Whoa, slow down a minute!
Your very first step is to self-edit your work. There are websites and blogs that can help you with a step-by-step plan to go through your work and clean it up, but how you go about this isn’t as important as actually doing it. Read your work out loud, print it out and read it again, be ruthless in deleting unnecessary words, and have a detective’s sensibilities about looking at every word, sentence, and paragraph from every imaginable angle. Check out my blogs about common grammar mistakes for additional help (links are on the right). If you work best with a formal plan, I’ve listed a few links below that have some helpful info.
As author Kristine Nolfi writes, “Nothing separates the professional writer from the amateur like the willingness to edit. Any successful novelist will tell you great writing is rewriting.”
Step 2: Now you’re sure your work is perfect.
Well, probably not yet. Odds are it isn’t because as writers we tend to be too close to our own work to be totally objective. And as author Jade Kerrion writes, “Ruthless self-editing is usually an oxymoron. . . . I’m convinced that my ‘ruthless self-editing’ was as deep as a paper cut.”
Okay, you know you need a fresh set of eyes. Beta readers? Critique group?
Step 3: Ask everyone you know to critique your work for you. Yes? Maybe. Your readers will catch some things, but not everything. I wrote about the value of critique groups in a previous blog post, but there are also pitfalls to relying on them for real editing. Author and social media expert Kristen Lamb has this perspective: “Critique groups are WONDERFUL. I don’t know what I’d do without mine. But, we are wise to be aware of the trouble spots so that we can get the most out of this fantastic resource.” She points out the traditional critique groups lack perspective, are notorious for “books by committee,” and offer a false sense of security, among other things. Read more of her thoughts here.
So what is a writer to do?
Use all the tools you have at your disposal, but take everything you learn with a grain of salt. Go back and re-edit your work until you’re sure it’s the best it can be, and then seriously consider hiring a professional copyeditor.
“Oh no,” I hear you exclaim, “I can’t afford that kind of help.”
I’m a professional editor, but I wouldn’t think of letting something I wrote go public without having it edited first. I read a similar comment from author Paula Bates Alden: “I’m an editor myself, but not for one moment did I think I could critique my own book adequately (just like I couldn’t copyedit it adequately). It’s the equivalent of a surgeon operating on herself.” Don’t you love that analogy?
Step 4: Decide what you need: developmental editing, copyediting, or proofreading. Not sure? An Internet search will give you the definitions you’re looking for if these hyperlinks aren’t enough. Don’t be concerned if you’re still not sure what you need. Even after you’ve done your research, talk to a couple of professional editors to help you hone in on what you need—no sense in paying for more than that.
Once you determine your editing needs, find the perfect editor. Personally, I’m a believer in referrals for everything; dentist, housepainter, handyman, hairdresser—all of mine were referrals from people I know whose opinions I value and trust. So ask other writers for editor referrals, and then check out websites. Many self-published authors blog about their own editing experiences. You want to know things like, has this editor worked in your genre? Has he or she edited books for traditional publishers? Does he or she work in collaboration with you, the author, to maintain your unique voice?
When you think you’ve found the perfect match, ask for a sample of that editor’s work (some will do this for free while others may charge a fee). You wouldn’t let just any mechanic fix your car, so don’t let just any editor fix your words. Ask for references from other authors who have hired that editor for the type of work you need.
Here’s a great suggestion from author Anne R. Allen (check out her blog here):
The people who benefit most from a freelance editor’s work are:
- Self-publishers. If you’re not working with a publisher, you do need to hire an independent editor before uploading your book. Most writers are blind to typos and our own pet crutches and quirks.
- Experts whose primary field is not the written word. This includes self-help books by psychologists or medical professionals, specialty cookbooks, local history, etc.
- Memoirists who have a unique, marketable tale to tell, but are not planning a career in writing.
- Writers who have been requested by an interested agent or publisher to give the book a polish.
- Novelists who have polished their work in workshops and critique groups, but after many rejections, can’t pinpoint what is keeping them in the slush pile.
You don’t want just any out-of-work English major. If the editor doesn’t have a good knowledge of the publishing industry, your money will be wasted. I’ve seen “professionally edited” manuscripts that are ridiculously long or too short to be considered by a contemporary publisher, or contain song lyrics (prohibitively expensive) or copyrighted characters. You want an editor who knows the business. Preferably somebody who knows what’s selling now and how to write for today’s marketplace.
Still think you don’t need an editor? I’ll leave you with a quote from author Eric T. Benoit, courtesy of Goodreads: “Self editing is the path to the dark side. Self editing leads to self delusion, self delusion leads to missed mistakes, missed mistakes lead to bad reviews. Bad reviews are the tools of the dark side.”
I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences on any part of the editing process—thanks for sharing!
5 Steps for Editing Your Own Writing (thedailymuse.com)