By Toni Williams
author of Between Two Fires
Any novelist who is serious about their craft would know how important it is that their manuscript be properly edited before being published. This is what distinguishes professional writing from the amateurish stuff. Good editing improves the clarity and quality of a text and makes it more impactful.
That said, there’s no getting away from the hard reality that many writers simply can’t afford to hire professional freelance editors, who generally don’t come cheaply. This was certainly an issue for me when the time came for revisions after completing the first draft of my novel. Fortunately, my background in journalism and my experience as a newspaper and magazine editor came in handy when I made the decision to become a self-published author.
One of the major lessons I’ve learned over the years is that it takes a great deal of time and effort, and a love for language, to develop a ‘good ear’ for fine writing. It’s also a lot easier to edit another person’s work than your own. It’s so easy to become enamoured with your own words, it’s difficult to view them objectively. The good news is that it can be done if you’re willing to learn a few basic rules of what constitutes good prose and how to spot badly constructed sentences that need fixing, weak plot structures, poor dialogue and a host of other common mistakes that writers often make.
In this article, I’ll suggest some ways you could overcome the challenge of editing your own book rather than allowing yourself to be discouraged by the limitations of your wallet.
Set it Aside
As soon as you’ve finished typing up your manuscript, set it aside for a couple of weeks or long enough so that you can become detached from the story. Forget that you wrote it. Free yourself from your writer persona and ego, and make a conscious effort to assume an Editor Mindset. Thereafter, you can approach it with fresh eyes and the ‘cool clear eye’ of the outsider.
Many writers prefer to go through a physical copy of the typescript because they find it a lot easier to spot errors on a printed page than on a computer screen. If you opt to edit from the screen you may wish to consider increasing the size of the font by one or two points, especially if you’re short sighted.
Read it out Loud
Alternatively, you can read your book out aloud or use one of a number of apps to have it read to you in an automated voice, including a feature on Kindle devices called Read Aloud with Voice Over. Other options to consider are Voice Dream Reader and Apple’s VoiceOver for IOS.
The Editing Stages
It’s helpful to understand the various stages in the standard editorial process – namely, line editing, copyediting, content editing and proofreading – and how you can use each of these stages to progressively improve and polish your writing.
This is the point where you initially check your grammar, spelling, punctuation consistency, sentence flow, word choice, readability, voice, style and your use of linguistic techniques. Do your best to read at a moderate pace and avoid the impulse to skim through your text. Here are some things you need to look out for:
- Words that are overused.
- Sentences that need to be polished or reworded to improve clarity.
- Sentences, paragraphs or dialogue that need tightening to improve the flow and give them more punch.
- Make sure that your numerals, fonts, hyphenation and capitalization are all consistent and correct any problems with syntax.
- Passages that fall flat due to the use of bland, lifeless prose
- Narrative that digresses unnecessarily and breaks the flow of the story.
- Passages that slow down your story’s momentum and need changing to improve the pacing.
- An overuse of the passive voice.
- Whenever you use a compound adjective – two or more adjectives to modify a noun – make sure it is hyphenated.
- Cut out every word that does not justify its existence on the page.
Content editing (also called substantive or developmental editing) involves checking the content for factual errors, contradictions and inconsistencies, and accesses the overall content in detail. What you should be looking out for are:
- Discrepancies in the plot, character descriptions, or dialogue.
- Whether the theme of the story has been developed properly and making sure the plot and sub-plots are well integrated into the storyline.
- Make sure there are no inconsistencies, embarrassing mistakes, ambiguities and anomalies.
- Scenes and descriptions or awkward phrasing that are unclear, confusing or conflicting need to be reworded if they don’t convey what you had meant to communicate to the reader.
- You must also be alert to the possibility that what you have written could be potentially libelous.
After you’ve completed your line and content editing, set the manuscript aside once more for a few days and mentally prepare yourself to take a refreshed and holistic look at it. You’re now ready for copyediting. This involves improving the language or linguistic quality of the text. Normally, it is the final stage before the manuscript goes to print. Like line editing, it is something that anyone with an above average grasp of the English language should be able to do. Start the ball rolling by checking for the following:
- Grammatical errors, continuity, paragraph lengths, missed words, your choice of words.
- Overly long and convoluted sentences usually designed to maintain interconnectedness but instead overwhelms the reader with the overabundance of words.
- Clumsy wording and purple prose (prose that is so extravagant or flowery it breaks the flow and draws excessive attention to itself).
- Check carefully to ensure that your story has no factually incorrect statements (all the more if you’re writing non-fiction) and it is free of errors and omissions.
- The thoughts and images you’re attempting to convey should be clear and not too hard to follow.
This is the stage where you give the manuscript a final look over to search for overlooked spelling errors, punctuation, spacing, and other related issues, before the manuscript is published.
If you can deal with these common mistakes on your own, you could then feel free to ask a friend or trusted beta reader to go over the manuscript and give you honest feedback. Good luck with your book!
He was born in the Eastern Caribbean of Saint Lucia. Presently, he lives in a picturesque mountain village on the island’s east coast where he’s finally able to do what he loves most; creating worlds in his head and bringing them to life with his pen. Prior to that, he found this really hard to do because of the primal need to survive and pay the bills. On leaving high school he sought solace in journalism after coming to the sobering realization that the road to becoming a published author was going to be a long and arduous trek. Along the way he got sidetracked and ended up managing a family-owned banana plantation. A few years later he jumped ship and returned to journalism, and became an editor for the Crusader newspaper in St. Lucia. He is a Reuters Fellow (Green Templeton College, Oxford University). Presently, he does mostly freelancing, including editing the St. Lucian lifestyle magazine, Dazzle. For the past five years he’s been using his website, Caribbean Book Blog to provide writers and readers with updates on new books and useful information about new resources and opportunities for writers to publish and promote their work, as well as book reviews. Check out his book “Between Two Fires” and his recent interview on this blog.
Feel free to write him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also connect with him at Caribbean Book Blog.