At ALLi, we always advise indie authors to self-edit as much as they can, to make their books the best they can be, even before they involve a professional editor. But when we work so long and hard on our manuscripts, it can be hard to distance ourselves sufficiently to spot errors – which is where Margaret Skea‘s fun but effective technique comes in: editing backwards.
The Importance of Professional Editing
Love it or hate it, we all know how important editing is, especially for indie authors who don’t have the benefit of a publisher to undertake (and pay for) that part of the publishing process. For many of us, it is one of the key jobs that are out-sourced (up there with cover design), for there is no doubt that a professional eye can see flaws in a manuscript that the author may easily miss.
The Importance of Self-Editing
However, good professional editing doesn’t come cheap, and it’s worth doing what you can yourself before looking to outside help – the less time the professional needs to spend tidying up a manuscript, the less it will cost you, the author-publisher.
And if, like me, you have an Achilles heel (mine is punctuation), well, that needs special attention.
I have a tendency to sprinkle commas like salt. This was brought home to me when I came third in a short story competition, the judge commenting:
‘The carnage of war, revenge and religion, seen through the eyes of a child; a very powerful combination only slightly marred by grammatical mistakes, (ie too many commas)’.
My initial temptation was to leave all the punctuation stuff to the professional, after all, I had more important ways to use my time – writing, for one. But then I considered how long it might take for someone else to clean up my errors – think vacuuming up split salt from a deep pile carpet…
Enter editing backwards.
First, Edit Forwards
Of course I do edit forwards first – plotting the story arc on a graph, indicating the points of tension and crisis – to ensure that momentum is building; and ‘lulls’ to give space for breath. I check for consistency – both within the book itself and, as I’m writing series, across all the books. And I read the entire manuscript aloud in as short a time as possible – usually over the space of a couple of days – to highlight anything ‘clunky’. Oh, for privacy and a sound-proof room!
The backwards edit comes after all that fairly standard stuff.
How Editing Backwards Works
Here’s how editing backwards works. Starting at the very end of the manuscript, I read the pages in reverse order, working from top to bottom of each page. Why?
Because taking each page out of context allows a tight focus on the individual words and phrases, often masked by the flow of the story.
So, aside from punctuation, what am I looking for?
- Overuse. We all have ‘pet’ words or phrases that we repeat without even noticing, I have a list I’ve compiled over the years – replacing them is a job made easy by Word’s ‘find and replace’ feature. My rule of thumb is to try not to use any word / phrase (other than and, but, a, the, etc) more than 10 times in an entire book of c 100k. But beware obscure or flowery alternatives!
- ‘Non’ words. Those that can be removed without affecting the sense of the sentence, but which left in lessen the impact and slow down the pace. ‘Just’ is one of my usual suspects. It can be surprising how many ‘non’ words can be culled to good effect – I once took 5,000 out of 107k in one pass.
Backwards editing may sound weird and uncomfortable, but once you get into the swing of it, it’s surprisingly easy and an invaluable tool for both cleaning and tightening a manuscript.
Try it and see.
PS Perhaps unsurprisingly, I love the Oxford comma and find it very hard to delete those. Maybe that competition judge didn’t!
OVER TO YOU Do you have any similarly quirky self-editing tips to add to Margaret’s technique? We’d love to hear about them!#Authors - here's a handy trick to help you improve your self-editing: #editing backwards. Award-winning novelist @margaretskea1 explains. #amediting #ww Click To Tweet
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From the ALLi Author Advice Center Archive