If you've ever read a poorly edited book, you know agony. I mean pain. Most people don't even continue reading.
And if you're a writer today - traditionally published or indie - you must learn how to edit your own writing and do it so well that you don't need much professional editing.
Traditional publishers rarely spend a lot on editing any of their author's books, including bestselling novelists. They just don't have the budget for heavy editing. So if you want your book accepted by a publishing house, you better get that sucker cleaned up.
Indie writers usually can't afford extensive editing. You must hire someone to edit your work, but you'll pay for their time and if you didn't do a ton of editing of your own before sending it out, count on a hefty bill (to the tune of thousands of dollars, money you may never recoup in sales no matter how convinced you are that your novel will be a runaway success (this is kind of like expecting to win the lottery)).
The following are some suggested steps based on how I edit my own novels and hope it will be helpful to fellow writers. For you readers out there, you can see the amount of hard work that goes into those books you devour, books that may seem effortless and a pure pleasure to create for the author. Yes, writing has many great joys, but it is hard - sometimes agonizing - work.
Copy Editing Tips from the Trenches
This should be your first method of editing. Edit within the live document (not printed). I recommend at least two soft edits. Be careful to keep the story as-is. The part of you that wrote the story and is the creator is better at storytelling than the editing part of you. They are literally different parts of your brain. Just fix things like:
- Awkward sentences or paragraphs
- Grammar (except for fragments - they can work to add punch to your writing if used correctly)
- Overused words
- Overused descriptions
- Continuity issues. Example: a character is wearing a green sweater and then suddenly it's red with no explanation.
- Story timeline issues. Example: the dinner party lasted three hours but dessert was served four hours after the party started.
- Clichés, unless they're meant to be tongue-in-cheek/a joke or used in dialogue. Lots of people use clichés in speech, but a novelist who describes their character as "sleeping like the dead" or "screaming like a Banshee" should be hung by their thumbs for a day and made to sing Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby" over and over again for a crowd of angry mental patients.
- Update and research facts. You can't have things happening in your novel that are impossible. Even if you write sci-fi or fantasy, the things that happen have to be realistic in the world you've created.
This is when you print out your book and grab a red pen or red pencil. It'samazing how many things you will find that you missed on the screen. Edit for the same things you did during the soft edit.
Read Aloud Edit
This is one of the best tools I've found to find mistakes I couldn't see after multiple edits. Simply sit in front of the screen and softly read the manuscript aloud. Boy, will it make your brain leak out of your ears when you see how many mistakes are still there. Also, this is a great way of testing your dialogue. If it sounds wrong out loud, you'll have some tweaking to do in order to make it sound right.
Alternate Format Edits
Making your manuscript into an ebook via free software like Calibre or changing the word size on your file or implementing any other structural changes to your document will help you find even more errors and is a great way to do a final check before sending your book to a professional copyeditor. If you need help learning how to edit, I highly recommend Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King.
So, that's it! After I finish the first draft, I let the manuscript "rest" for six weeks before editing, a great technique for getting perspective on the work that I heard about through Stephen King. Then I perform about six thorough edits/polishes in addition to a pro editor. I actually enjoy editing, especially now that I understand that you don't edit the story, just any faulty or confusing writing/telling of the story. Lots of people think that editing is rewriting. NO! Do NOT rewrite. If it's that bad, delete it and start over fresh. You'll have learned from the experience of writing and your next version will be far better.