Editing Your Manuscript

 

For any author, seeing your book in print is an exciting moment. It’s worth every moment of the trip, though it does take many hours and steps, including hours of editing.

For new authors, it’s a daunting task to get that first book published. There are many steps along the road. The fun part is, generally, is writing the book. Though, I can almost guarantee there are moments when you will look in the mirror and say… Why am I doing this again?

Today, I thought I’d share my most recent experiences on taking my latest novel—Forgiveness—a manuscript I’d poured my blood, sweat and tears into, and how I turned it into a publishable full length novel.

There are many routes you can take, and many differing opinions, but… this worked for me.

For anyone who knows me… you can attest to the fact that I like all the creative things involved, and I was able to do a huge portion of the tasks myself. With some help from some friends and family. And I thank them from the bottom of my heart, as it made an event that can be incredibly stressful a whole lot easier!

This process can and will take weeks, if not months. I have not included a timeline for the steps, simply because it will vary depending on both the number of hours you have available per day or week to dedicate to editing and, if you are having others read, how much time they have to commit. Give yourself and others plenty of time to complete the steps.

 

Step One

The day I finished the first draft of my very first novel was exciting, to say the least. Little did I know… Okay, I did have an idea… but the key here is patience. You will hear most authors say this—and it is 100% true! Don’t rush to get it published!

The first thing you should do is take that lovely new manuscript, and… set it aside for a minimum of two weeks. Maybe three. There is a valid reason for doing this. You’ve spent months writing it, and now it’s time for a short break. From this story, anyhow. You probably have other ideas, so take this time to outline or work on another project. When you come back to your ‘finished’ piece of work, you will see it through fresh eyes.

Don’t be tempted to skip this step! You will be amazed at the results. Your inner muse will be hard at work, whether you realize it or not.

**Note: During this time you may, and very likely will, have incredible ideas creep into your mind about plot points, events, or even conversations you want to add. Make note of those right away in a notebook, or a note taking app and keep them for the next step.

Step Two

Now you’ve had your break, it’s time to start the revisions. What works for one person may not for another, but generally, I like to read the story again start to finish. During the read, I make copious notes. Print a copy if you like, or you can read it in you word processing program. Depending on what writing software you’re using, you can usually highlight, track your revisions, or make comments. For example, in Word, simply turn on ‘track changes’. Many people use Scrivener or the like, which have mark up settings and notation areas built-in.

Once I have read through and made notes or highlighted specific areas, it is time for the next step.

Step Three

Work through chapter by chapter, making the changes you have noted, and watching for consistency as you revise each chapter. This may very well include adding chapters, deleting sections, and moving them around. As you work through, keep a notebook close by so you can make notes on things you missed when you revised those first chapters. Try not to jump back and forth too much and break your work flow. If possible, work through each chapter until you get to the end of the book.

Step Four

Repeat step three. Yes, you read that correctly. I guarantee you will have made notes for changes in the earlier chapters, and you will have missed things on the first round. But by now, you story will be taking shape, developing further, and the details will be fairly consistent.

Note: Repeat step three as many times as you need. This is not a competition, and as you read and revise, it could take several passes through the manuscript to include all the events and changes you want. Even put it aside for a few days, and then go back to it.

Step Five

Now it’s time to get down to some serious and detailed editing. Different people will have different ways or orders of doing this… mix it up a little if it works for you.

Generally, it is best to focus on different aspects as you edit. Perhaps one editing run you will pay particular attention to your dialogue. Inspect the conversations your characters are having… are they echoing something you’ve included in your narrative? Is all the dialogue necessary, and is it moving your story forward, or revealing the personalities of your characters? Or is it filler?

Do the same with your narrative. Read it carefully and see if there are ‘extra’ bits that are irrelevant. Does the reader need to know this? Does it move the plot forward? Does it reveal something important about the character? If not, then consider revising or removing.

Once done, give it another full read. A tip here is to change how you see it. Print to paper and read. Read it in a different program if possible. Read it out loud to yourself. Sit in a different room or another location. Use any or all of these, and you will catch inconsistencies and errors.

Step Six

Attack your word choices. There is a well-known list of ‘useless’ words such as:

Very, just, a bit, really, sort of/kind of, slightly, started to, feel/felt, suddenly, finally, that, then … not to mention the overused adverbs ending in ‘ly’ and the list goes on. The reason is simple… often adding these into your narrative doesn’t add to the strength, it detracts.

For example: What is provided a stronger visual for our reader. The very big dog, or the massive St. Bernard? Why used more words than needed to describe something. For example: The man was really hungry, or the man was ravenous? If the sentence means the same thing without a word, remove the extra word.

Most writing program have a search function—make use of it! Write a list of those you personally tend to overuse, and the most common words to avoid. Hunt them down, and strike them from your novel. Now, if you end up with two or three of each, especially if they are in dialogue and relate to how your character speaks, you might get a free pass. If they are absolutely necessary for correct grammar, fine. But take care to use them sparingly.

Step Seven

I think you know what I plan to say. Yes, read it all again. This time, read carefully line by line and pay close attention. Do you have any awkward phrases? Excessively used words? Missing words? Is the punctuation correct? This is a good time to do another round of revisions, though by now you should be finding fewer errors.

Note: I have also been using text to speech, which is native on OS X. I listen to my book chapter by chapter and this process helps spot errors. If you have access to a program to hear your chapter read aloud, then it’s recommended. Reading out loud is an effective editing tool.

Step Eight

Now you have carefully read your manuscript, it’ll be in good shape for the next step. At this point, many authors will print or order a paper copy (if you have are planning on having Print on Demand copies for your readers you can order a proof).

This is also a great time to engage some readers. If you are satisfied with your story, it’s a great time to engage some people to read Advance Reader Copies for you.

If you are lucky enough to have friends, families, or others who will read for you, and have good reading skills, then it is worth taking them up on the offer. No matter how wonderful your writing skills, you are guaranteed to miss something. By now, you could probably recite your story almost verbatim without opening the cover. You need fresh eyes!

Note: If you are not able to do this, or are unsure of your skill level, there are freelance editors and proofreaders, and you may choose to hire someone to perform this step. Also make sure you have willing readers if they are friends and family, don’t coerce them. For volunteer readers, give them plenty of time to read for you. Have it to them weeks or even a couple of months before your deadline.

Step Nine

Almost to the finish line! When I receive feedback from my trusted proof readers, I run each of their edited documents side by side with my original document on a split screen and compare them manually. This takes time, but it works, and it allows you to control what is changed in your document. There likely won’t be many, if you have done all the previous steps.

Step Ten

Last read! I like to do a final read, and make any last changes. At this point they should be minor.

Congratulations! You are now have a publishable novel!

 

I hope you have found this helpful, and I would love to hear any tips or tricks you have when editing your manuscripts! Do you have any topics you’d like to read about? Let me know and I will consider them for one of my next blog posts.

Happy writing!

Kate

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