The stages of editing: an author's perspective
You've decided to write a book, that's great!
You're actively taking steps to research for and write your book. Congratulations, you're one of few people who say they are going to write a book and actually put pen to paper (or fingertips to keys)!
You've written a complete draft of a book. Woohoo!! Go get yourself some of your favourite sweat treats and enjoy the feeling of accomplishment.
Now what...? Well, if you intend to publish your book (whether you choose to self-publish or, like me, go down the traditional publishing route), the hard work starts now. Now, you edit, edit, edit and edit some more.
But what do we mean when we talk about editing a book? I am often asked about the editing process by people I meet in the book world through author, reader and writer events, my Facebook reader group and otherwise online. What is editing? How do I go about editing my book? Do I need the help of professional editors?
Caveat: I am not an editor, I'm an author of fiction and this post is based on my own experience. But I have published seven novels to date (with another two due out in the next year), eight of which have been/will be published traditionally and one of which was self-published, three of which have been translated into foreign languages (find out more about my books HERE). My experience is primarily in the traditional publishing world but I will try to include some helpful tips I have picked up from self-publishing and friends who have self-published, too.
LET'S TALK ABOUT EDITING AS YOU GO
The first editor of any book is the author. Every author has a different way of working. Some authors edit as they go. Others edit on a chapter by chapter basis. Personally, I prefer to write a first draft of a book and type 'the end' before I go back to the beginning and start to edit. This is simply a question of how you work best. But one thing is for sure...your book should be edited by you before you ask your professional team to go to work.
TIME FOR YOUR AGENT'S HELP
An agent is so much more than the person who gets your book through the doors of traditional publishing houses (in fact, it is possible with some imprints to submit your manuscript without an agent). If you have one, an agent can also be an invaluable editor and sounding board.
If you're in the market for an agent, make sure your manuscript is complete and as polished as it can be before submitting your work.
If you have an agent, you and your agent will probably have an established way of working. If you're the kind of author who edits as you go, you might ask your agent to read your work in parts. If, like me, you prefer to finish your manuscript and then edit, you will probably submit your work in progress to your agent once you have a complete draft.
Beta readers: if you use beta readers, you might want to ask for their feedback around this time, too. If you don't have an agent and/or you are self-published, this is probably a great time to have a fresh pair of eyes on your work.
Essentially, at this stage, you want to know if your story 'works'. Does it have promise?
THE DETAILED EDIT
In traditional publishing, your editor is your champion. They backed your book and were the driving force behind your publishing house acquiring your book.
As much as they obviously support your book, your editor will undoubtedly have suggestions for improvements - refining story arcs (this always happens), manipulating a character's focus (this usually happens), maybe even cutting characters (this sometimes happens). Given the breadth of changes that can be made at this stage of editing, it isn't unusual to go through multiple rounds of detailed edits.
You won't necessarily agree with everything your editor suggests. There may be times for discussions between you and your editor and a good editor will encourage this too. After all, who knows your characters better than you? But they are the experts, they know what works in the market and what doesn't, they are an independent third eye who can see the flaws in your manuscript. Remember, you're a team now. You both have the same end goal - to get your book into the best shape it possibly can be, then get it out into the world for readers to enjoy (or at least talk about).
Note: the route to finding your editor will be different if you are self-published but my top tip is, don't skip this step. A good editor is worth the money if you want to be a serious writer. This applies for copy editors and proof readers too. Your friend, though it is lovely of them to offer, isn't a trained editor (unless you're very lucky).
THE COPY EDIT
On page 10 of your book, Annette is wearing a red dress to an awards ceremony. By page 12, at the same awards ceremony, Annette is wearing a blue dress. Oops!
This is an example of something a copy editor might spot. They will also look out for turns of phrase that don't work, clunky sentences that would be better broken down, repetitious actions (my characters often bite down on their gums when they're nervous), over-labouring of certain details.
Sometimes, as authors, we want to make sure a reader is keeping up and we don't give their memory enough credit. Sometimes saying something in chapter 2 and not mentioning it again until chapter 35 is too much to ask a reader to remember around a day job and a family life. A copy editor will let you know when you've done these things.
I am a British author but often write in an American voice. Copy editors will spot those slips between what makes sense in the UK but doesn't sound quite right in the US. Your characters don't clink glasses and say "cheers" in the US. They don't ask each other if they "fancy a brew", though they might wear "fancy clothes".
After a while, you become word blind to your own book, as does your agent, as does your primary editor. A copy editor is a fresh pair of eyes and, believe me, they will spot things you would swear were not in your book.
THE PROOF EDIT
The magicians! They find errors that have been missed in all the times the book has already been read and edited, as if by magic. The mis-spelled word, the missing quotation marks, the double full-stop at the end of a sentence. You can't see these mistakes anymore, nor can all the different pairs of eyes you have had on your book up to this point. But readers would spot them if the proof editor didn't.
Proof editors aren't simply readers. They are skilled editors, trained to not read the story but to scrutinise the shapes on the page, their form and their structure. I know many proof editors actually read a story through once, so that they can enjoy it before beginning to edit. When editing, they might read the story in segments, even backwards. This isn't about enjoyment but method and technique. And the tiny errors we miss, are the tiny errors that will drag readers out of the world you have created in your book. What a shame it would be to have your reader suddenly jarred back to reality because you missed an apostrophe!
I have included this step to flag the difference between traditional publishing and self-publishing. When it comes to formatting traditionally published books, whether the format be digital or print, your publisher will take care of this for you. In the self-publishing world, you will either need to have the skills to format your book for the relevant sales platform(s) yourself, or you will need to hire a formatter.
Don't risk your fantastic finished product looking sloppy when you have worked incredibly hard on the content!
News flash! Your book will never be perfect. Even the most prolific writers in the world have a typo or three in their books. But don't be the author who wished they had paid a little more attention or done just one more round of edits, who knew they should have read that book just ONE MORE TIME.
If you have any questions on this blog, please leave a comment or stop by my social media. If I can help, I will :-)
Thanks for reading and good luck on your writing journey!
If you have a moment, please check out my next book, coming 29 JUNE 2020 from CANELO.
TIMES LIKE THESE: A heartwarming and emotional story of friendship and secrets
Three best friends must decide: is their friendship holding them together, or holding them back?
Andrea is an executive at one of the largest music production companies in the world. Years of putting work first, however, have left her love life a mess and there's no easy fix.
All Rosalie wants is to be taken seriously. After all, she's going to run her own record label soon - sure, her CEO dad is gifting her the job, but she's determined to prove her worth.
Hannah is returning to work as Andrea's PA after maternity leave. But balancing her job, kids and a lazy, if loving, husband is proving an impossible task and something's got to give…
As revelations and jealousies come to light, these friends struggle to figure out how they fit in each other's lives - and if their friendship is strong enough to survive their changing worlds.
This heartwarming story of friendship, love and taking chances is perfect for fans of Zara Stoneley, Jane Green and Lauren Weisberger.
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