Listening to several millionaire novelists on MasterClass.com, each talk about shipping their manuscript off to the publisher-assigned editor. Each values their editor. These are the most successful writers in the world. And they need editors.
So do you. And I REALLY need them…
There are three levels of editing.
- Story structure – Does your story work? Is it structured effectively? Does it fit the genre? Are the stakes high enough? Is it believable?
To facilitate this edit, create an outline of your story. This is the after-it’s-written outline, not the dreaded before-you-write outline. Bullet points only, not description. This can help you find holes, determine where your reversals and story beats are. I use Outline 4D by the Writer Brothers, which is a combination outline/timeline program. It can also be done on paper, especially if your story is linear.
- Story edit – This is different than the structure edit in that it examines the writing within the structure. Are all questions raised and answered? Do they happen in the right order? Is there fluff unnecessary or burdensome to the story? Is the writing solid? This edit will often uncover a writer’s story weaknesses. Typically, the Structure and Story edit can be done by one editor.
- Copyedit – This is the monster of all edits (OK, that’s my opinion; I’m good at the first two, poor at the third).
I’ve met a few people who can edit their own work. Most struggle with it. We tend to see what’s supposed to be there, rather than what IS there.
Professional Editors aren’t cheap. It takes a long time to read and re-read, make notes, and do a good job. But there are some less expensive ways.
If you are involved in a decent-sized community, such as a church or civic group, chances are you have friends who are good at editing. The problem is, you have to determine which edit they’re good at. I have a lot of friends who love to copyedit. Their red pen is their favorite possession. I’ve only got a few who are good at the first and second level edits.
You can get around that with fierce beta-readers. Fierce because they must tell you the truth. You will have to interview them and ask questions.
- Who did you like and who didn’t you like? Why?
- What motivated this character? Why did he/she feel the way the felt, react the way the did?
- What didn’t make sense? What wasn’t believable?
- If 1/3 had to be cut, what would they cut?
- More specific questions about your plot and character development.
- What did you think about the ending?
- What parts were dull or dragged?
- What felt too fast? Too slow?
Provide the beta-reader with the questions before they read but ask them to read as they would any book. You’ll want at least six beta-readers.
Make your revisions and hand it off to ONE copyeditor. Then make those revisions, and hand it off to another. Repeat several times.
Typos are like cockroaches. You’ll never get rid of all of them. Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try, though.
Grammarly is a decent machine editor. The free version may hang up on an entire document, so break it into chapters. While I haven’t invested in the paid premium edition, I’ve heard good things.
Parting thought: You are not a bad writer for needing an editor. We get deep into our story and need fresh eyes. Don’t be embarrassed when an editor catches something. You’ve written a BOOK! That’s accomplishment enough. Editors help you make it better.