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Thoughtful Research

The Write Way to Edit your Novel

I was reading "The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript Submission," given free by Authors Publish, as a definitive guide to submitting to publishers following your hard work of writing a novel or book. Emily Harstone starts by saying how to edit and edit until you know the book is ready. I didn't like her process of editing and want to provide here an editing process that makes more sense.


Harstone says the first edit should be to catch any grammatical errors. But I contend you do that during the absolutely LAST edit of the book. The first edit, after you've written "the end," depends on how wordy you are. A good novel needs to be at least 80,000 words. If you fall short, you need to figure out where actions, scenes and people need to be fleshed out. Do you need another subplot? Is there a character hiding in the shadows that needs to be uncovered? You will do a lot more creative writing in your second draft.  If you're wordy and way over 100,000 words, then you need to trim. You need to look for all the ways your characters talk too much, say too much, leave too little to the reader's imagination. Remember, you're taking your readers on a journey. If they know how it's all going to turn out right away, they will stop reading.


What I find humorous about her suggestion to do grammatical changes in your first edit is that you will keep making them as you keep creating. You may think you won't, but you will. Save that technical stuff for your read-aloud final draft.


You don't need to print each edit as you go. But definitely print the first draft just in case something happens to your computer. Heaven forbid. I had mine stolen once with 6 weeks of work on a new novel gone. Brilliant stuff, too, probably.


Once the novel feels fully formed, you need a print copy. That can take a number of edits to get it to its full form. You'll know when that is. The next edit, then, when you feel it's ready, is the red-line edit. Get off the computer and sit with your print copy in hand. Pick up a read pen and put your reader glasses on. Now read it as though you've just picked it up in a book store. Analyze every line as though one that will potentially throw off or confuse the reader. The biggest problem when I red-line edit I see is confusing prose.


Now I know that I'm currently only self-published, but it's even more important for people who only want to be self-published to follow guidelines like this. You don't have a publisher's eyes fixing things for you. You are in charge.


After you go through your entire print copy with red-line changes, make those changes into the manuscript on the computer. This is considered another edit because you might make changes to some of those hand-written edits, too.


When that edit is done, it's up to you if you want to print another one. The LAST edit is the read aloud, and can be done on the computer.


Emily Harstone doesn't give you any of these tips. After making grammatical changes she says to revise with content in mind. And then give it to readers. But follow the more complete steps above, and after your read-aloud, where you'll catch your tense switches, spelling errors (the ones spellcheck doesn't catch) and easy flow of sentences, then you'll do your spell check, and find a reader or two. You night not be able to find a reader. People do get uncomfortable with that process.


After your read aloud, you should feel comfortable enough to submit. But be honest. Did you enjoy reading it? Does it have enough of what it claims to have to hold a reader's interest? Did it hold yours with every edit? I'm working on a first person novel that's been through so many revisions and content changes and each time I think it's ready, only to find, after putting it away a while to work on something else, that it's not ready at all. I think my struggle here is with first person. But I've been unable to figure out how to make it third person and retain the same 'cozy thriller' feel I want it to have.


"As an author we are so close to the work that it is hard for us to see plot holes, gaps in information, inconsistencies in pacing, and many other issues. You can only gain this perspective by asking other people to read your work." Yes, readers can be helpful this way. But a read-aloud of your work can also do a lot of this for you. Let a publisher who likes your vision do the rest. Find a reader you trust if you can. But don't give up and die if you don't.


I'll share this story. I ran a writer's group called "The Green Bay Reading Writers Guild." My goal was exactly that -- to help authors find beta readers and give readers the next level of activity by helping writers get their books ready for publication. I envisioned these readers then getting editing credit when the book was published. Problem: one guy there got a number of readers to read his book. And he very vocally did not like any of the suggestions he was given, such as cut your 200,000 word novel down, you're too wordy. We lost most of our readership, because I, at the time, did not set any ground rules.


Authors, don't be so sensitive that you tell your beta readers they're wrong. Oh, we authors all do this. Please. It's why finding beta readers can become more difficult. Harstone shared a Facebook beta readers group, and another at Goodreads. Check those out if you're a member.


Take their suggestions to heart. Understand what they're saying. They may want you to kill someone earlier or later, they may want you to remove your favorite sentence because it doesn't fit.  Run a couple of new ideas they generated past them to see if you've understood their concerns. Don't just thank them and move on. Make them feel they've helped. Give them a thanks in the book. No, you don't have to accept every suggestion. But understand why they made it before ignoring it. It might lead you to make a different change that works as well.


"If you are struggling to get a book published and have submitted it to twenty or so publishers without any response, except for canned rejections (personal rejections are often a compliment and should be seen as such), you should consider another major round of revisions."


Yes, this is where I've been with my first person cozy thriller. So I am finding a read of this publication helpful, and you will, too. But if you really want to know how to edit, bookmark this article. It'll work better for you.


Go to Authors Publish Magazine for more information on their publication.

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