Editing. It’s such a dirty word for authors because it means returning to place you’ve already been, going back over something you’ve already done, and performing the tedious task of proofreading, grammar checking, rephrasing, rewriting etc. In short, it’s a chore, one most writers despise.
I’ve read some articles and heard a lot of people say not to worry about editing until your manuscript is finished, and then to hire someone to do it. I think this is a mistake. While it’s likely true that you won’t be able to catch all of your mistakes or plot holes and you need a separate set of eyes, there are a lot of free avenues you can take to weed out as many inconsistencies as possible so when it comes time to pay a professional, you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
1) Write your manuscript in Courier or Courier New font. This is old school typewriter font. A few people have told me that it’s hard on their eyes or looks weird. If this is you, then choose a different font, just choose one that is significantly different than Times New Roman, which most final drafts are submitted in.
2) Briefly edit as you go. I’ve heard so many people say “don’t worry about mistakes, just write write write.” I’m not a fan of this. While it’s important to not get hung up on wanting it to be perfect (don’t do that!! Read my article about that here), it’s also important for my own peace of mind to proofread sections during breaks in muse to correct spelling errors, replace redundant words, and rephrase things to fix flow if it’s a fast read through. I don’t recommend spending more than 5 minutes editing a paragraph at this stage, do a quick once over to correct obvious mistakes, and then keep writing.
3) Reread your finished scene. Again, so many people have told me to just keep going with my first draft until it’s complete and then go back over the whole thing. But I must be honest, if I did 0 editing until the book is done, I would be rewriting my book over and over (which actually I have done 4 times because I followed the advice to go go go). By rereading scenes as I go, I’m giving myself opportunity to figure out that I want a different cliffhanger, that I’ve already stated something in a previous scene, or that I want some other character to show up and do or say “the thing,” which will change the whole story. Catching things like this after each scene can prevent the overwhelming book rewrites that are inevitable if you wait until you’re completely done with your novel.
Now, sleep on these changes and move on to step 4.
4) For Scrivener users (if you aren’t one, I recommend becoming one!!), compile your finished scene into a standard double spaced word document using 12 pt. Times New Roman font. This will allow you to utilize Microsoft’s spellcheck/grammar check feature for the first time, and can help you find the contractions and mistakes that you missed. Microsoft’s concise feature is also helpful in eliminating common wordy phrases that bog down your narrative.
If you’re not a scrivener user, then just change your font to 12 pt. Times New Roman and double space your doc.
Why? Doing this allows you to see a new visual view/line/word placement of your work, and can really help you see at a glance sentences, phrases, and words that hinder flow, sound redundant, or need to be reworked.
Now sleep on it and proceed to step 5 tomorrow.
5) Compile your scene into a novel-formatted (usually 5×9 page size), Times New Roman, 10 point font .pdf file. Again, this is providing you a new unique look at your scene, and one that is extremely close to how it will appear in print, the ultimate goal. Being able to see it in it’s “published” form will help you weed out anything else you’ve missed up to this point.
Follow the same editing process from step 4, and proceed to step 6 tomorrow.
6) Print the corrected version out. Same as above, it’s a different visual of your story, and something about paper vs. computer screen really helps to further highlight things missed. Make any necessary changes to your computer file.
7) Find another pair of eyes to look at your scene. At this point, you have looked at your scene from 4 different angles and made edits. But it’s well known that writers still miss so much when it comes to their own work. We’re too attached. We know every line, and our brains sometimes fill in gaps or skip over things regardless of how different we make it look with page and font sizes.
Many suggest finding a family member or close friend to read over it, which is usually your quickest and easiest option. Keep in mind though that family and friends may not be forthcoming about their true opinions of your scene, so I always recommend finding a non-biased person to review your work too. A family member or friend also might not be very inciteful about writing style, genre tropes, or spelling or grammar because they may not be avid readers or writers themselves. If they are, wonderful!
Critique groups are one of the best options for a non-bias perspective. You get multiple pairs of eyes on your scene from avid writers (and readers) and they can help you with flow, plot holes, even weird cultural nuances and character vernacular that you may have not even thought about. It also gives you a chance to share your writing knowledge with others and exchange tips and tricks (let’s face it, most family members aren’t interested in hearing about your writing process, but other writers might be!). Best of all, critique groups are free! Just find a group in your area and start attending.
One drawback (and advantage – it’s a double edged sword) to critique groups is that members aren’t shy about voicing their true opinion. In the moment, this can be hurtful, especially if several members are commenting on the same thing, or they flat out tell you they don’t like it. Members of critique groups don’t have a personal connection with you like your family and friends do, so be prepared to receive some criticism, but be confident that the feedback you receive is given by fellow writers and readers who are genuinely trying to help you improve your story and style.
Of course, also remember that you can take or leave anything they say. You’re not under contractual obligations to make the changes they suggest. Make notes, thank them for their feedback, and then decide what to do with the information. If they have identified confusing segments though, consider carefully how you can correct these in your story. Odds are, other readers (agents and editors too) will encounter the same issues.
If you’re unsure how to find a critique group, a good place to look is google, the meetup app, your library, or local college, or even Inkitt. And if none of these options produce fruit, start one yourself! I started the Augusta Writers Critique Group last October via the meetup app and it now includes 150 members. There are always attendees at meetings and the feedback has been phenomenal!
After all of this, your scene has been edited and revised many times over and is in great shape. Once every scene goes through this gauntlet and you’ve come to the end of your novel, reread your entire manuscript and tie up any loose ends you may have missed.
8) Find a beta reader to read your book from start to finish. If you can find someone to read your entire finished draft for free and give you their thoughts, fantastic! Again, family members are prime suspects, or even a member of your critique group may volunteer. There are also several online websites such as fiverr where you can find beta readers for free or for a small fee who will read your entire manuscript. This step is important for evaluating the overall story plot and execution, which can be hard to do in a critique group where only one scene at a time is shown to a varied audience over a long period of time.
But now, if it’s in your budget, is the time I recommend hiring a professional editor to go through it and make suggestions. Professional editors can be pricey: 4 cents/word is a common price I’ve seen, which is $3,200 for 80,000 words. Ouch. According to freelancewriting.com, basic copyediting on average charges anywhere from $25-40/hr and tackles 5-10 pages/hr. More strenuous editing could cost even more for fewer pages. Once your book reaches this stage, you want it to be as polished as possible to get the most bang for your buck.
The bottom line: You don’t have to rely on expensive professional editors to produce a polished manuscript. Further, skipping free ways to improve your book means that the intricate details a paid professional could find may not be found because of surface errors that you could have corrected yourself. Also, a professional editor is still just one set of eyes, and one point of view, and no amount of money you spend on them will change that limitation. The more opinions you have, the more fleshed out your manuscript will be.
This process has personally improved my writing by leaps and bounds, and has given me confidence to continue moving forward with my story. I do not plan to completely scrap and start my novel over again from the beginning, and these steps are helping to ensure that the story I’m telling is readable, interesting, engaging, and free of mistakes, inconsistencies, and plot holes as much as possible.