What I’ve Learned About Editing

I recently stated that I have no good advice and basically know nothing I could pass on to aid another writer. For the most part, I still believe this is true. For the most part…

I was trolling the forums last night and saw an offer for a free book. The author had a debut novel to push, and this person had so thoughtfully included the cover image, blurb, and an excerpt. To be honest, I liked the cover. The blurb had me interested. The excerpt, however, left me shaking my head.

You read a lot about the quality of self-published novels–or rather, the lack thereof. Cheap covers, poor editing. I’ll tell you right now that I’m useless with covers. My own foray into cover design is a bad memory I’m trying to forget. Editing, however, I might be able to help with.

First, let me just say that you need an editor. Seriously. No matter how flawless you believe your writing to be, it’s essential that someone (who knows what they’re doing) goes over your work with a critical eye. There are problems you’ll never find on your own. Problems a handful of beta readers may not notice. Rather than risk acquiring a number of public reviews that question your competence, seek out a professional editor.

That said, before sending that manuscript off to be torn apart, it is in your best interests to polish the story as much as possible. Here are some suggestions, based on the most common mistakes I’ve run across:

1. Omit unnecessary dialogue tags. I’m guilty of this and I see it all the time in other’s work. If you’ve written:

Margot held out the watch. “Do you want to try it on?” she asked.

You don’t need the dialogue tag here. We (the readers) get it.

2. Pay attention to formatting. I saw something like this the other day:

“Go away!” Jesse said. Her father said, “You can’t talk to me like that, young lady!”

Two separate speakers should not have their dialogue contained within a single paragraph. New speaker = new paragraph.

3. Generally, you don’t want to start a sentence with “and” or “but.” There’s a debate out there as to whether this is technically wrong. Rather than taking a firm stance, I’m going to advise that you try to limit these instances. A sprinkling throughout your story will probably not earn criticism, but it you’re starting every other sentence that way, you might want to rework.

4. Watch out for repeating words. I think we all have at least a couple we overuse. A friend once pointed out to me that I use “almost” too much. To prove her wrong, I looked it up using the find tool on Word. Microsoft tallied me up at “too many instances to display,” which was a wake up call.

5. Read your manuscript out loud. You don’t have to have an audience. Something about giving voice to your words will open your eyes to issues you won’t see otherwise.

Taking the time to polish your writing will save you money on editing. It’s been my experience, anyway, that professionals charge based primarily on how much work your novel needs. Hand them a mess, and it’s going to cost you.

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6 Responses to What I’ve Learned About Editing

  1. datmama4 says:

    Your advice here should (should!) help writers who complain that they can’t afford an editor. If their work is polished, the editor’s job is easier, and that typically translates into a lower fee. If I’m practically ghostwriting because of heavy revisions, the fee I charge is going to reflect my time and effort. Conversely, if the work is exceptional, I have no problem giving a discount.

    It is exactly that simple: author revisions = lower editing costs = affordable.

    • elletodd says:

      That’s the way it’s supposed to be. I know there are editing companies out there that charge a flat rate, regardless, but there are plenty of very capable freelancers (like yourself) with a more logical fee structure.

  2. Debb Stanton says:

    This is very good advice, Elle. It gives me more strength to take my manuscript to my editor before we look for an agent to represent me. 🙂 She did a great job in helping me with my magazine (http://stantonsunshine.net), and I’m very sure she’ll benefit me again. By the way, I’m looking on your site for your email address but haven’t found it yet…?

  3. Debb Stanton says:

    Hi Elle! Thanks for following Stanton Sunshine. 🙂 Glad to have another writer friend on gmail….my addy is stantonsunshine@gmail.com.

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