Wednesday, June 8, 2016

After the Draft

 Editing. I called this piece After the Draft, but actually editing is an ongoing part of the craft of writing. There is rarely –likely never –a “one and done” writing project.

There are levels of editing as well as many types of editors. It behooves the novelist to become his or her own first editor. Why? Because hiring an editor can be costly and without a careful combing through the manuscript, a publisher will not be able to look past the awkwardness or errors to see the magic of the story you’ve weaved.

The purpose of this post is to examine the types or levels of editing and to point authors in the direction to complete as much of the editing as possible before releasing the manuscript to a professional editor or potential publisher.

This is considered the lowest level of editing. Don’t let that fool you. Without it your manuscript will die and untimely death in the “circular file.” Copyediting or proofreading is the type of editing that looks mostly at mechanics: punctuation, spelling, basic syntax such a noun verb agreement and so forth.

Remember the dreaded red pen your high school English teacher used to mark up your grammar usage and deleted that extra comma here and there? Learn to embrace it. In fact, buy your own red pen.

What You Can Do
Read through your manuscript. Not once. Not Twice. Read through your manuscript a minimum of three times. One of those times should be out loud. When you read out loud word for word, you will find missing words, awkward sentence structures, punctuation that needs repair. I know some writers who actually read paragraphs backwards to make sure everything is spelled correctly. You see, our minds play tricks on us. We know what we wanted to write, what we meant to say, and we tend to read what we intended instead of what is actually on the paper.

Secure a Beta Reader. A beta reader is not a professional editor. It is a person you trust to read through your manuscript and give you feedback. The beta reader  (or an alpha reader) will likely catch spelling, punctuation, missing words, and even sentences that don’t make sense. A good beta reader will offer you a critique of your work that will help you polish it. A beta reader may be a friend, a fellow writer, an avid reader (Though my experience with avid readers is that they often get caught up in the story and forget their job!) or maybe your former high school English teacher!

Educate Yourself!  Yep, study. Break open a book on grammar and punctuation. Take a class. Make it a topic of your next writers group. You will be surprised at what you can learn on your own and from fellow authors. And by the way, don’t be surprised if you sit in a room of English teachers and can’t find three who agree on the use of the comma.

Line Editing/Content Editing
Line editing or content editing is more advanced. Though some sentence structure issues may arise in the proofreading stage, the clarity and flow of the manuscript overall is addressed through good content editing. You can hire someone to assist you with content editing. A good editor will not only help you make changes, but will teach you how to assure you are consistent with your point of view, plotline, and characters. A good content editor will give you tips on how to tighten what you’ve written and to keep the pace of the story moving along.

What You Can Do
First, read good books. Reading helps you recognize good story lines and great flow of the manuscript. It helps you think about technique and story structure. You will gain a feel for sentence structures that work. Reading is one of the best ways to improve your own writing.

You can also join a writing group/critique group. Working with other authors will help you hone your own manuscript and because you are working with writers, they will help you bring your editing skills to a higher level.

I also recommend you put your completed manuscript away for a few weeks. Distance yourself from your story. You will find when you read through it again, you will see it with fresh eyes.

When to Hire an Editor
Though the suggestions I offer here will serve you well, you may need a professional editor for more substantial changes or fixes. You or your publishing house should hire a reliable editor to work with you. If you are planning to publish independently, hire a professional editor. If you find yourself meeting with rejection after rejection from potential publishers, hire a professional editor. If you feel unsure of yourself or it is your first attempt at writing a novel, hire a professional editor. Do everything you can to get your manuscript into the best shape possible then hire a professional editor. Yes, it is an investment but one that will bring you success.

There are many good editors out there. I recommend A Little Red Ink. Click HERE to read more about their services. Run by two sisters, they are fast, affordable, and do an excellent job. For large manuscripts they even offer a few pages free so you can see if you and they are a good fit.

I write this post for all of you writers out there. And for me. You see, I need to be reminded of the power of good editing.

Comments? What have you learned about your writing or yourself as you edit your work?

Oh...and be sure to drop in next week. You will not want to miss my interview with author Heather Gray. Take a look to the right to sign up for email notifications of this blog. It comes out every Wednesday.

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