Tag Archives: self-editing

Final Revisions #amwriting

The question came up in a professional Indie writers’ group I frequent on Facebook: Do I need to get an editor for my final manuscript or is a good proofread enough?

The overwhelming answer was a resounding “Yes!”

I am an editor but I always have my final manuscript edited by a professional editor, and I get a final proofread by members of my writing support group before I hit the publish button. As authors, we never see all our own mistakes although we catch many. We see what we intended to write rather than what is written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row. Our brain fills in the missing words and doesn’t notice when we use ‘its’ rather than ‘it’s,’ or ‘their’ rather than ‘they’re’ or ‘there.’

Also, we tend to overlook clumsy and inadvertently awkward phrasing.

  • Her eyes rolled over her host’s attire.
  • Delicious sounds assaulted his eardrums.

We overlook little things like those examples in our own work because we are visualizing the scene as we read it, and to us, they convey what we are thinking. We can’t see our own work with an unbiased eye, any more than we can see our children with an unbiased eye.

If you are unable to afford a full edit, and they are not cheap, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript, but it is time consuming. If you aren’t going to hire an editor, you should consider investing in the Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers for questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure.

To do a thorough revision of your manuscript:

  1. Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
  2. Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the last paragraph visible.
  3. Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
  4. With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.
  5. Look for
    • Typos,
    • Missing quotation marks,
    • Punctuation that is outside of the quotations.

Wrong: “dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house”. Said Toto. I went with her”.

Right: “Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house,” said Toto. “I went with her.”

  • Words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong word – there-their-they’re, etc.
  • Look up “comma splice” and eliminate them from your manuscript.
  • Remove repetitions of entire ideas. If you explained it once, that was probably all you needed.
  • Check for repetitious use of certain key words and phrasing.
  • Eliminate all timid phrasing and remove unnecessary words. That and very are two words that can often be cut and not replaced with anything. Often cutting them makes a sentence stronger.

An editor points out and encourages you to correct all instances of timid phrasing. Timid phrasing leads to wordiness, and we really want to avoid that. Overuse of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) also lead to wordiness. Long, convoluted passages rife with compound sentences turn away most readers.

To avoid wordiness, use action words (verbs) in place of forms of to be. In active prose, our characters don’t begin (start) to move. Instead, they move. They act as opposed to beginning or starting to act.

  1. Open your manuscript on your computer and make your corrections.
  2. Repeat these steps with every chapter.

If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript in your final pass but think no one will be bothered by them, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.

In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there. This is why this editor always has a professional editor go over her manuscripts.

Once you have finished revising your manuscript in this fashion, have it proofread by a member of your writing group. If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors as proof readers—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

Editors do more than point out comma errors–they will make a note of incongruities, and contradictions.  They will also note inconsistent style and usage. When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style sheet.

The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or  keep minimized until it’s needed. I copy and past every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I’ll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn’t have to!

Be aware that it is not an edit if you have done it yourself–it is only a deep revision. The best we can do with our own work is to keep revising it until it is as clean as we can make it. (See my article of June 20, 2018 – Thoughts on Revisions and Self-editing.) Only an external eye can see our work with an unbiased eye and properly edit it. But with diligence and the assistance of your critique group, it is possible to make good revisions yourself and you can turn out an acceptable book that a casual reader will enjoy.

I hope these suggestions help you in your revision process. We want our work to be enjoyable by the casual reader, and if we are conscientious in the final stages, we can turn out a readable manuscript that is not rife with easily fixable errors.

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Thoughts on revisions and self-editing #amwriting

New and beginning authors often (loudly) assert their ability to edit their own work. If you are “editing” your own manuscript, you have a fool for a client. There is no such thing as self-editing—the best you can do is make revisions and admire your work. For that reason, we need other eyes on our work.

As authors, we see what we intended to write rather than what was written. We misread clumsy sentences and overlook words that are missing or are included twice in a row.  If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.

The first draft of any manuscript is the story as it flowed out of your mind and onto the paper. Yes, there is life and energy in your words, but your manuscript is not publishable at this stage, no matter how many times you go over it.

You need an unbiased eye upon your work, or your book will be published with typos, awkward sentences, dropped words—the list of inadvertent errors goes on.

Every author needs someone to read their work before it is published. Just because I can see six instances of the word ‘long’ in one paragraph of someone else’s work does not mean that I will spot it in my own.

To the author in the first flush of victory, the completed first draft of his manuscript is a thing of beauty, a flawless diamond to be cherished and adored.  It is the child of their creative muse and is perfect in every way.

Let us consider the word ‘that.’ The following passage is from one of my original manuscripts as it emerged from the first draft in 2008, ten years ago.

 Jeanne was not upset over something that he had not done or not said. Now he sensed that it was a mixture of anger, hurt, and guilt that she was feeling.

In just two sentences, my stream-of-consciousness writing included 3 instances of the word ‘that’ and 3 of ‘not.’  Yet, in my own mind, it was as good as I could make it. I didn’t see those unnecessary words.

This is how that paragraph read in my mind and is how I would write it now, ten years on:

Jeanne wasn’t upset over something he had done or said. He sensed she felt a mixture of anger, hurt, and guilt.

I began working with an editor in 2012, and that is when I truly began to grow as an author. Each time they showed me where I had gone wrong, I learned from it and gradually, my stream-of-consciousness writing improved. I use fewer unnecessary words, and my prose is leaner.

Better writing habits are learned over time by writing regularly and by consciously applying the tricks and tips you learn from other authors.

Once your writing/critique group has given you their best opinions on your manuscript and you have revised it to your best ability, you need an editor. Ask other authors who they might recommend as an editor and see if you can work well with that person.

Your editor will likely point some things out that you didn’t see, but that a reader will.  At that point, you might be slightly shocked and hurt, but if you’re smart you’ll consider each comment and make your revisions accordingly.

Once you see your work through someone else’s unbiased eyes, you will be able to take your story to the next level.

The fact is, unless you can accept criticism, your work will never be what you want it to be. You must be open to viewing your work the way the reader will see it. You’re not obligated to follow every suggestion an editor makes, but 9 times out of 10 I make changes along the lines they suggest because when I look at the problem area, I can see exactly what they meant.

Writing seems like a solitary craft, and much of the time it is. However, joining a local writing support group or a critique group will give you a sounding board that costs you nothing, but from which you will reap many benefits.

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Reading for pleasure vs reading for editing

George R.R.Martin formatting issue 1 via book blog page views, margaret ebyI haven’t been able to read as much lately as I normally do–my editing and writing time has seriously cut into my reading time. In fact, I haven’t written a book review in over a month. I do miss the long hours I used to spend reading, but lately I am lucky to read two or three pages before fall asleep. Thus I have been reading poetry and short fiction.

This is not because the books I intend to read are boring–they aren’t! It’s just that when I am editing for a client, I can’t disengage my mind from that mindset. This means I have a terrible time reading for pleasure. When I am in editing mode I notice things a casual reader might not, and I can’t just enjoy the book. And I am not talking indies here–I am talking books published by the Big 5 traditional publishers.

Sometimes the errors and flaws are hilarious though.

Marked_Wicked_bibleThe thing is, errors do creep into even the most carefully examined texts and manuscripts. Usually, no one dies over it, however, in the case of the infamous Wicked Bible, the publishers paid a hefty price: Robert Barker and Martin Lucas, the royal printers in London,  were called to the Star Chamber and fined £300 (£43,586 as of 2015) and deprived of their printing license. The Star Chamber, which held court from the late 15th century to the mid-17th century,  was a branch of the English court of law and was established to ensure the fair enforcement of laws against socially and politically prominent people so powerful that ordinary courts would likely hesitate to convict them of their crimes.

SpelMistk14 Image credit- Jazarah! Hubspot_com 14 worst marketing errorsTypos and editing mistakes are pretty much taken for granted when left in mass-market paperbacks by the Big 5 Publishers, but woe to the indie who neglects to notice a repeated ‘and’ or any other editing error.

Indies are held to a far more rigid code by most readers than the traditional publishers are because the internet is rife with disparaging rhetoric pointing the finger at indies. And while the Big 5 traditional publishers are just as guilty of rushing-to-publish crap, the truth is, many new self-published authors haven’t yet gotten the hang of the publishing business, and often their books are rife with things they will later wish they hadn’t rushed-to-publish.

enhanced-buzz-20953-1398618489-5 courtesy reddit dot comHaving learned my own lessons the hard way, besides working closely with a professional editor, I now have a reliable group of friends who comb my completed manuscripts for errors and gross cut-and-paste errors, and we can only hope we have caught them all. When you are an indie, it takes a village to help you get your book fit for the public to read.

Anyway–my editor’s hat is firmly on my head these days, and that means I can’t enjoy casual reading for a while more. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy my clients’ books–I love them. I’ve made it clear that I only accept work I feel a strong attachment to, but editing is a different mindset from casual reading, and I can’t just fall out of it at the end of the day. Yes, this greatly slows my own writing, because I am stupidly self-editing instead of just letting the words flow. When I am editing I am looking for all varieties of mistakes–not just structural, grammatical, and obvious punctuation errors. I am also looking for things that will interfere with formatting the final ms for upload to Kindle or Smashwords and I hope I find them all for my client, but it makes writing my own work difficult.

George R.R.Martin bormatting issue 4 via book blog page views, margaret ebyAs an editor I do my best. But, nothing is ever sure, and I won’t see the ms after I send her the final suggested corrections. Mistakes can be made right up to the last minute while she is making those adjustments, so someone else will have to proof-read her work. The indie author has the responsibility for the final eye on his/her work. So when my client has finished her revisions, she will have her posse check the ms over for the slings and arrows of publishing fate.

I will be finished with my current editing project soon, and I plan to take a break from editing for a short while, when that happens. Then I will let my mindset slide back into the joy-of-reading mode.

I really do love to read–getting lost in a great book is the best thing I can think of, as comforting as a cute kitty purring, or my sister’s homemade chocolate truffles. I look forward to resting my editorial mind and over-indulging in the work of my many favorite authors.

 

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