A few weeks ago (more than I care to admit to) I started a short series of posts about the process of self-publication with a rainbow of suggestions about writing: 7 tips for writing your book. Today I move on to part 2 … editing.
Writing produces a first draft – a basis around which the final book will be formed. There is a magnificent feeling when writing ‘The End’ and putting down your pen (or the computer equivalent) knowing that you have completed your story. However, the fatal mistake of some self-publishers is to think that is it – that the book is complete and ready for printing. When these manuscripts are sent to agents or publishers they are instantly rejected, as the writing is seen as what it is: a draft form.
(Obviously there will be an exception which proves this rule, which you are welcome to tell me in the comments box!)
The next process is editing. It is hard to offer a timescale for this. Some people produce just another one or two drafts; I’ve heard of someone who was on his sixth-fourth. The purpose is to make it as perfect as possible, in every possible aspect: storyline, grammar, layout, spellings, consistency. Here are some of my suggestions.
- Put your opus aside for as long as you can before you start editing. After a week (better still, a month) it will all seem new, and what had felt clear and beautifully written may well be seen as mush with fresh eyes.
- Take on board any advice that you are given by others. Their distance from the work is an advantage that you don’t have. If they’ve struggled to read a sentence, so might any stranger who picks up your book.
- Read the work aloud. Ideally to friends (your local writers’ group is perfect for this). You will be surprised how many errors this highlights, such as the repetition of words, or trite phraseology, or typos.
- Use spellcheck. (Really! Isn’t this obvious!)
- Try to remove adverbs, replacing them with better verbs. Using Find > “ly” should locate most of them. Think twice about leaving any in.
- Be brave in re-writing. Some chunks, even chapters, may have to go. Characters may actually be redundant, however much you love them. If you can’t understand a passage, no-one else will. Press the delete button…
- Keep doing this, again and again, until the point of publication (more in the next post!). Your aim to eliminate all errors and it is astonishing how many times you have to read through your writing to find them all.
When I look back, I realise that I took 4 years editing my first book. Admittedly, within that there were large gaps when it wasn’t looked at, but then I refer you to point 1 above: the space enabled me to my writing afresh, and to understand which parts were stickier than others. And spelling errors (despite using spellcheck … though it has more problems with words like Kalingalinga or Muli bwanji!). The editing process just keeps rolling on and – if you are to create a masterpiece – is probably the most important thing you will do.
What are your tips for editing a book?