If you are a self-publisher and have read any of the advice available online, you will know that most commentators recommend having your book professionally edited and proofread. There is good reason for this as it is extremely difficult to see the flaws in one’s own work. Proofreading is especially hard as we will often read what we intended to write instead of what is actually written. If you wrote, “She took the ring form her finger,” you will tend to read it as “from her finger” in spite of the typo because it is in your head that way.
You can be your own editor, but many people don’t seem to know exactly what an editor does. Editing is a different skill from writing, just as fixing a car is a different skill from driving a car. An editor is a kind of manuscript mechanic – although perhaps a better analogy would be a manuscript organic gardener, helping a book to grow and bloom. Editing requires a different mindset than writing. If you are going to edit your own book, you have to look at your work from the outside. It’s usually a good idea to put the manuscript away for a month or two, then reread it with fresh eyes.
So what does an editor do? Manuscript editing is traditionally done in four stages: the Developmental Edit, the Line Edit, the Copyedit and the Proofread. Each of these elements breaks down into a number of sub-tasks.
The Developmental Edit takes an overview of the entire book, reviewing the plot, characterisation, setting and writing style. First an editor will consider the book as a whole, looking for a captivating opening; for originality and credibility; for an engaging premise, interesting settings and fascinating characters; and finally for appeal, a sense if there is an audience for the book.
Next, the editor will study the plot looking for good plot development, which involves consistency, compelling flow and good pacing, as well as effective structure, narrative arc and the building of tension to a satisfying denouement and resolution. The editor will also pick out predictable or clichéd situations and plot developments, unconvincing situations, convoluted scenes, continuity mistakes, inconsistencies, contradictions, time sequence discrepancies, and unnecessary back story.
The editor will also study the characters, with an eye to character development and to unnecessary characters that can be cut without harming the story, as well as to spot flaws in characterisation such as stereotypes, characters not believable, lack of character motivation, and inconsistencies in character description.
Setting is another element reviewed in the Developmental Edit. The editor looks for flaws in setting description, inconsistencies, vagueness, too much or too little descriptive detail, and atmosphere.
Finally, the editor examines the writing itself looking for dull writing style, trite similes, vapid images, varied sentence structure, consistency of voice and point of view, consistency of writing style, wordiness, repetition, stilted dialogue, exposition or lecturing, intrusive narration, overwriting, rambling, lack of focus and padding with unnecessary chapters or paragraphs.
Once the basic story is finished, the next stage is the Line Edit. This is the most exacting and time consuming part of the whole editorial process. The Line Edit has to do with the actual language of the book to make sure it is in correct English. The manuscript is checked line by line, hence the name Line Edit. In the line edit, the first thing checked is the language for correct grammar – word agreements, verb tenses, etc., for correct syntax or sentence structure, and for incorrect word usage and punctuation. Then the book is read for good writing practice, looking for awkward or convoluted sentences, clumsy constructions, overused words, overuse of adverbs and adjectives, mixed metaphors, wordiness, overuse of passive voice, and varied sentence structure. And finally, for consistency of usage (dashes, quotation marks, capitalization, hyphenated words, special terms, etc.).
When the language is smoothed out, the next stage is the Copyedit. Copyediting is to make sure all the facts in the book are right. This is important for fiction as well as non-fiction. Imagine a scene in a romance novel set in a spring garden with the gladiolus in bloom – but gladiolus is a summer blooming plant. Readers pick up on simple errors like this and the author loses credibility.
After the Copyedit comes the Proofread. You would think that after a Developmental Edit, a Line Edit and a Copyedit all the spelling errors, typos and punctuation mistakes would be caught. Well, they’re not. Every book needs a final proofread.
As you can see, editing is a long and involved process. If you are editing your own work, you need to review the book with each of the elements listed above in mind. And don’t rush it – take your time and do it right. It is better to delay the release of the book for a couple of weeks in order to give it a proper edit than to rush an unpolished manuscript into print. When the reviews come in for your book without any mention of the common errors that plague self-published books, “confusing, lacks clarity, inconsistent, lacks flow, many grammar and punctuation mistakes,” etc., you’ll be glad you made the effort to effectively edit the manuscript.
Bio: John C. Goodman has published two books of poetry, a novel and a poetry writing handbook entitled, “Poetry: Tools & Techniques”. He is the editor of Gneiss Press and editor of ditch, (www.ditchpoetry.com), an online poetry magazine.