The Joy of Editing for Self-Published Authors

This article is aimed at novel writers, but the issues raised also apply to authors of dissertations, essays, short stories; basically any type of long-form writing.

The Idea
Bright Idea
How many people think a clever idea is enough to create a novel? Tell an author you have a good idea and he or she will tell you the idea is but one part of the book writing process. The main part, as you have probably guessed, is actually writing the novel.

First Draft

To most authors, except the naïve, the manuscript you produce at the end of the novel writing process is not called a masterpiece but your first draft. The bane of self-publishing has been the unseemly rush by many first-time authors to publish their book soon after it was rejected by innumerable publishers. They do this with their first draft, following a quick proofread or even using a professional proof reader, but it is not enough, as they have found to their cost and long-tern credibility when they receive a succession of one and two-star reviews.

First-Stage Editing

After completing the first draft, your manuscript should undergo a first edit. It is possible for the author to do this, providing a one or two-week gap has been left from finishing the first draft to clear the head. Various software editing products can help you here and I recommend and use, AutoCrit. The system will highlight duplicate words, adverbs, overlong sentences, redundancies, clichés and a whole host of other grammatical anomalies. It is a brilliant and easy to use tool which will give your prose some well-needed polish.

At this stage the author has done all he or she can do, and it is time for others to take a look. If you feel uncomfortable about letting your precious manuscript be seen by foreign eyes, why bother writing a book? It is better you hear any criticism now, before the book is published, than it appearing later on Amazon or Goodreads for all the world to see.

There are two types of editing self-published authors need to consider: structural editing and copy editing.

Structural Editing

A structural editor will review your book as a reader would and identify parts of the story that don’t hang together with the main story, digressions which lead readers into blind alleys, characters who don’t ring true and endings which leave the reader dissatisfied. In fact, all the things a critical reader will be thinking about as they are reading a book or writing a book review. Remember, a structural editor will only look at the big picture, the form and shape of your manuscript, not the words; correcting those is the job of the copy editor.

Copy Editing

A copy editor will review your manuscript word by word and highlight: inconsistent word-use, grammatical inaccuracies, superfluous text, misspelt words, missing words and lots more, with the aim of ensuring your manuscript is consistent, chapter by chapter. If you think this process is unimportant, take a look at book reviews and you will see many authors are criticised for calling a character by one name at the start of a book and something else a few chapters later and for misusing or confusing the placing of commas and semi-colons. Copy editing will fix those.

It is unlikely many new authors will have friends with copy-editing skills, but it is possible to find some friends who would be willing to read a draft of your novel and provide detailed critical analysis. If not, a web search will reveal a plethora of freelance editors, some with experience of working with self-published authors and many who are members (in the UK) of the Society of Editors and Proofreaders. My only advice in selecting one, is to do so on the basis of book genre. I don’t believe an editor with experience of working with gardening books or romance novels will be as helpful with your horror or gory crime novel as one with experience in that genre.

At last, and after many months (or years) from the day you started writing, you will now have a near-complete manuscript. Don’t uncork the champagne yet, your book still requires a final proofread before publication.

Where’s the payoff?
money-stacksIf you don’t have a wide circle of edit-savvy friends to call upon, and who does, the process outlined above will cost in excess of £1,000. Is it worth it?

The emphatic answer is yes. You will find your manuscript has improved from the bloated, error-ridden, fault strewn, grammatically incorrect document that you once believed was publishable, to a sleek, easily readable book that you can be proud of. You can also be confident any criticism you receive now will be about the story and characters, and not the misuse of grammar or an inability to spell.

The bonus

Long descriptions and endless narrative, some of which you may have agonised over for days, are often reduced to a single sentence or deleted, but you will realise how much better it reads. This leaves the text crisper and more succinct and helps you develop a skill, well understood by seasoned authors. ‘How to write’ books often call it ‘show don’t tell’, but it’s something more subtle. I would call it, ‘don’t say, imply.’ If you allow readers to fill many of the gaps in plot and character features by themselves, you will be offering them a more satisfying reading experience. If that isn’t your aim in writing a book, what is?

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