Whether or not your budget will stretch to a professional proofreader or copy editor, writing coach Derbhile Dromey's down-to-earth advice will help you make your self-published book the best it can be before you hit the “publish” button.
When I was submitting my novel, The Pink Cage, to traditional publishers, I had visions of the manuscript being carefully tended to by a scrupulous editor, who would treat the book as if it were a prizewinning bloom, pruning it to allow its beauty to shine.
The reality is that even in traditional publishing houses, less money is being invested in editing. When I did land a publisher, the manuscript was given a proofread by an intern. Lucky for me that I had applied my own editing process to the book, imparted to me by my incredibly gifted creative writing tutor, Suzanne Power.
I’m going to share this process with you now. In an ideal world, you would get a professional editor to do a copy edit of your manuscript, to make sure that your book competes with the best, and to stop readers from slagging you off on Amazon and Goodreads. But budgets being what they are, there is plenty you can do to get your manuscript camera ready. At the very least, doing a thorough edit of your own work will save you money if you decide to hire an editor.
After the First Draft
Don’t get me wrong, editing your own work is quite a challenge. You’re snowblind from all the words you’ve written; you’re too immersed in the world you’ve created to see straight. But at this delicate stage, you are the best person to edit your own work. Your ideas still need nurturing. If you turn it over to an editor after the first draft, the editor may unwittingly snip away some prize blooms along with the dead wood.
To clear away the snow blindness, step away from your work. Have a break. Have a Kit Kat. Watch trash television. After a while, you’ll feel an itch and you know it’s time to return to the work. Now you’ll be able to approach it with fresh eyes, almost as if a different person wrote it.
Use a Wrecking Ball
As you read the draft, the central thread of the story will become clearer to you. Now is the time to be ruthless. Anything that does not relate to that thread needs to go. This culling process will ensure your story shines through. It’ll be easier for readers to follow your thread, and you’re less likely to get bogged down in sub-plots.
Use a Scalpel
When you’ve done that, take another short break, then read it out loud. You’ll be amazed at the amount of repetitions, clunky sentences and inconsistencies you’ll spot. Don’t lose heart – these are a natural part of the writing process. This is a good way to reduce your word count without cutting out too much of the story. You don’t have to kill as many of your darlings as you think.
Polishing Your Manuscript
Take a break again, and this time when you return to it, start at the end and read backwards. This breaks the attachment you’ve developed with your story. Read the last sentence, then the sentence before that and so on. Our eyes naturally correct what we read, but reading backwards helps you to separate the words and letters and weed out rogue typos.
A special word to those writers who tend to write a little too lean and end up with a word count that falls short. I feel your pain. At this stage, pinpoint the scenes that you skimped on because you were afraid you were writing too much, and start fleshing them out. Ideally you’ll have compiled notes about your characters, settings and plot, and you can incorporate those into parts of the story that are less well developed.
Now you’re ready for a second pair of eyes, whether that’s an editor or the reading public.
If you’ve any questions about the editing process, please feel free to ask me a question via the comment form below.