Last updated on May 4, 2017
Welcome to the second part of my weekly series on methods that indie authors can use to save money on editing.
Last week, I covered patience and the ways in which slowing down can save you, the indie author, money on editing.
Self-editing can also save you money, and it definitely requires some of that patience. When you complete the first draft of a book, especially your first book, you might be tempted to dive right into formatting and publishing your new book with Amazon KDP, Amazon CreateSpace, IngramSpark, Kobo Writing Life, or one of the many other avenues for self-publishing.
By doing so, however, you are taking a dangerous gamble. Not only is your book likely to be full of typos because even editor/writers make typos, but your book may also contain plot holes, character and plot discrepancies, overly convenient endings, and other sales killers.
You already know that as an editor, I am in favor of editing before publishing, but I am also in favor of at least two rounds of author self-editing before that professional editing takes place.
So, before you start looking for that stellar editor with just the right price, let your book sit. Fill your mind with something else, perhaps another project, for two to three months so that when you pick it up again, you are no longer seeing what you think should be on the page (a.k.a., experiencing author blindness) but instead are seeing what is actually on the page.
Your process might look something like this:
1. Finish the first draft.
2. Wait three months. (Maybe write a first draft of a new book during this time.)
4. Send the next draft of the manuscript to volunteer readers and get feedback.
5. Self-edit according to the feedback. Repeat steps 4 and 5 with alpha and beta readers until you believe that you have done as much for the manuscript as you personally can or are willing to do without an editor’s help.
6. Send the next draft to an editor or editors for an evaluation to see how far you’ve come.
If the editor recommends developmental editing (i.e., structural editing), you can work with him or her on this step if you’re not sure what to do, or you can do another round of self-edits yourself, focusing on structural issues.
If the editor recommends copyediting, you’re hopefully good to go on structural and big-picture issues and are ready to move forward.
My point here about self-editing is that by taking your time and fixing as many errors as you can with the help of readers, you can get a price on the lower end of your editor’s rates and maybe even skip developmental editing altogether.
How to Make the Most of Self-Editing
Establishing a process that works well for you will take time, and it’s one you’ll get better at the more you write and the more you see which steps help and which ones are a waste of time for you and your style of writing.
Some writers make many passes on their novel, each time looking for one specific item (e.g., overly used adverbs, too much telling vs showing, or point-of-view problems). If this works for you, great, but I warn you: the more you read your own manuscript, the less you’ll be able to really see it. That’s author blindness kicking in again. Editors get it, too, and that is why I recommend a separate proofreader once copyediting is finished. Unless you want it to take a year or more to finish every novel, take advantage of alpha and beta readers to help you see the things that author blindness will, well, blind you to.
Tips for Self-Editing
Here are some tips to help you make the most of your self-editing process followed by some resources with even more:
1. Apply rules only when they actually improve the story that you want to create. It’s easy to take the many writing “rules” out there and apply them universally, but thoughtlessly slashing your manuscript may cause even bigger problems.
For example, sometimes you need to tell, or summarize, less essential narrative to let the reader know what is happening so that you can get to the good stuff and really paint a vivid picture of important scenes. If you overly show a less important scene and extend it to several pages, you might lose your readers’ interest as they ask themselves what the point of the passage is and where the story went.
Many authors and even some editors focus on little details that will not matter to a reader as long as the story is tight and compelling. So when you are thinking about applying a rule to your book, ask yourself, “If I saw this in a book I was reading, would it bother me?” before you jump in with the red pencil. Alternatively, you can save the original passage, make the edits you are thinking about, and then compare both and see which is really better.
I know a lot of rules, but when I am editing, especially for big-picture issues, I read like a reader first. When my brain tells me that something doesn’t feel right or is just awkward or boring, it is only then that I get down to the nitty-gritty details and dissect the manuscript to see why it doesn’t work. Don’t waste time worrying that you overused a certain word or type of word until your alpha or beta readers point it out or you yourself are bothered by it when reviewing your manuscript after a break.
2. Start with the big-picture items first and then move to the smaller details. By big-picture items, I mean plot, characterization, structure, consistency, timelines and chronologies, tone, theme, and flow. By smaller details, I mean spelling, grammar, punctuation, capitalization, word choice, and consistency. (Yes, there are different types of consistency, but consistency is always key in editing.)
Don’t get bogged down in the little details until the overarching structure has been addressed.”
As you’re editing, if you see a spelling mistake, sure, you can fix it, but don’t get bogged down in the little details until the overarching structure has been addressed. You might end up deleting that sentence or passage anyway. So address the big picture first: How is your structure? Does it compel the reader ever forward, ever faster in a race to an intense, surprising-but-inevitable climax? Are the arcs of your main characters complete? Does your timeline make sense, or are your flashbacks confusing your readers? Does your dialog sound natural for each character, or is it stilted? Are your characters’ accents pulling your reader out of the story?
Only when you and your volunteer readers are sure that the story is in good shape should you start to worry about the rest.
3. Take advantage of free and low-cost resources. Any Google search will tell you that there are many, many free blog posts and articles out there to help you with self-editing. There will be a vast number of opinions on the best way to go about self-editing. I recommend that you find a few writing experts online that gel with your own ideas about writing and use them to help you figure out what to look for and what to focus on during your editing process. Some of my favorite resources are Writing Excuses, Helping Writers Become Authors, Writer Unboxed, Fiction University, Writer’s Digest, and This Itch of Writing.
Another source of inexpensive guidance is Amazon.com’s Kindle Unlimited. I have found a ton of books on the writing craft available to borrow with my subscription.
I’ll cover some more extended tips for self-editing in a future post in this series.
Other Resources for Self-Editing
Here are some resources that I have found particularly helpful:
1. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, Renni Browne and Dave King
2. “Checklist for Editors,” The Editor’s Blog, Beth Hill
3. “The Fiction Editor’s Pharmacopoeia; Diagnosing Symptoms & Treating the Disease,” This Itch of Writing, Emma Darwin
4. “How Do You Eat an Elephant?” This Itch of Writing, Emma Darwin
5. “How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication,” Helping Writers Become Authors, K. M. Weiland
6. “How to Be Your Own Book Doctor,” Fiction University, Janice Hardy
In next week’s post, I’ll cover alpha and beta readers and critique partners in more depth with a little more information on how to find them and use them to your advantage in getting your book ready for professional editing.