To Edit or Not
Once upon a time (I know, fairy tale cliché) writers were contracted by the then ‘only’ big publishers and their manuscripts were assigned to editors to work their magic. However, nowadays, things have changed. There are still the large traditional publishers, small and mid-sized presses, but more importantly, an abundance of self-published authors. So the answer to the title is YES, you should edit your book, regardless which venue you’re aiming for.
To be taken as a serious writer, you need to take pride in your work, so submitting books to publishers that are littered with typos, grammatical errors, weak characters, inconsistencies, etc. only ups your chances of a rejection letter. For writers who contemplate self-publishing, editing is a crucial aspect in your career you should not omit. You don’t want to release a half-ass (sorry) job when all it would take is waiting a bit longer and have the book professionally edited, or go through a vigorous review by beta readers/critique partners. There’s so much competition out there, you want your book to stand apart from all the others.
Editing is an essential aspect of your book’s life before publication. You don’t want to assault your readers with inconsistencies, typos, characters that even a first grader can sketch better. In one scene you indicated the murder happened on Tuesday, and the next scene begins on Saturday before the murder occurred. Simple mistake but overlooked. Main character’s name is Tom, and down the line, it switched to Mike because that was the original name you had chosen but simply forgot to switch them all to Tom. Again, a simple mistake that was overlooked. You switch from present to past tense, an aspect that’s not ‘wrong’ but if done ‘wrong’ jars a reader out of the book pages. You wanted to type ‘it’s’ but it ended up as ‘its’. Another mistake. I’m hoping you get my drift here. You, the writer, at times, may not see these errors that may affect reviews in a negative way.
I can almost hear the sighs and loud exhales. Editing might feel like a never-ending tale in itself, but it’s a necessary step to help improve your manuscript. Print it then read out loud. You’d be surprised when ‘listening’ to the words what you may find to eliminate, like excess baggage that doesn’t push the story forward. Also, instead of editing only on the computer, reading it on paper ‘feels’ as though reading it from pages of a print book.
Here are some helpful tips to look for while wearing your editor’s hat:
- remove a string of words if they can be replaced with one or two more powerful ones
- cut up run-on sentences into two or more
- remove as many ‘ly’ endings
- spruce up passive sentences and make them more active
- check if you’re head-hopping from one character’s POV to another’s in any given scene
- make sure to have no more than 10 exclamation points in the entire manuscript otherwise, it loses its impact
- avoid or cut down usages of some of these toxic waste: began to, she/he felt, she/he realized, was, that, pronouns that are clustered too close together, but, had, seemed to be,
- highlight in your manuscript repetitive phrases you tend to use and reword some
- backstory – keep it to a minimum. Don’t make the novel read as though a writer is interjecting everything from his character profile index card. Just trust that your readers are smart enough to clue in with most details without you having to spoon-feed them.
Here’s a short excerpt from my upcoming non-fiction book, Building a Tough Writer’s Shell:
You ask your best friend who is an amazing writer to take a look at your manuscript. You’ve explained to them you write erotic romance and they’re all excited to read something out of their own genre. Hip. Hip. Wrong!
“So, Stacy, what do you think?”
“Um…”(note the hesitation in her voice—not a good sign)
“It’s okay, I’m a big girl, just let me have it.”
“I found you used way too much sex and romance.”
“Stacy, it’s an erotic romance book.”
“Yeah, I know, but did you have to use those words? Couldn’t you use ‘his thing’ or just have them get to know one another first before they jumped right into bed?”
You see, folks, Stacy is a children’s writer and was very eager to help out her friend but had no clue what elements are contained in such a genre. Therefore, this type of a critique partner does you absolutely no good. You need to find a person or group who either writes or reads that genre to give you their honest impression of your book. They may not be able to help edit it for you but their honest opinions do count for something because they are ‘knowledgeable’ in that genre. They are your ‘beta’ readers, an insight that is valuable to have. They direct you in areas within scenes of your book that possibly need more attention.
The above is an excerpt from my Critique chapter to show you that the right beta readers are important if you want to improve your manuscript. Below is another short excerpt from Building a Tough Writer’s Shell:
By eliminating toxic waste, you’re allowing your story to breathe more freely, getting the character’s message/emotions across, descriptive details to paint your pages, engaging your readers on a smoother plateau.
So while wearing your editor’s hat, here are some tips to help you out:
- edit your chapters (one at a time) by printing them out. As I wrote earlier on, makes a world of difference to edit via computer screen compared to holding a print out
- don’t rush through pages. You may know the story inside out, sick of reading it over and over again, but if you torpedo through the book, you’ll miss typos, no question about that, ewe no what eye mean? Read/edit a few pages at a time, take a break (or step away for a day) then continue
- don’t rely on spellchecker
- have a notebook or doc open to jot down ideas to include or change in your manuscript. Or, use track changes and add side comments to yourself as reminders. If it’s not done when the idea pops up, it’s out the door faster than you can say WHAT?
- don’t diss your writing when going over your first draft. Remember that’s all it is, a first draft filled with typos because you’re writing up a storm like a madman; characters that resemble more like stick people but that’s fine because in the next subsequent drafts you’re going to build their profiles; holes in the plot; scenes that give no indication of emotion or setting; all of these are normal first draft elements. Don’t worry about them. As you move to draft 2, draft 3, etc., things ‘should’ begin to tighten and I say ‘should’ not because I don’t have faith in you, but because this is where your objectivity comes into play. Need to remove that writer’s hat and now play the editor, which isn’t easy for many because they need to ‘kill this and that’ from scenes, and it’s hard. Tissue, please.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Stay tuned for more excerpts from my upcoming non-fiction book, Building a Tough Writer’s Shell.
You might also be interested to read:
How To Use Fairy Tales to Plot Your Story
Excellent advice! I also think reading the material out loud often brings problems to light that might be overlooked.
Hi, Judy, and thank you for reading. A lot of writers, especially new writers, rush to get their work out there without really stopping and considering they need to offer their best work from the beginning. And yes, reading out loud has its benefits.
I would go so far as to say there are very (very) few writers who can get away without getting an external editor.
The writer must thing of it as a necessary part of the process: get seat, get a computing device, get an idea, get it down, revise it to the best of your ability, and then GET IT EDITED.
Well-written article. Thank you.
Thank you, Chuck, for stopping by. And I totally agree with your comment about ‘few writers who can get away without an external editor. I remember receiving drafts from some big names while reviewing their books their publicists sent me, and have to say it was hard to give a proper review with all the boo boo elements within those pages. However, knowing their style and other books, I overlooked these areas and reviewed the merits of the plot.
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