At last your manuscript about Rudolph and Santa is complete and has gone to your beta readers for one round of testing. What next?
This is where the hard work begins. Most writers don’t enjoy it, but editing is the stage that will lift your work from just a rough story to a world-class bestseller. Well, okay, we hope it will. Seriously though, without good editing, your book will not stand a chance in an increasingly competitive market.
If you can possibly afford the cost, I recommend you get another writer or professional editor to do the final edit of your work. You can always swap books for editing with other readers, if you are short of money. Why do I tell you this? A writer reads what he thought he wrote, not what he actually wrote, when he reads it back. He or she will read the same paragraph 20 times and not see the typo. It has has happened to me in a very embarrassing situation; a submission to a pubisher had an error in the first line of the query letter. Two other people close to me checked it and didn’t spot it. I read it at least 20 times and missed it. Once the tension of submission was over and I received their rejection, I saw the error and it was blindingly obvious!
But whether you are editing somebody else’s work, or your own, the editing process is the same. Do it in this order:
- Development editing
Development editing is looking for ways to organise and rearrange the text to tell the story better. A good example is Ordo Lupus and the Temple Gate, as mentioned in lesson 4. Structure. I took the few pages just before the climax and inserted one paragraph at the beginning of each chapter of the book in italics. I could do this because the Main Character (MC) used a tape recorder, so we don’t lose tension by revealing whether the MC lives or dies.
Copy-editing is basically getting the grammar right. It is done to improve the flow of ideas for the reader, clarify what you are saying and sometimes to reduce the length of text. You will probably find that you also correct some typos, thus saving yourself work during the last stage; proofreading.
Read this sentence:
After that, the conversation went on but I left to find the dormitory
There is a lot of ambiguity here and at least 2 typos; there should be a comma before the conjunction ‘but’ and there is no full-stop (or period, if you are American). Some writers will not use a comma after a preposition of less than five or six words. This practice is becoming more common. So the comma before ‘the conversation’ could probably be removed.
But the sentence is very ambiguous. Did the person leave before the conversation, during the conversation or after. As it stands, it suggests that the person probably left before the conversation. But think hard. Is that what you intended to say? If you wanted to say that they left after the conversation, you would want to use this form:
The conversation went on, but I left to find the dormitory after that.
And if you want to say that they left during the conversation, you would write:
The conversation went on, but I left to find the dormitory.
Notice how this is also much shorter. If you want to reduce the length of text, and it really doesn’t matter whether the person left before, during or after the conversation, then use this form.
Hemmingway is a great writer for economy of prose. He never uses a word when none is required. This is the typical approach of journalists, because each word would cost money to print.
Now you are simply looking for typos. These are not always picked up by your word processing software’s spell-checker. For instance, look at this sentence:
The convection went on, but I left to find the dormitory.
If you have your auto-correct feature turned on, you are more likely to have the wrong word in a sentence. Here, ‘convection’ is not the word we want, but it is spelled correctly, so the spell-checker will probably not highlight it. Beware of misplaced words!
I would recommend turning on the grammar checker in Microsoft Word. This will put a blue underline under a word, phrase or sentence that seems incorrrect, according to common grammar rules. If you see a blue underline, take a close look at the phrase. Here is a good example:
In fact, I didn’t know what was wrong.
Word will underline ‘In fact,’ because that particular type of preposition is always followed by a comma. You will learn a lot about grammar by checking phrases that are underlined in blue. But don’t feel you MUST make the change. Sometimes word simply doesn’t understand the specific situation.
Here are my top tips for proof-reading:
- Do it twice. Once reading forward, to improve the flow, and once as in 2.
- Start at the end of your story and work back, reading one sentence at a time. This way, you are less likely to expect what you read and miss the typos
- Use a macro to check for unmatched speech marks. I doubt there is a writer on the planet who can write a book without leaving out some or putting them in the wrong place.
- If something feels awkward, it is. Try rewriting it in as many different ways as you can think of. Eventually, you will get it right. You might even improve the story.
Lastly, if you think editing is a waste of time, take a look at these pictures of December Radio. The copy on the left is before editing, the one on the right, after. See how much the text was reduced. In my opinion, the story improved greatly as a result. The cover on the left was my visual. And as a bonus editing tip, pick your best scene and send that to your cover designer.
That is the end of my series of tutorials on How to Write a Good Book. I hope you have enjoyed and learned something from it. You can find all my books online. December Radio is in bookshops in the UK and USA. And there is a special deal:
If you find any errors in my books, email me!