As part of my continuing blogs on craft, I thought I’d do a short one on editing.
I’ve been very vocal about the need to use a pro editor and proofreader. That hasn’t changed. But the more polished your work when you hand it off, the better the eventual result will be. With that in mind, I offer a couple of tips that have made a large impact on my polish draft.
First, beware of echoes or overused phrases. Everyone has them. Sometimes we use them without realizing it. If you suspect you are overusing a word or phrase, plug it into the MS word find function and see how often it pops up. A few here and there aren’t so bad, but if you use the same word four times in two paragraphs, you’re probably being lazy and should revise the work to eliminate at least two. And eschew tautologies. Be on the lookout for them, and be relentless in eliminating them.
Second, forget all about spellcheck. It will give you a false sense of assurance. It will, for example, find no fault with they’re, there or their even if you are confounding the three, just as it will gladly approve its and it’s and than and then. There is no substitute for basic literacy and spending a few hours poring over your tome.
Third, and this is a big one, read your work on kindle, changing the font to Sans Serif when you do so, before sending it off to the editor.
I repeat. Read your work on kindle first with a new font.
Why? Because just as printing out your book and reading it on paper changes the entire experience and enables you to catch all sorts of uglies, going over it on the device most will read it on changes the experience. You’ll be amazed at the number of flaws you’ll find on your perfect manuscript. I actually save my final polish round now for the kindle read, as I know I’ll find so many errors and poorly-worded sentences that there’s no point in trying to do it on screen.
Fourth, actually READ your book, like a reader would. Do you have a character whose mouth is full or is gagged, suddenly talking? Someone whose hands are bound brushing a lock of hair away? Twelve attackers two pages ago, and seven this page? This seems rudimentary, but are your characters’ names the same throughout the book? Are your dialogue tags clunky and stiff? Are you overusing adverbs (I will do an entire blog on this. People. Adverbs are your friend. Anyone who thinks that you shouldn’t use them is an ass hat – just don’t overuse them, he said blithely)? In other words, read your own work, really read it, like you would a book you’ve just picked up and were unfamiliar with. Does it flow? Are there sections where you’re groaning? Be critical of your work, because I guarantee you will get some reviewers looking to tear you a new one at the slightest opportunity. Better you catch the flaws than they do.
I will usually do three drafts and then my final polish. Then I send the book off to my editor, who sends back changes I approve. Then it goes to a copy editor for a line edit for grammar and punctuation and spell checking. Then to a proofreader who catches all the nits everyone else missed. And even after all that, it’s not unheard of to find something wrong once the book is released. Just like Trad Pub. But I can tell you that if all those steps weren’t taken, there would be way more. My rule of thumb is to avoid writing by committee, but get as many eyes to spot errors as you can. And always listen to all feedback, leaving your ego at the door.
Now for the bad news. I can assure you that no matter how good you are, you probably won’t be able to edit your own work sufficiently. I am coming up on two million words written – actually that’s just published. Probably more like three and a half million written. And I can’t edit myself well enough to be satisfied. I don’t know anyone honest who can (okay, maybe I just don’t know anyone honest). I hear all sorts of excuses from people who put out sloppy, unedited work as to why they do so. My favorite is, “I can’t afford an editor.” I tend to say, hey, you invested hundreds or thousands of hours in writing your screed. Even if you only value your time at minimum wage, it’s a chunk of money. If you can’t afford an editor and can’t figure out a way to trade favors or do something creative, guess what? You can’t afford to be published. Because you’ll put out substandard work, readers will shun it, and word will spread. End of career. Put another way, how much would you pay not to have your dream career killed before it even starts? If the answer is nothing, then that’s the value you are putting on what your career is worth and that’s the value readers will likely assign to your work. Nothing.
Consider it an investment. Like violin lessons. You don’t expect to recoup the cost of the lessons immediately, if at all. Now imagine that you wanted to be a concert violinist, with your work recorded and bought by enthusiasts, but then complained that you didn’t have the money for lessons. What would your efforts probably sound like? What would be the likelihood you achieved your goal? And how reasonable would it be for you to even have that goal since you couldn’t pay for the lessons you needed to master your craft? Please. If you are trying to edit your own work, you are shooting yourself in the head. There are a million books on Amazon now. You’re asking for readers to discover and purchase yours. Why should they, if you can’t be bothered to figure out a way to ensure it’s up to par? Answer: they won’t. Or a few might, but they won’t return.
Having said that, I know a few excellent writers whose wives or their beta readers/writing group act as their editors and do a good job, so if you’re motivated you can find someone. Obviously someone with a relevant degree and experience is preferable to a well-dressed friend, but even that is preferable to nothing. To me, there is no excuse for putting out unedited work you are asking readers to pay for. Why should they, if it wasn’t worth your time and money to guarantee it’s as good as it can be? I can’t tell you how many books I’ve given up on by page 20 due to the obvious lack of editing. I’m quite sure I’m not alone in that. But when I see typos, grammatical mistakes and omitted words in just the first pages of the preview, I’m out. And that’s a surprising number of books. A shocking number, actually.
If your career is important to you and you value it, act like it. Polish your work till your eyes and fingers bleed, then get someone qualified to edit it, or you’ll be doomed to failure before you’ve gotten out of the gate. Sorry. That’s just the way it is. And I know you think you’re different. Everyone does, just like all the other different people.
Talent and drive only take you so far. If you want to sell a high quality product, you need to invest in making it one. Perhaps you don’t care whether you are selling something high quality or not. That’s fine, but I think it’s a loser as a business plan in all but the shortest term. As more books hit the market, there will be an ocean of unproofed, poorly written work vying for the reader pool. The only way I can think of to differentiate yourself is to craft the best product you can.
So far so good.