Many thanks to Editor Mel Finefrock for supplying this great information.
From Caterpillar Manuscript to Butterfly Novel
Eight Useful Tips for Editing Your Book
By Mel Finefrock
A caterpillar cannot become a butterfly without first undergoing transformation in a chrysalis. As an editor, I feel the same is true when it comes to shaping a manuscript into a publish-ready book. Though editing is multifaceted and even tedious at times, and therefore dreaded by many, it is crucial to the development of a strong text and, with persistent effort, can be manageable and even enjoyable. In this article, I will discuss the revision process through the lens of self-publishing, which is a fast-growing industry and which is becoming increasingly more accessible to those who aspire to immortalize their words on a page.
Where to Start?
Are you a new author aiming to self-publish? Are you feeling unsure about where to find an editor, or whether you can afford one? If you haven’t already, I’d suggest that you explore the many offers for editorial services on sites like KBoards. Working with freelance editors still costs, but it’s far more affordable for indie authors than other alternatives may be. Consider the investment. Maybe even talk with a prospective editor about whether (s)he offers payment plans. In the indie world, we are of the understanding that it takes some time for everyone, writer or editor, to get her business off the ground.
If it turns out that editorial services still aren’t in your budget for the time being, you may hesitate to move forward with your manuscript or, inversely, elect to publish without some sort of editing regimen beyond proofreading it independently. I highly discourage either course of action. You want your book to go somewhere, and you want it to be polished.
Words of Wisdom
The following eight tips are useful whether or not you plan to hire an editor in order to ready your manuscript for publication.
- Don’t panic. It’s natural to look at a manuscript of fifty thousand words or more in length and feel just a tad overwhelmed, but think about it this way–if you are the veteran of writing that book, you surely can edit it. If it helps, think of it like maintaining a garden. No matter if you don’t have a green thumb; bear with me here. You’ve planted and mulched; now you need to go back and weed, water, and dead-head everything so that your plants, flowers, or crops will stay healthy and beautiful.
- When it comes to grammar, spell check is your friend, but technology is not by any means infallible. One of my all-time favorite spoken-word pieces by slam poet Taylor Mali, entitled “The The Impotence of Proofreading,” perfectly illustrates and satirizes this issue. Hence, a combination of spell-checking and proofreading your work is the best self-editing regimen. Let’s say you’re a great storyteller but that you struggle with grammar and feel that spell check and the naked eye may not be sufficient. In that case, you might consult a grammar manual or even Google for those pesky dangling modifiers. A trick that even I use is to read things to myself aloud. If they don’t make sense, or I stumble over my words, it’s time to rework the syntax. Even then, we will often mentally correct an error on the page and miss it altogether, so maybe have a friend or family member read a passage aloud to you for extra insurance.
- Answer yourself this question: are you the type to edit as you go or to freewrite everything in a whirlwind and then come back to it? My observation is that too much of the former scenario can slow progress and that the latter lends to higher margins of error. What tends to work best for me personally is to do a little of both. Everyone writes differently, but if you’re looking to improve efficiency, try striking a balance between freewriting and editing as you go. This way, you won’t agonize over how to word a particular sentence, but you’ll catch glitches like a character’s brown eyes suddenly being blue for a few paragraphs and then going back to brown again.
- Don’t rush. You’re understandably excited to publish your manuscript, but the more time you allow for revision, the more issues will be resolved and the stronger your text will be. Lots of books begin with the great race that is NaNoWriMo, but you are not obligated to aim for a finished product in such a short amount of time, nor would I recommend it.
- Similarly, know when to take a break. I wouldn’t know this personally, because I don’t rely on computer monitors to read, but I’ve been told by friends, clients, and volunteers with the text conversion team at my alma mater’s disabilities office that they often feel more than a little cross-eyed after a few hours of hunting and pecking for grammar and formatting issues in a document. The refresh rates on monitors are bad for your eyes and can cause headaches. If you aren’t feeling your best, you aren’t doing your best. So get up, drink some water or hot tea, do a few chores or go for a walk, then come back to it later or even tomorrow. Maybe even consider printing a hard copy of your manuscript at an office supply store and attacking it with a red pen like you did back in grade school.
- Beta-readers are a wonderful thing. Even if you’re spot-on with spelling, grammar, and continuity, always pass your manuscript through multiple sets of hands. Solicit the opinions of willing friends and family just as you would a mentor, because sampling multiple perspectives from people of different backgrounds will help you get an idea of responses to your book. Consult other artists, too. Especially in the indie field, I see up-and-coming authors swapping critiques all the time, starting with places like Facebook groups or deviantART’s literature community. Forming relationships is important, because those connections may aid in building some publicity for you as well.
- When enlisting the help of friends, family, mentors, and other artists, I recommend the discussion-based style of editing outlined in my editorial statement. In other words, if your schedule allows, avoid using track changes. Talk with your betas about the changes they’ve suggested. I personally have used this method for years, both officially and unofficially, and my clients have reportedly appreciated this style, because it fosters direct interaction with the text and helps them to understand why I’ve made a particular suggestion. Most importantly, I feel that this approach helps authors to improve and feel more confident in their writing, because they are empowered to have the final say in what happens with it.
- Edit your manuscript more than once. Yep, I said it. I can practically hear your collective groaning, but I have seen several books published that still had several grammatical and continuity errors, including alternate spellings of a single character’s name. In order to avoid hitting burn-out, I suggest taking some time between each round of edits. This inevitably prolongs the revision process, but holding a clean volume in your hands, I think, is the best reward in the end.
Many thanks to Keith for asking me to serve as a guest writer on his blog. I hope that my editing tips might be of some help to you all. Have any questions or ideas for a future blog post? Leave them in the comments!
Since graduating from the University of North Texas in May of 2013, Mel Finefrock has been following her long-time dream of working as a freelance editor. She has edited ten books, seven of which are the work of award-winning romance novelist, Krista Lakes. Mel’s greatest passion is art, which is why she loves working with authors. An artist herself, Mel writes songs and accompanies herself on guitar, has won awards for her poetry from UNT and the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities, and even takes pictures once in a while, which might surprise many on account of her blindness.