing or thinking about the plot. Taking a fresh look at the newly completed novel will ensure easier spotting of mistakes, inconsistencies, plot holes, and overall character development. Authors should go through several drafts, reworking scenes, changing, adding, deleting, and doing more research, whatever it takes to get the novel ready for publication.

Writing Workshops & Feedback

While editing, getting feedback on certain scenes, chapters, or pages of a novel is beneficial for the writer. If the writing gets stuck, or a scene seems too bland, or a character is acting out, having a friend look over the work gives the story another set of eyes. For a sense of how the average reader will respond to the story, authors should have friends who read frequently look over the manuscript and give feedback. For technical issues, or help with plot or character development, joining a writer’s group and attending workshop classes can work out the kinks and allow writers to guide their story. Sometimes writers do not see a problem because they already have all the answers, but a reader will pick up on missing information, confusing plots or sub-plots, and whether a character is flat or too exaggerated.

Authors should look for groups who focus on specific genres when it comes to crime, thriller/mystery, historical, fantasy, and science-fiction novels. For questions concerning magical realism, believability, or supernatural aspects, fantasy writers need that eye for magic. For technology development, future predictions, and realistic outcomes, another science-fiction author is best to give feedback. While all authors can spot general plot issues or suggest improvement in writing, sometimes having a focused reading can do more for a writer.

Using Feedback

Gaining feedback can help the direction the story takes. If an author cannot decide between two outcomes, having alternate scenes for the same moment, asking for help is never wrong. If the story appears to be going one way, but someone suggests for it to go in another direction, the author now has a choice to examine both paths. Of course, not all feedback needs to be taken seriously or integrated into a story. It is ultimately up to the author to choose which suggestions to consider and which ones to throw out.

Once an author has others look over their work, they go back and make revisions based on comments received. Not every comment needs to be taken into consideration: this is the author’s story, not theirs. Some revisions may be necessary to make publications or earn a large readership, while others are pet peeves or nitpicking remarks. Authors won’t be able to please everyone.

Professional Editing

Hire a professional copy and content editor to look over the manuscript. It doesn’t hurt to edit multiple times and from multiple angles. Having a professional read the manuscript can help publishing prospects, although it’s not guaranteed. They will find what everyone else has missed, clean up the writing, and advise authors on the proper steps to take once they’re done.

The Difference between Copy and Content Editing:

Copy Editing deals mostly with grammar, spelling, punctuation, formatting, and technical issues of a manuscript. Syntax and sentence structure, line consistency, and checking for clarity are common for copy editors.

Content Editing focuses on the development of plot and characters, looking at the story instead of the words. They will suggest plot changes, rework scenes, follow a character arc for signs of change, and more. They will give detailed notes on the story as a whole, sometimes focusing on certain aspects both positive and negative. These editors will help writers connect to their audience using language, themes, and characters.

Both editors are necessary during the editing and publishing process. If the writing is perfect but the story is flawed, readers will put the book back on the shelf. If the story is perfect but the writing flawed, publishers will shake their heads.

Finding the Right Editor

Oftentimes finding the right editor is just as important as finding the right publisher. Authors should look for an editor who focuses on the genre they are writing for, someone who the author can connect to on a personal or professional basis. If the two don’t click, the process will be arduous and uncomfortable.

For self-publishers, finding an editor can be difficult. Freelance editors are the best fit, or using network connections with other self-publishers. If using a digital publisher, such as Amazon’s CreateSpace, Bookbaby, and the thousands of others available, make sure to use their editing services. For traditional publishers, the house editor is generally used, unless the author seeks out a freelance editor or uses one from another company.

The Truth about Editors

Editors are not paid to be nice. They are not going to shower an author’s work with praises, glitter, butterflies and unicorns. An editor’s job is to dismantle the establishment of the novel, tear it to pieces, rip it apart, and then put it all back together in a more cohesive manner. Editors will be very honest about their feedback and notes, and it may seem harsh or unwarranted, but they are doing it for the writer’s benefit.

The process of editing requires a sharp eye and sharper tongue. Editors may mark up an entire document, asking the writer to change almost every aspect. Authors should not be discouraged with this kind of feedback, especially for their first novel. Editing is hard work for both the writer and editor, because the writer is attached to the words on the page, while the editor wants to provide a publishable manuscript. This is why workshops, asking friends to read over the novel, and personal editing are so important before deciding to work with a professional. Getting the manuscript as polished as possible helps the editor by focusing on things the author missed or needs help with. That being said, editors should not be intentionally aggressive or cruel in their notes.

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