Editing is the most important step of finishing a book. Anyone who disagrees is fooling themselves. Even the best books have an editor, whether or not they’re listed in the credits page. Very few authors are able to edit their own work successfully, and it makes sense that we wouldn’t. After all, we’ve put months into the work at hand, and to say we’re looking at it through rose-tinted glasses might not be strong enough to explain the colored vision of our work we have.
Some of the biggest problems indie authors have is lack of editing, lack of skilled editing, or lack of resources to hire their own editor. But since editing is something that will ultimately make or break your career as a writer, it should never be neglected. If you’re uncertain about your editing skills, don’t be afraid to seek help from Google or more common household resources – A dictionary can easily become your best friend.
I’ve read a lot of books about editing, but in the end, there’s only one I remember as being helpful. That one is Be Your Own Editor by Sigrid Macdonald. It may not be of any assistance to the more experienced writer, but it’s a great refresher course if you’re feeling rusty, and the current 99 cent ebook price can’t be beat.
That said, you’re here to read about my revision process, so that’s what we’ll talk about. I definitely can’t afford a real editor, but the thorough editing of Death of the Sun is something that consistently receives praise, so who knows! Maybe I do okay without. First up…
Step 1 – The Break
It may seem counterproductive, but the first thing you need to do once completing a manuscript is to put it away. After months or even years of working on a story, you’ve grown so close to your words that when it comes time to edit that it’s difficult to see the errors. As soon as that last chapter is done, the very best thing you can do to aid the editing process is to put everything away.
The amount of time you need to distance yourself from the project is different for everyone, and different for each project as well. Just take some time off, don’t worry about it, and have a few weeks to enjoy movies and other pastimes while your brain comes out of writing mode and settles into the right mindset for editing.
Step 2 – The First Read
After some time to let the project settle, the first task is reading what you’ve written. Some people are able to do all their reading at the computer, but I can’t. Extended reading of all-text documents on a computer screen hurts my eyes, and gives me a killer headache. So for me, the first portion of this step is spent printing a paper copy of my manuscript. This makes editing easier for me, as well. Once printed, I keep the manuscript in a 3-ring binder and write the name of the book on the spine so I won’t lose it on my shelf.
Whether you do your reading on the computer or on paper, it’s important to be done. You read it just as anyone else would, from start to finish. I keep a red pen with me and mark any glaring errors as I come across them, making note of any problem areas that need to be rewritten. It’s a straightforward process, and you’ll be surprised at how many errors you find. I pride myself on being a fast and accurate typist, but the number of typos in the first draft always shock me!
Once I’ve read through the book the first time, I start the revision process immediately, fixing the problems I marked while reading through. For Death of the Sun, the entire process of the first read and rewrite took about a week. Then it was on to step 3.
Step 3 – Readers and Feedback
I was fortunate to have two volunteers ready to read my book the moment the first round of editing was done. I handed each of them a copy, and not too long afterward I received great feedback in response. One reader was a wonderful friend, Michelle, who found a great number of mistakes I’d missed and offered tons of valuable feedback on how to improve certain places in the story. In my head, she’s my editor, and I credit her as such in the book. Her help was invaluable, and having an outside perspective was fantastic.
The other reader was my husband. His read-through offered help that was a little more unique. Not only was he not at all interested in the genre, which made him more able to tell me if the book was actually interesting or not, his first language isn’t English. His English is fluent, but I still tease him sometimes for phrasing or grammar that makes little sense. His perspective was great because it helped point out sentences that were more difficult to get through than they should have been. It also meant he had a keener eye for typos and missed punctuation, since he seems to process reading material a little differently as a result of it being in his second language.
After about two weeks, both of them had finished reading and compiled tidy lists of suggestions for me to go through. As soon as I had their commentaries, it was time to begin the process over again.
Step 4 – The Second Read
The second read-through was a lot faster. The first round of edits helped readability greatly, letting me focus on problem areas highlighted by the commentary my two readers gave me. The ultimate decision of what to keep in the final draft of the book is usually left up to the author, regardless of what the editors would prefer. Still, I tried to be very considerate and appreciative of the time and effort these two put into their criticism, and I forced myself to look at every suggested change under a hard light. Did the change make sense? Did it make it easier to read? Was I able to preserve the story or feelings I was trying to convey if I changed it? If so, the change was made. If not, I tried to reach a compromise, if I could see where the advice was coming from.
A few scenes were altered or edited, a few were removed completely. One sprang out of nowhere and was written from scratch, with just that scene being sent back to my readers to make sure it flowed well from point A to point B. When all the editing was done at the end of the read, there was only one thing left to do before it’d be ready. I put the book away for one more break.
Step 5 – The Final Read
One more time, I had to have a clear head to do what needed to be done. After a week off, I read through the book one more time, just to be sure it was ready.
Fortunately for me, my original manuscript was pretty clean, which made the editing process fast and smooth. After the months I spent writing the book, it was polished in just under one more. The only changes left to be made were finicky adjustment of comma locations, changing sentence punctuation for emphasis, or rearranging a word or two to make a sentence just a little bit smoother. The reading only took a day, and when I put it down and was satisfied by the story I’d just read, I knew it was time.
I cleaned up the document and used a number of helpful online tools and downloadable programs to create neatly formatted e-book files. I’d seen what automated formatting tools like what Smashwords offers had to offer, and I was unimpressed. The only way to get a good looking e-book file is to format it by hand – So that’s exactly what I did.
It took months of effort from beginning to end, but every moment was worth it, if only to show myself I really could do it. There was nothing so thrilling or terrifying as hitting the submit button that added my book to the scores already available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, but I did it.
My next trick? Well, I guess that’ll be doing it again.