“My manuscript is pretty clean. Probably won’t take you long. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure it just needs a proofread, not a whole edit.” Like other copyeditors, I get this a lot.
The biggest problem is writers don’t see their own mistakes. Then, an editor like me comes along and surprises the author with red lines and corrections on their story. The sheer number of them makes their manuscript look like it’s getting ready for Valentine’s Day.
This inability to see the mistakes in your writing can be called author blindness. Author blindness can be lessened with some time away from your story but never fully cured. It is a condition caused by overfamiliarity with your words. You’ve seen them many, many times, even in your head before they were formed on the paper or the screen. Once they’re out there, you see what you expect to see on the page—your vision of the story—instead of what is actually there. Often, these issues exist even after you’ve self-edited.
And you should self-edit before you send your book to your editor. Think of it this way. You have the choice of giving your editor an unshaped lump of clay or a mostly sculpted piece that still needs some polishing. Given time and money constraints, which one could she most likely refine into something that is both a superb work of art and on par with your vision?
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:
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.
Your edited manuscript is back! It’s time to incorporate the edits. Track Changes can seem intimidating to work with the first time, but once you get comfortable with it, you’ll wonder how you ever managed notes, edits, and revisions without it.
Here are some tips for getting started processing your editing manuscript—but before you begin, remember that you really can’t go wrong if you save early and often. Save the document with a new working name right away so that you’ll always have the document in the form it was returned in from your editor. Keep saving regularly as you go so that if you make a big mistake (easy to do in the era of global search and replace), you can step back to a recent version.
After you receive your edited manuscript
The first thing you should do with a newly edited manuscript is read it with the markup turned off so you can clearly see how the editing text reads. You’ll probably find it more convenient to jot notes by hand about things you want to address later rather than distracting yourself by fixing things here and there at this stage. (Jot down a unique snippet of identifying text so you can easily find the right place in the manuscript later.)
To turn off the Track Changes markup, on the Review tab in Microsoft Word, find the drop-down box just to the right of the Track Changes box. Set that box to Final (in Word 2013, choose No Markup or Simple Markup). I recommend that you keep comments showing; if you’ve turned on the tracked changes in the text but you’re not seeing comment balloons in the margins, click the Show Markup dropdown next to the big Tracking button and check Comments to enable them.
When you’re ready to process the edits
Once you’ve read through the manuscript with the markup turned off and made notes of anything that needs more attention after your first read-through, you’re ready to peek behind the curtain and start accepting, rejecting, and revising the edits. Accepting an edit makes it part of your manuscript, while rejecting one deletes it.
To make the edits show up on your screen, set the drop-down box at the top of the Track Changes area on the Review tab to Final: Show Markup (or, in Word 2013, All Markup).
Does it seem like you see more comments this time around? You’re not crazy. Comments linked to material that was deleted only show when the deleted material is displayed, which only happens when the markup is on. Now that the markup is on, you’ll see every last explanation and comment that exists.
You have finally done it. You have written your novel. You know that you will stand out in the slush pile or in the crowd of self-published authors if you get your novel professionally edited. However, editing is more expensive than you thought it would be (see Why Does Editing Cost So Much?). How on Earth do you pay for editing?
Four Nontraditional Ways to Pay for Editing
In this post, I take a look at several nontraditional ways to pay for editing. I assume here that you don’t have the cash in the bank and that you don’t want to use credit. Remember, these are just some possibilities. Pick the one that works for you!
1. Save:If you just started writing your novel, start saving. Maybe you don’t consider this nontraditional, but in this day and age, there is a lot of “I want that, and I must have it now!” Take a step back to yesteryear and remember that all that hard work and hard saving can pay off. Novels can take anywhere from weeks to years to write. Estimate now what editing will cost, divide that amount by the number of months that you think it will take to finish your novel, and save that much per month. Emily Nickerson at the muse has some great tips on budgeting for big expenses.
2. Work Out a Payment Plan: See if your editor is willing to work out a payment plan with you. If you are a repeat (a.k.a. dependable) client, this is much more likely. Alternately, perhaps the editor would be willing to work with you on one chapter at a time as you can pay (say, monthly) or on a shorter section of your book. A developmental edit of just a few chapters will contain valuable information that you can extrapolate to your entire novel.
3. Barter: Consider bartering for services. I am not suggesting you bombard editors’ websites asking them to barter. This plan works better if you know your editor personally or run in the same circles and know what you can offer each other. A group of editors that I know who are also writers exchange services so that they can edit each other’s work instead of their own.
4. Crowdsource: Finally, we come to everyone’s favorite fundraiser: crowdfunding! Do your friends and family know that you are chasing your dream of becoming a published novelist? Use a site like Kickstarter to let them help you. You might even find complete strangers climbing aboard to help you fund your dream as well. The Alliance of Independent Authors has a great article listing “Top Tips on Crowdfunding for Authors.”
However you decide to fund your editing services, it will be a worthwhile investment in the future of both your book and your writing career.
Certainly, there will be writers that make use of neither before self-publishing. For traditional publishing, it is rare (or should be!) that a book will be published without at least being copyedited. There will also be some overlap between the services provided by beta readers and editors. However, here are some differences that stand out.
Differences between Beta Readers and Editors
Cost: Beta readers generally provide their services for free or as a quid pro quo. As trained professionals, editors charge a fee, depending on the work and their experience.
Perspective: A beta reader sees things from the perspective of a book consumer. This is an essential viewpoint to be sure. Consumers/readers are your audience! Editors, on the other hand, can also be consumers. However, they are also part of the production team. They are more likely to have a handle on what isn’t working, why it isn’t working, and/or why it won’t work for your particular audience. They can also provide some hand-holding through the publishing process. Most beta readers would be out of their depth when it comes to the ins and outs of publishing.
Experience: A beta reader’s experience will vary widely. However, any good editor will have spent years working with words day in and day out. They have probably taken courses to update their existing skills and learn new ones. They go out of their way to keep up with the profession and current books and trends in their sector of the publishing industry.
Professionalism: When you hand your manuscript off to a beta reader, you usually just have to sit back, wait, and hope that they get it back to you and that they do so within a reasonable amount of time (believe me, I know). Maybe you’ll start writing your next book while you wait. Then, they may or may not hit on the points where you need feedback. With a good editor, you will get a schedule and a systematic point-by-point review of your manuscript, depending on which kind of editing (developmental editing, substantive editing, or copyediting) that you choose.
Editor or beta reader? My advice? Once your manuscript is finished, start with a few beta readers. Then, polish up your manuscript on the basis of their feedback. Once that is done, seek out an editor. You will likely find that he or she has a lot to offer in bringing your manuscript up to a professional level. In this day and age of self-publishing, that edge is essential in giving your story the attention it deserves. If you are going the traditional publishing route, you can be sure that editors and agents will appreciate a well-developed, edited manuscript more than a rough first draft.