Let me start off by saying, I`m not an expert, I`m also learning, processing and practicing this on my writing journey. I`ve learned the majority of this from Decadent Publishing`s Pre-Edit Guide for Authors.
There are more points than I`m going to touch on here. I encourage you to do further investigation and ask a lot of questions! No, you`re not the overzealous kid in class always sticking up their hand, you`re the kid who realizes not everything can be learned via osmosis.
This is what I`ve learned this past year of self-editing:
1: At some point after you`ve written that bestseller (mocking grin at self), you`re going to have to sit down and look the evil rough draft square in the face and say ‘you`re not as brilliant as you think you are, but you might come close’.
2. Now you`re sober enough to notice everything from grammar/punctuation: comma, ellipses, quotations, etc. to wording issues: word repetition, etc. (use of present and past tense, one of my favorites as a 2nd language speaker).
* DON`T GIVE UP HOPE! Believe me, no publishing company expects you to be an expert. They only want your manuscript to be as polished as you can make it and yes, doing more than noticing the above two points would help to get your foot in the door.
3. Some would advise checking off the above two points first before you start on this section, I`d say, nay. Look I`m human, personally, my brain shuts down when its forced to deal with ‘technical’ issues especially in an area I love giving it free reign. Then why did I make those my first points? BECAUSE I WANTED TO SHOCK YOU OUT OF THINKING WRITING ISN`T WORK. As if you didn`t know it, but there are some people who think so. So for those creepers, it is. It`s back breaking work (ignore the pun as I`m sitting with a back cramp typing this).
I start with these questions: Is every single (100/60/40K) word valuable to the story? Would your opening bore a reader who`s not as invested in the characters as you are? How important is flowery descriptions to you, more importantly to the publisher you`re submitting to? Compare your manuscript`s first chapter to published books in a variety of genres and try to see what they have in common. You’ll notice the first chapters not only kept you as a reader interested but made you turn the page.
4. Head-hopping and Point of View or POV (Some write these as separate, I view it through the same lens).
As writers we love to show perspective. As a young writer I abused POV. As a newbie author I`m still navigating this treacherous space in writing and I`m not seasoned enough to say this isn`t a blind spot. I don`t think I`ll ever be.
There`s this thing called Deep POV. This point of view experiences the scene through the character`s senses, their feelings, seeing, hearing, etc. What we`ve learned in school as Omniscient Limited, not Third POV (omniscient) because the reader doesn`t have a “God`s view” of the story. Which means, the reader doesn`t know the end of your story halfway through.
You should not play ping-pong during a scene as my editor, Zee Monodee, so aptly described Head-hopping in a recent ROSA blog post. Perspective shouldn’t bounce from one end of the table to the other, tiring the observer’s eyes and generally causing fatigue.
How many people are in a scene and do you have to show what`s happening through every persons perspective? Or would your main character`s view be enough? Are you helping your reader learn/love/hate/grow with the character?
*I start with this section when self-editing because it keeps my mind focused on the story.
5. Now for the fun part! *grin* the common bad habits you make as a writer. The words and phrases you love using…over and over…and over… and over…you catching on *wink*
Delete as much as possible and come up with words that fit and read well. It shouldn`t be stilted. Easy right? *laughs*
Italics where there shouldn`t be *shaking head* Italics are used only as a character`s direct thoughts. No quotation needed. No, “he thought, she wondered”. Only Italics.
Misspelled words. Goodness, I always abuse this one. After awhile your eyes get tired. You read words as you meant them, not as you typed them or rather Word (or whatever program you use) autocorrected you. Exercise becomes exorcise *ha*
This part includes research. Make sure you`ve looked up everything you`re claiming as fact, even if it`s a fiction novel .e.g. In 2009 Breast Cancer was the most common cancer for women in Australia, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer. I randomly Googled that, but if there are things search engines are unable to help with ask your writing group. Don`t belong to a writing group? Close this window and go search for a virtual one or one in your neck of the woods, then come back.
A writing group, in my opinion, is vital to your growth as a writer.
Now there are more to ‘common bad habits’, stuff you read editors write like ‘show vs. tell’ and ‘disembodied body parts’. The last one explains itself. Eyes and mouth are described as being in different parts of the room, even though that was clearly not what you meant. His eyes is supposed to convey interest, not ‘following her around the room’ *yikkes* and even though, it`s supposed to be a ‘thoughtful sip of wine’ because he`s so ‘beguiled by her beauty’, but as his ‘disembodied’ eyes stalks her across the room, his mouth is left behind sipping! Thank you Decadent Publishing for making this point and example absolutely clear!
Or you have too much story- ‘show vs. tell’. Internal monologues. Monologues. Expressionless dialogues.
What does a scene of your heroine picking up a forgotten bracelet via an emotional internal perspective provide, when everything about that scene could be taken out of the story having added and taken away nothing from the story?
Yes this self-editing business is rough. You know why she stumbled on the bracelet, why that flashback was needed, why the emotional connection needs to be explained….but.
I could go on, but I`ll stop there. This section is a minefield. It is the fatal difference between the simple placement of a comma and an ‘and’ that could have an editor tilt their head going “what the hell?”
This will be the section you`ll spend the majority of your time on, working on getting your story across to the reader, in an entertaining way. I write stories where one of the main ingredients is romance. Know your main ingredient and make sure it`s what you`re selling, because in the end, that`s what you`ll be doing.
6. When you`ve reached this stage, it means you`re serious/serious about your writing, you`re not playing around AND congratulations`.
Congrats, because not only do you have a finished manuscript but you`re one step closer to getting it under that editor`s nose *smile*
Now do points 1 and 2. After what you`ve been through, this would be painless. You`ll be completely numb from the pain of chopping and re-writing. Cutting away characters and whole chapters. You`ll be an objective (relative) robot and able to execute 1 and 2 to the best of your ability.
7. Format. Times New Roman is the safest to go, 12 Font and 1.5 spacing. Every publisher (yes every!) have their set of Submission Guidelines. Never think you`re above reading them. That foot in the door you thought you had, just shut in your face if you think the guidelines doesn`t apply to you. It`s what teachers and lecturers drill in young minds every day… “Read the instructions at the top of the question paper before you start.” Have you ever missed a question because you were so eager to start/get the exam over with? Yep I`ve also been there. Read the Submission Guidelines.
8. Now that you`re sick of looking at your manuscript. You`ve self-edited it into submission *cough*. It`s been months. Writing projects have gone on the backburner. Some of you ask, “What other writing projects?” That`s okay, editing can give you tunnel vision.
DON’T send it in for submission yet. First rookie mistake.
Find Beta Readers, people who are writers themselves and when I say ‘are writers themselves’, I`m not talking about your bestfriend with a major in English. People who are involved in the publishing industry in one form or other, hence my suggestion of a writing group.
Some writers join critique groups. You should have a very thick skin for this group. It`s great practice for scorching future Amazon reviews (because there will be), but if you don`t want your writing spirit tested so early in your career, I`d say steer clear of this group.
Find three Beta Readers, people that you admire and/or aspire to. Whose input you value and can share your thoughts with, without feeling judged or assassinated. Beta Readers provide you with a free learning opportunity. They see holes in your plot, timeline issues, notice grammar mistakes, where your story drags, etc.
One of my early Beta Readers for my Lycan series said “I loved the first book, but the second was boring I couldn’t get into it. It took too long to get to the main character. I want to know what she`s been up to since the first book.” *yikkes*
You would think I`d know that as a reader myself, but nope. I started the second book where my author mind wanted to pick up on it, not the reader.
Fresh eyes on your work, is important. I`m learning that with every book I write and self-edit.
My book Dance of Love was contracted the 10th of Feb 2014. I submitted it in early November 2013. The first week of December it was sent back to me by the acquisitions editor requesting to know if I wanted to do revisions. If I did, she would send me an email with suggestions.
Oh happy day! Any letter from an editor wanting to engage with me, especially about revisions brings a smile to my face. I said yes of course! Okay I worded it more elegantly *grin*
At first glance the suggestions didn`t look bad. Second glance, I was still enthusiastic. But the moment I copied and pasted that email, broke it down in ‘understandable’ bullet points and realized the editing road that lay ahead of me, my heart sunk into my shoes.
Yes it rose again, but only when I sobered up, realized writing is my business not only my pleasure and refocused my attention on my manuscript. I shut out expectations of the editor (imagined or not) and solely focused on the suggestions.
Meanwhile my editor Zee (also at the same publisher) noticed I had submitted this manuscript and asked why I didn`t send it to her first. These were two editors from different Lines/Series at the publisher. Newbie that I am, I didn`t consider how her editor`s eyes would have greatly improved my manuscript and most likely factored out a revision.
Cue to me working through December, sacrificing some holiday time right past January 1st. When the publisher opened, after having Zee`s okay on re-submitting, I pressed send on that email. Manuscript was Formatted according to the Submission Guidelines, fresh eyes read through it and I`d self-edited to the best of my ability. Even done a spell-check! (Don`t forget to do this!)
And no, the manuscript wasn`t perfect, but it was submission ready! There`s a difference. If I was an expert editor, this blog post would be perfect *grin*
Writing is a skill. Talent is a natural ability. A skill means learning and consciously working on honing that skill. Now if you have both writing talent and skill you`re golden kid. But one without the other wouldn`t get you very far.
I know of talented writers who`ve never finished a manuscript to the point where it was submission ready. That`s the difference between you and that writer. Every writer isn`t the same or equally blessed with talent, but all of us have access to the same resources (I`m assuming you do since you`re reading this blog post) to level the playing field. The talent who doesn`t apply the rules always sits on the bench (ha I don`t even like sports).
These Self-editing tools have helped- is still helping me on my writing journey, I hope it does the same for youJ Happy editing!