Though the editing process is usually handled by the editor of a publishing house, there are the times when a manuscript must be edited before it is submitted to an agent or a publishing house for representation or a book deal.
For most writers who are starting out, hiring an editor can be a financially daunting task. Most freelance editors charge anywhere from $3 to $7.50 per page. But an editor in New York can charge up to $15 a page! Imagine the cost if you’re having them edit a 300 page manuscript. You’d be shelling out anywhere from $900 to $4500! And there still may be grammatical errors they missed! For those who are budget conscious, this is not an option. However, you can certainly do it yourself for no money at all and have a clean, well polished novel. But beware, self-editing can backfire if you don’t make sure to comb through every page thoroughly and it can especially backfire if you’re not willing to be honest with yourself about the flow and pacing of your novel.
If you think you have what it takes to edit your novel on your own, here are my 10 Tips For Editing Your Novel:
- First, know that self-editing takes more time. You will have polished over it several times and yet there will still be spelling and pacing errors. Why? Because looking at it with the same pair of eyes gives you just that. Only one perspective. Giving your novel the best edit possible means having someone else read it after you’ve edited it. A second pair of eyes should be a friend, a family member, a significant other or a college professor you know and respect. Anyone who is interested in your work, that you trust, is a good source of opinion. They will catch misspelled or misplaced words that you missed and, if you ask, they will give you a good critique on what they think works or needs to be re-written.
- All manuscripts are polished in two stages: Copy and Development Editing. Copy editing is for punctuation, spelling, line spacing and margin requirements prior to publishing. However, tweeking grammar will depend on the writer’s voice. Some sentences will vary from correct sentence structure based on the scene, setting, and dialogue between characters. So when checking grammar, pay attention to how the word is spelled. Whether or not full and complete sentences are acceptable will be based on the tone of the paragraph itself. I.E., in a chapter from my sci-fantasy novel Starfall: The Dragon Games, my female main character, fugitive Denarii Harmon and several of her outlaw companions are being insulted by the liege lord they seek refuge from. She responded by saying: “Call us what you will. But I know your history as well. Banished. Isolated. Forgotten. Locked inside these walls for longer than any prisoner that ever wasted away in Arklye. Branded the Fouls of First Earth. Rejected from any official recognition as a nation, no matter how many times your forefathers tried. And all you’ve done to deserve that slap in the face is be different. Look different. Speak different. No matter how bravely you fight, no matter how well you’ve educated your children to think and live as first bloods do, you’re all still scrutinized as ill-favored and outcast. We may be outlanders, but for a people who have been here in the Noors for centuries, in the eyes of the Capitol, you’re no better than we are.” As you see, short and incomplete sentences were warranted because the dialogue flowed better. So copy editing for sentence structure is based on the ebb and flow of your voice on the page.
- Development editing is far more complex. This is where you check the scenes and pacing of your novel in it’s entirety. Is the setting appropriate? Should the characters be in a cafe or an abandoned underground tunnel? Both locations set a different tone for your characters. Should that fight be on a subway train, in a bar, or on top of a sky-scraper building? And why should that brawl happen there? If your characters have no reason to be in that location, scrap that location and rewrite it.
- Every scene should read like it’s own story. Break down your scenes for a beginning, middle, and end. Every scene should be a chapter. And that chapter should have an opening, a climax and a climatic finish. If they don’t, scrap that scene or rewrite it. Because no reader likes scenes that don’t drive the story forward.
- Check for a scene that flows well by examining what your characters want. This goes hand in hand with tips #3 & 4. Your chapters will have a beginning, middle and end if your characters have a want, a means of aiming for it and the realization of whether or not they actually get it. If your scene calls for a woman trying to flee for her life from her captive, you have a want. Does she rationalize with the kidnapper? Or does she seize the moment while they’re sleeping and strike him or her on the head? Does she convince the kidnapper’s second in command to release her or does she find her own means of escape while no one is watching her? Does she attempt to escape and get caught? What are the consequences when she is recaptured? Every chapter should deliver that to your readers. That is fast pacing. And that is what readers want.
- Keep continuity. This is paramount with copy and development editing. If you decide to name a character Susan, and that name is introduced to the reader in chapter 1, by chapter 10 she better not be named Susie or you’ve blown it with continuity. Trust me, it happens. I’ve even done it myself. However the error was corrected through proper editing.
- Every chapter should be formatted the same. If chapter 1 starts with a larger drop cap at the beginning of the first sentence, every chapter thereafter should follow that format for the entire novel. Drop caps look wonderful. They add a bit of splash and finesse to your page. But make sure it’s throughout from the first chapter to the last.
- Every chapter should be labelled the same. If you choose to have numbers for your chapters then they should all be the same size and style throughout. I.E., if you label chapter 1 as ‘ CHAPTER 1’ with size 24 font, chapter 20 should not be labelled as ‘CHAPTER TWENTY’ with size 36 font. For continuity, it should be labelled with the number ’20’ not the word twenty and the size should be the same. As for my novels, every chapter is named after the character that chapter is focused on and I usually use size 36 font. So all of my chapters in my Starfall novels that focus on the former Navy SEAL gone rogue are labelled DEANGELO. All of the chapters focused on the president of the United States are labelled FITZGERALD. And so forth.
- The best way to finalize your edits is to leave it alone for a week, maybe two. Don’t look at it for a few days. Then, when you pick it back up again, I promise you will find either a clean polished manuscript or a few more grammatical or formatting errors that got missed by you and your second pair of eyes.
- Know that no novel is ever perfect. Ever! Here’s why: Guess what? You’re human! No matter how many times you go over it, your story will always be that ‘should have been better‘ or that ‘I should have changed that sentence‘ or the ‘I could have rewritten that chapter just one more time‘. No author is ever satisfied with their novel. That’s why they have deadlines imposed by their publishers so they have no choice but to suck it up and put it out there. I’ve spotted grammatical errors in works of some of the most successful authors known today. And they’ve sold millions of copies world wide. But there are still typos their editor missed, and yet, they still have loyal, devoted fans. So know that doing the most thorough edit you possibly can do is the best you can do. That’s all readers ask for. However, if you’re looking for perfection, quit being a writer and try being a droid.
More writing tips to come…Until then, happy writing!