The Novel Editing Process From Start to Finish
In Response to a Request
From my friend Audrey:
“Great article Bill! And poetry makes even less money than articles do! I would be very interested in an article addressing your editing process in depth--first pass through, second pass through etc--and how to keep perspective as you go through that process.”
I’ve never met a request I could refuse so Audrey, this one’s for you.
Before I respond to Audrey’s question, though, remember that I’m simply sharing with you my editing process. I’m sure many of you have a different process and that’s wonderful. If you’d like to share that process in the comment section then feel free. I really believe that writers can learn from each other through that kind of sharing, so I encourage you to do so.
With that qualifier out of the way, allow me to tell you how I edit my novels.
One More Point to Make Before We Begin
I think it’s important to differentiate between the types of editing. We edit for grammatical errors. We edit for flow and voice. We edit for storyline. We edit our characters and we edit our scenes. I’ll be mentioning all of these in this article and I didn’t want you to think they were all the same thing.
Now let’s begin.
I’ve mentioned before the process I use to write a novel. My first draft is simply the telling of the bare-roots story. I do no editing in that draft. I simply follow my mental outline, make sure I keep the story flowing smoothly, and arrive at the ending without editing at all.
My second draft is for filling in the guts of the story. Here is where I develop my characters in more detail, and I make the scenes come alive. Still no editing is done during this second draft. If all goes according to plan, I basically complete the book by the end of this second draft.
Now it’s time to edit.
My first edit is a read-through, catching as many grammatical errors as possible. I also correct as many “story flaws” as I can at this time. I read the manuscript out loud so I can hear it. I find this helps me determine if the flow is the way I want it.
When I’m all done with this first edit I force myself to leave the manuscript alone. I find it is quite easy to “get too close” to my own work. Remember, by this time, I’ve been working on this book for about six months. I need to step back and get some objective feedback from my beta readers.
What is a beta reader? They are trusted friends who agree to read my manuscript and give me their honest opinions. I do not want them wasting their time on grammar. I simply want to know if they find the story enjoyable and if they see any major flaws in the story. This is vital because by this time in the process I cannot see errors in the story.
A word about beta readers: choose people you trust who will give you helpful suggestions. Why trust? Well, besides the fact that there are unscrupulous people out there who will steal your work, you need people who are willing to be truthful with you. It does no good to just pick people who will tell you that your work is fantastic. That may be nice for your ego but it doesn’t help you to have a finished product that is worthy of publishing.
Approach people and give them a deadline. We don’t want this process dragging out for weeks. Ask them if they can do this for you in two weeks. If they can’t that’s fine, but try to find readers who understand there are time constraints. Offer to be a beta reader for them should they ever write a book. Give and take…it’s what the writing community is all about.
Your beta readers come through for you and they send back suggestions. Now it’s time to take their suggestions and incorporate them into your story….if you choose to do so.
That qualifying statement is important. Remember that this is your book. You are under no obligation to take suggestions and make them reality. Take a look at each suggestion and determine whether you can live with that change. Obviously, if someone has found a hole in the logic of your story, it would be advisable to follow their suggestion.
And Now It’s Time for a Real Editor
When I’ve finished with the suggestions given to me by the beta readers I am finally at the point where I turn over my manuscript to a professional editor.
Yes, this costs money. Best case scenario, for a full-length novel, this will cost you between $500 and $1,000. I’m sorry to be the one to tell you that.
That means you need to make a decision because let’s face it, most of us don’t have that kind of cash available. Ask yourself this question: is it worth it to me to pay that much for an editor? If you are going to self-publish as an ebook, chances are the answer is no. Most writers cannot afford this step and believe me, I get it.
An alternative is to have a writing friend do this for you and you agree to edit their book when the time comes.
Whatever you decide to do, I do think it is vital that someone else edit your book. I’ll say this as clearly as possible and I hope I don’t offend anyone: a writer who final-edits their own book has a fool for a client.
If you are planning on submitting your book to an agent or a publisher, this step is crucial. I can think of nothing worse than querying a professional agent or publisher about a book that has grammatical errors in it. You will simply look like a fool and ruin your credibility with that professional.
Last Step in the Process
You get your book back from the editor and now it is time to make changes based on that final edit. Make those changes….unless it is a change you can’t live with, in which case ignore it.
Finally, I read the book one more time, out loud, with another person listening. This is the final read-through and I want another pair of ears hearing what I hear. How does it sound? Is the flow good? Is the voice good?
If everything goes smoothly on that read-through, I am done with the editing and it is time to bring that book to life.
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- William Holland | Helping Writers to Spread Their Wings and Fly
Tips and discussions about the craft of writing
Let Me Repeat
Again, this is my process. It works for me. Will it work for you? I have no idea and I’m not suggesting it to any of you. All I can do is share my experience and my approach and hopefully you’ll find it useful.
Audrey, thank you so much for the question. I hope you find this answer satisfying and helpful.
To the rest of you, best wishes should you decide to write a book. I find it to be very satisfying. I’m proud of the three novels I’ve written, and you should be proud of any book you have created. There are few of us in the world who can do this, so pat yourself on the back for a job well-done.
2015 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”