Cleaning Up Your Mess

Editing is the step self-published authors most often skip. Writing is hard. It takes a very, very long time to write a novel. When it’s done, the swell of victory and accomplishment overwhelms reason. We want people to read what we’ve got. We want them to read it right this second. Now that publishing an e-book takes about 30 minutes, the temptation to believe your novel is polished and ready far before it actually is can be hard to ignore. Surely the problems can’t be that bad. After all, I just gave it a re-read and barely saw any problems at all!

I’m not making fun. There have been many, many times when I wanted to say I AM DONE and release Broken Magic without any further work. Like last week. And the week before. Also through most of June, part of April, and all of 2011. After years of writing, the last thing you want standing between you and the adoration of readers is proofreading.

It’s ok. We all feel like Crying Dawson when it’s time to edit.

Thank Higgs-Boson I’m surround by smart people who glare at me when it sounds like I’m suggesting anything of the kind. It trapped me into doing the right thing. But once you commit to giving your novel the best edit possible…well, what then? Must the beautiful solitary joy of writing be ruined by the interference of others? Alas, yes.

There are two things Broken Magic needed before I could allow The Public to read it. The first was a good, proper edit. The second was a thorough proofreading.

First, The Edit.

An editor isn’t the same as a reader giving you feedback. They might identify the same types of problems, but your average reader will typically find only broad issues. The kind of thing you’d get from a Real Editor at a publishing house is far more meticulous.  Awkward dialogue, weird phrasing, repetitive sections and plain old bad plot ideas were woven through 200 pages I’d read so many times I couldn’t see them straight. That’s what The Edit will fix.

Going through the editing process can be difficult, I know. It can make you feel like everything you wrote is crap and that the only thing good about the novel is that you somehow managed to finish a novel. Being humble and thoughtful about the criticism while still being strong enough to reject the edits that don’t work is a very tough balance to find. It helped to look at edits as falling into one of three groups.

  1. The editor is right about both the problem and the fix.
  2. The editor is right that there’s a problem, but a different fix would fit better.
  3. The editor is incorrect and things should stay as they are.

What I learned was that most edits fell into the second category, and very few fell into the third. If you’ve found a good editor, they’re going to do a good job of identifying issues. They are not, however, you. Their suggestions will be in their voice, not yours. It’s easy to see a suggestion you don’t like and decide to ignore the note entirely. That’s the wrong call more often than not. Something sandpapered their brain. Understanding why is the only way to know if that sandpapering was intentional (and thus you should keep things as they are) or if there’s a smoother way of doing it. There’s usually a smoother way.

The final edit of Broken Magic cut nearly 5,000 words out of the novel. They won’t be missed. It also identified areas where the characters weren’t coming off as I’d hoped simply because of how a passage was worded, or because I was muddying emotions by over-explaining them. Going through The Edit resulted in a tighter, smoother narrative. It wasn’t easy, but I have a stronger novel because of it.

Hey, my edits didn’t come with a free coffee stain!

Which brings me to Proofreading and copyediting.

Accept this: Your novel has typos. Lots of them. Maybe not as many as my novel did (I’m both the Typo King and the Lord of Terrible Proofreading) but I promise you they’re there. I’m a terrible proofreader because my brain does something yours does as well. Mine simply does it on overdrive. I read what I expect to read, not what’s actually there. Let’s say I meant to type “she”. Though I actually typed “he”, I know a woman is being referenced and don’t see the word “he”. I see “she” and move on. Multiply this times 69k words, add in punctuation snafus and shake with a dash of unintentional tense shifts and you get a very amateurish looking manuscript.

If you’re very seasoned, very experienced and very self-critical, you might be able to do the final edit on your own. Unless you’re a proofreading machine – and I only know one of those – that’s not the case with proofreading. Like it or not, you’re too familiar with what you wrote the catch every typo, misspelling, and punctuation failure yourself. Every mistake a reader sees is a little ding in your credibility as an author. They add up. They reinforce the assumption that there’s a gap in quality between a self-published novel and the professionally published ones they buy from Barnes & Noble. If you want to convince your readers that there’s no difference between you and them, someone must proofread your novel.

This probably means spending some money.

Rates for editors tend to run between $0.075 and $0.05 per word, depending on what services they provide. For a 69k word novel like Broken Magic, that would be anywhere between $250 and $3,500. Rates, obviously, vary a lot from editor to editor. Some editors will offer a package of both content editing and proofreading. Some charge per hour instead of per word (though typically only for content editing). Either way, this is going to be an expense.

You might balk at shelling out hundreds of dollars to catch a few typos and find some awkward paragraphs. Don’t. I needed to do this, and so do you.

Thankfully, my long-time collaborator and friend, Rachel Brody, freelances as an editor. She spent much of the summer with Broken Magic, first giving me very comprehensive notes, then a final copyedit. Working with someone I trusted on the content edit helped. Someday I’m going to have an editor who isn’t my friend, who’s never read my writing and doesn’t care about anything except producing a novel they can publish. Getting blunt, honest edits from a friend and collaborator on my first go-round not only made Broken Magic a better novel. It made me better at taking notes. (I strongly recommend you read Rachel’s thoughts on the process.)

That was a luxury you might not have. That’s ok. The important thing is not allowing the Lazy Voice in your head convince you that you can skip this step. You can’t. You put too much work into writing to slack off here. Spend the money. End up with a novel you’re proud of.

As we speak, I’m making the last round of copyedit changes to Broken Magic. By the end of August, I’ll have a polished manuscript ready for publication. We’re getting close. So, so close.

Next week is the entry I’ve been drooling to write. It’s time to reveal Broken Magic’s beautiful cover art. I can’t wait.

Check out my other Adventures in Self-Publishing:

Broken Magic will be available for Kindle, Nook and in print in September 2012.

This entry was posted in Creating and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Cleaning Up Your Mess

  1. Your advice is spot-on (and gorgeously proofread, clearly). I see it in my students, who think they’ve written something BRILLINT and forget that BRLLINT without an “a” is just dumb. Or sloppy. Or unprofessional, or all of the above. My first-ever college paper for a lit course (and I was all missy hotshot english major) was about “Religon in Light in August.” And it was “religon” all through the paper. Never, ever saw the missing “i.” You know, that damn professor didn’t even give me points for consistency? Just chucked me a C. I was aghast. Ever since, I’m an editing stickler. Someone said once that “real writing” happens in revision, and I think that’s true. It’s in the editing & revision process that you hew ever closer to the bone of what you really want to say (and want your characters to say and etc). Thank you for sharing your process!!

  2. susanedits says:

    People pay me money to edit and proofread. I would never want to be the only person to edit and proofread my own work. Whether it’s wording or spelling, sometimes you see what you intended instead of what’s really there.

  3. As an editor, I couldn’t agree more.

    As a writer, I couldn’t agree more.

    We all need fresh eyes to see our mistakes, and, at least some of the time, they really must be in someone else’s head. :-)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *