Editing – you either love it or hate it. As a freelance editor who’s now clocked up twenty-five years in the publishing profession, clearly I love it. However, I know a lot of authors dread the E word.
For our purposes editing is the preparation of written materials for publication or presentation by correcting, revising or adapting. When you do this yourself, it’s self-editing. Whether you can ever self-edit adequately is a matter for debate. Generally you can’t. You are too familiar with your own work and the human eye is a devious thing. It will swear blind to your brain that you’ve written what you were trying to say and not notice a missing word or a spelling mistake.
How much editing should you do before you either hand your project over to a professional editor for a final polish or launch it directly into the market yourself? You should read your work through at least twice and tidy up as you do so. But not much more than that. I cringe when I come across authors saying they are on their sixth or seventh revision. That’s way too many. By that stage you’re only tinkering and obsessing. Stop. Let your baby go.
It can be hard to let your baby go!
So, to help with the editing process and make it as efficient as possible, here are a few tips on self-editing.
1. Spot your overused words and weed them out: we all have some that become our default words and we shove them in without really thinking. The usual culprits I’ve found over the years are these: just, a bit, however, though, a little, of course, in fact, said, stood, walked, nevertheless, nonetheless, seeing as, almost, really, surely, certainly, some, could only, suddenly, nice, lovely, immediately, rather, well, very, decided.
But how can you discover your own foibles? Select a passage of a current piece of your writing, say at least 1,000 words. Copy it and paste it to create a new document. Starting with the list of words above, now do a ‘find’ for each one of them, and note down how often it appears. Add other words that you know you’re prone to employing. Any of these words or phrases that are cropping up more than 5 times definitely need your attention, and any with 3 or 4 appearances could do with thinking about too. Replace them with a synonym or get rid of them altogether. Now critically read the new version and I’m sure you’ll see an improvement.
2. Names: keep a list of character names. And keep them as varied as you can. There are thousands upon thousands of names to choose from but it’s astonishing how many authors duplicate names or end up with a selection that are all very similar to each other – for example Jane, Joan, Jean, Joanne, Janet all appearing in one book. (There’s a definite bias towards names beginning with J I’ve noticed too!) There’s a very handy character name generator on my website here http://edit-my-book.com/name-generator.html to help you come up with a name if you’re stuck. Hugely successful indie author Kristen Ashley has quite a line in making up unusual names for her characters. If it works for her, then why not give it a shot too. Be inventive.
3. Style sheet: as with the list of names, you should keep one of these. A style sheet is where you jot down how you present your work. Will you use double quotation marks around speech (recommended) or single ones? Where will you use hyphenation? Will you capitalise certain nouns that aren’t proper nouns to give them extra emphasis in your story? And so on. The idea of the style sheet is to ensure consistency in your work. It’s not too late to compile one during your last read through.
4. Back to front and a different format: on your final proofread, work from the back, a page at a time. This gives you a whole new perspective on your story from seeing it in a very different way. This will make it easier to spot typos. You should also read your story through either printed out or on an ereader. Again, the different appearance of your MS from how you’ve usually seen it on the computer screen will help you spot mistakes more easily.
5. Don’t rush: take some time over your self-editing. Take plenty of breaks and even put the work aside for a few days before a final proofread. Mark Coker of Smashwords has said that one of the main mistakes indie authors make is being too impatient to publish. This will mean grumpy reviews that stick if there are silly grammatical or spelling mistakes, or a plot that was too hastily cobbled together and not thought through.
Don’t spoil the ship for a ha’porth of tar. Fools rush in. More haste, less speed. There are plenty of age-old sayings advising against impetuosity and they hold true in this era of epublishing where the temptation is to throw ourselves into the digital stream as quickly as possible. You’ve put a lot of time and effort into your writing, so don’t let yourself down by skimping on the last stages of production. Spend time on self-editing and editing and produce something that’s as professional as you can make it. Your writing is worth it.
Stepanie Jane Dagg