Editing is an integral part of the writing process, but at the same time, it’s completely separate. You’ve probably heard the advice Don’t edit while you write before, but what does that mean?
Writing the first draft of your book should be all about getting the story on paper (or in an electronic document). There is no time for fixing mistakes because, at this point, the mistakes don’t matter. You just write, leave gaps, make notes—make it messy. It’s all fine. You can go over it later. Once you’re at the end of the manuscript, take a break. Maybe a day, maybe a week, maybe even a month if you feel like it. It doesn’t matter how long, just that you get your mind off the story for a while. This break is crucial to the process, as it lets the ideas settle in your brain and you can look at the story with a fresh perspective.
When you come back, you can begin editing. Read through your work. If you see a spelling error, you’re allowed to fix it, but that’s small stuff for now. The most efficient way to edit is to follow the three phases. What are those? Keep reading to find out.
1. Developmental Editing—Worldbuilding, the Plot, and More
Developmental editing is the first editing stage. Some people may refer to it as structural editing, content editing, or stylistic editing, and really, those all fall under the umbrella term of “development” for your story. This is Big Picture editing, and it involves everything from structure to form to plot to character.
This is the time to go over those bigger aspects of your book. Think about pacing—does the story happen too fast? Too slow? Think about character arcs—where do your characters start in the story; where do they end up? Not just physically, but emotionally, mentally, spiritually? If you have action sequences, this is where you make notes on their believability and flow. This is the time when you address plot holes or inconsistencies in the story as a whole.
When going through your manuscript, make notes to yourself. Think about the theme of the story—what message are you trying to get across? Do you know? What audience are you writing this story for? Going through your characters, ask yourself about them. Are they believable? What are their motives? Are there any sections where they do something that doesn’t match who they are?
After reading through and making comments on the whole draft, you can begin rewriting. At this point, you’ve already made your comments. You’re done editing; you’re back to writing. Make those changes.
Developmental editing can go on for quite a few drafts, so don’t think it’s a one-and-done thing. If, after you’ve rewritten your manuscript into Draft 2 and you’re okay with sharing it, start looking for beta readers. You can find them everywhere: family and friends, local writing groups, and online. Facebook has several public and private groups specifically for beta readers.
Beta Readers for Developmental Editing
The important thing to remember about beta readers is to be courteous and to provide potential readers with as much information as possible. What is the genre of your book? The intended audience? Make sure to include any warnings or triggers that may be in your book and provide a synopsis or blurb. If you have cover art, that’s great to include as well—as a way of drawing attention.
Beta reading is most commonly a voluntary service. If anyone is charging for beta reading services, they probably have a lot more experience in the field, but this is also ground for possible scammers. You can find helpful information for free, so start with those. Then, if you want a more experienced eye, you can start doing some research into the others.
[I’m a beta reader myself, providing my services for free. I mostly go for fantasy and/or science fiction novels.]
If people are interested, you will then send them a free copy of the book, usually either in the form of a Word document or a PDF. If you have a return date, be sure to let them know (but be reasonable in your request!). The average novel is 80,000 words, which will take a beta reader about 1-3 weeks to read and make their comments.
Finding a Professional
If you’re lucky enough to find some amazing beta readers, your book may evolve exponentially. You may even be able to forego hiring a professional developmental editor, but that’s not to say you don’t need one. Developmental editors are experts in the field, and their help can take your manuscript from Good to Fantastic.
The checklist above is a good start, but I’ll tell you now that it’s incomplete. Each book is different, and as such, has different things to look for. A generalized list can’t replace the eyes of a genre-specific editor.
If you have the money to spare, I highly recommend investing in some professional assistance. Only once your story has been revised and reshaped to its fullest potential will it be ready for the next step: technical editing.
2. Copyediting, or Everyone’s Favourite Time—Spelling and Grammar!
After endless hours spent revising your manuscript’s plot and story, it’ll be reading for the fine-detail stuff. Crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s. With developmental editing, you can give your manuscript to three different editors, and each one will give you different notes, comments, and feedback. With copyediting, all three editors will give you the exact same thing—if they all follow the same guidelines.
Copyediting follows the strict rules of whatever dictionary and style manual you’re using. The most common mistakes that authors make have to do with region-specific words, dealing with commas, and the use of too many em-dashes or misuse of semicolons. To be honest, you as the author, don’t need to know all of these finicky rules, but if you do, it’ll only help you. The fewer errors you have in your manuscript, the fewer errors your copyeditor is going to miss.
Now, I say “your copyeditor” assuming that you’re going to hire one. You don’t have to, of course—that’s the beauty of choice—but I’m telling you now as an author, don’t forego this step.
You may think that you’re good at the English language. You know enough to copyedit your own work. It’s just spelling and grammar, right? Just pull out your dictionary and off you go. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. First of all, as the author, you’ve read and reread your manuscript probably dozens of times by now. Your brain is the one most likely to skip over mistakes, even obvious ones. You may think that you can save a couple of bucks by giving it to a friend or family member—maybe even an English teacher—to copyedit, and while that’s better than doing it yourself, they will still likely miss a lot.
Do some copyediting, and once you think you’ve caught every error there is to be caught, you’ll hire a professional and they’ll take care of the rest.
3. The Final Stage: Proofreading
You may think proofreading is the same as copyediting, and for the most part, yes, that’s true. The difference is in the name: proofreading. A proofreader gets the manuscript after it’s been designed after each of the pages has been typeset and printed into a copy of your book. This copy, most likely marked Not for resale is called a proof.
Your proofreader will go through the book page by page, line by line, and make sure that all the formatting has been done correctly. They’ll make sure that the italic words are italic, the capitalized words are capitalized, the styles are consistent, and they’ll catch any spelling errors you or your copyeditor may have missed. Any mistakes the designer may have introduced into the book should be corrected.
Check Out These Articles to Help with Proofreading!
You’re Done. What Now?
Once the corrections have been made by your proofreader, your book is done. Congratulations on completing your book!
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