Spend enough time hanging around on social media forums populated by writers, and pretty soon you'll come across some poor scribe moaning about receiving their edits. Your's truly has spent the past fortnight doing just that for this coming summer's release, DCI Warren Jones 7.
I've explored some of the ways in which you can trim your novel in previous posts (TuesdayTips 27, 28, 29 & 30) but I've never really explained what editing is, or what some of the different terms mean.
The process of editing varies between self-published writers and traditionally-published writers. Different publishing houses have different ways of doing things, and each writer will find their own way that works for them. There are also slightly different terms used to descibe the processes.
For the purposes of this article, I am going to assume that we are talking about what happens after you've typed 'The End' on your initial draft, read through it multiple times to polish it as best you can and are now satisfied that it is 'finished'. Traditionally, the manuscript would be submitted to the publisher (or sometimes your agent). If you are considering self-publishing, the following still applies, but I have addressed some of the specific issues towards the end.
Tip: ALWAYS start editing on a new version of your file. Storage is so cheap these days, that there is no excuse for not making multiple versions of a file (number them sequentially!). That way, if you realise that your changes don't work, you can just go back to an earlier version and start again.
The editing process can be largely divided into two different stages.
Structural Edits Terms may vary, but essentially, this is where an entirely new pair of eyes looks at your book and asks 'Does this work'? 'How can we make it better?' I am fortunate that none of my books have been rejected out of hand, but I still typically have plenty to do. For my publishing house, this feedback comes in the form of an editorial letter. Anyone who has ever seen marked schoolwork will be familiar with the format - it follows the sandwich model: Praise for what works. Ways to improve. A positive comment at the end.
The improvements in my editorial letters come in two parts: General structural comments. For example pacing - perhaps the middle part is a bit slow? Maybe the overall length could be shorter? Do I need so many interview scenes - could I instead have some take place 'off page' with the main points summarised later? Perhaps one character gets too much attention, whilst another is underserved? Do events take place in the best order? Should I space out the murders and the interviews, or perhaps bring them closer together to increase the tension?
I typically turn these suggestions into a list of actionable points, then read through the whole manuscript, and scribble notes on how to implement them as I go along. (I prefer paper and pen for this, but the comment function on Word can be used to great effect here). My notes are usually relatively vague - for example highlighting a whole section and writing 'shorten' or 'cut', or highlighting a paragraph or section and then finding where it needs to be moved to to improve pacing.
Tip: If you need to move a paragraph highlight it and then write a number in a circle next to it. Then find where you think it needs to go and draw that numbered circle in the margin. That way you won't get confused between different paragraphs and can find them easily when flicking through the manuscript.
Specific suggestions. These can range from small requests for clarification (page 265, is this the daughter speaking here or the mother?) to larger alterations (Page 341, I think you could cut this entire section - it doesn't add anything and slows the story down). Tip: Do these FIRST. Not only are they often low-hanging fruit, they frequently have page numbers attached - so do them before you move everything around and can't find what page they are now on!
Big tip: When making corrections to a printed manuscript in pen, try and use a colour that will stand out. But also place an asterisk in the margin next to the correction. It's easy to miss something as small as an added comma when flicking through the manuscript and transfering those corrections to the Word document.
Your manuscript may go through several rounds of structural edits. This is NOT a bad thing! An author and an editor are a team, and so as frustrating as it can be, stick in there!
Copy-editing/line-editing/proof-reading. Each of these terms has a specific meaning, and strictly speaking, they shouldn't be used interchangeably. In practise, this is where someone with a freakish attention to detail and obsessive knowledge of grammar, punctuation, spelling, correct word-usage and the pedantic requirements of publisher style-guides* goes through the final version of your manuscript with a finetooth comb. They are awesome! I have learned so much of the above from them over the years.
They are also the last line of defence between you and the reader. They are the person that (usually!) spots that the spelling of your main character's name has changed, that the suspect isn't wearing a tie at the beginning of the interview, but is wiping their spectacles on the end of it when the questioning gets difficult, informs you that the long, hot summer in your book was actually wet that year and that the radio station your hero listens to hadn't started broadcasting in 2002. Have I said how awesome they are?
If you are self-publishing, then you still need to do all this! If there is one thing you take from my rambling blog posts, it's that nobody can fully edit their own work. I submit all of my posts as evidence to support this claim.
Professional editors can be found online - I suggest joining writers groups on social media to see who is recommended; find one that specialises in your genre. Some editors will do a straightforward read-through and feedback, others may specialise in proof-reading, others may work as part of a small team that will work in partnership with you from that first completed draft to you uploading onto the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. There are also Manuscript Assessment Services or Critique services that can read through your story before you employ an editor to help you iron out any big issues.
Unfortunately, these services cost money; as the saying goes, you have to speculate to accumulate. Traditionally-published authors will see all these costs borne by their publisher. The downside of that is that the publisher takes a cut of the royalties. What works best for you will depend on your circumstances. I suggest getting a copy of the Writers and Artist Yearbook, it's full of really useful tips and tricks. But, please don't insult editors by trying to haggle with them or getting a freebie - they are skilled professionals, who do it to earn a living. You wouldn't argue with a plumber or an electrician or a gas-fitter, so don't push your luck with an editor. You may well think that editing your magnus opus will bring career-changing exposure for the person lucky enough to hitch themselves to your train - but most mortgage providers don't accept 'exposure credits' in lieu of cash.
Of course, no one is perfect. My books are 120,000 words long - I defy anyone to spot every error in a manuscript of that length. There are those that will airily proclaim on Facebook that the standard of proof-reading/proof-readers today is disgraceful; that authors 'who can't be bothered to proof-read deserve to burn in hell', and regard being a grammar Nazi as a public service. Dig a little deeper and you'll see that none of these keyboard warriors are themselves writers; as with all professions, we have to accept that there will always be those willing to stand on the sidelines and criticise us as we perform a job that they can't do.
Final thought: Ultimately, this is your story and it will be your name on the cover. Differences of opinion can and do occur with your editor. Don't be afraid; you are both professionals. I have taken to writing a short commentary alongside my editorial letter. In it I detail how I have implemented each suggestion, and justified why I may not have - sometimes I have a compromise. For example my editor may suggest that a section can be cut to improve pace. I have valid reasons that I feel it should stay, but have trimmed it down to make it more punchy.
Good luck! As always, feel free to comment here or on social media. Best wishes, Paul.
*Style Guides! These are an invaluable resource, but will also drive you mad! Many publishers have an in-house style guide that outlines their own preferences regarding spelling (s or z for example), capitalisation, punctuation, hyphenation, apostrophes etc. Be warned - it might not be exactly the same as what you were taught at school! It is the role of a proofreader/line editor to tweak your manuscript so it follows these guidelines, but I requested a copy of the HarperCollins guide, saving everyone time (and it has improved my spelling, punctuation and grammar no end!).