Today, I’m going to talk about editing, or more specifically, the different levels of editing. Rick and I have mentioned before how important editing is to your work. Your readers expect a clean novel when they buy it, and you don’t want to disappoint them. They will likely forgive an error here or there, but if your book comes out looking like a first draft (as many books on Amazon do), you have likely sold your last book to anyone who reads it.
There is a common misconception among novice writers who submit their work to a traditional publishing house the publisher will handle the editing. While a good publishing house will have an excellent staff of editors on hand, taking a sloppy book and correcting all of the writer’s mistakes is not their job. First of all, an editor handling submissions will take an error-laden project and toss it in the garbage. But beyond that, it is your responsibility, as a writer, to make sure the work you turn in is the best it can be.
[RICK ADDS: Many publishers today farm out the editing to freelancers, so you can't always be sure what you'll get. This may be one reason the quality of editing you see from publishers is not always stellar and seems to have declined in recent years.]
Keep in mind, also, that just because your novel looks good in the MS Word file, there’s no guarantee that accidents won’t happen. My first novel, The Killing Frost, went through the editing process and looked flawless. The publisher’s editors did an awesome job with it. However, something happened when the file was converted to the format that used for printing, and a lot of mistakes popped up.
If you’re planning to self-publish, then it will fall to you to find every mistake and inconsistency in the entire novel. I like to have a few extra sets of eyes on my work as I go along, just to help pick out what I miss. And I can count on Rick for a full review when the book is finished. But in the end, I have to make sure that everything is as it should be.
Once your rough draft has been completed, the first stage falls on you. Edit the book again, and again…. I usually make four or five passes through the entire book after it’s finished. And keep in mind, I’m also editing chapter-by-chapter as I write, as well. Once you feel like you’ve done the best job you can, it’s time to move on. In the case of traditional publishing, it will be handled by the publishing house. But when self-publishing, it’s all on you.
One of the most basic levels of editing is line editing. The editor is ensuring that certain areas are of a high standard.
Characterization: Do you have a deep point of view character who the reader will sympathize with? Or is your POV character flat, distant, and unsympathetic?
Consistency: If you set up a rule in the third chapter that you claim can’t be broken, and you break that rule later in the book, you have a problem. Either you had better come up with a solid explanation for why the rule changed, or your readers will be highly disappointed.
Pacing: Does the story move the reader right along, or are their sections that drag and don’t seem to take the plot anywhere? Alternatively, do you have a sub-plot that was moving along nicely, but you forgot to resolve?
A special note for those of for those of you who plan to self-publish: grammar errors and spelling mistakes are fairly easy to find when self-editing. In a word processor like MS Word, spelling mistakes are underlined in red, and many grammar mistakes are underlined in green. I say “many grammar mistakes” because (as we’ve said before) Word will frequently indicate a grammatical error where none exists. It also misses a number of grammar issues, apparently finding nothing wrong with them. But even without this aid, if you read the book out loud to yourself, most of these types of mistakes pop out at you.
Finding the more technical issues, as a line editor does, is much more difficult in your own work. You tend to read what you meant to say, and when you have an inconsistency in a character or a plot idea, they can be very difficult to find. This is why it’s so critical that you have someone else look your work over.
Keep these thoughts in mind, but remember, we’re not finished yet. In my next installment, I’ll cover a few more areas of the editing process that are critical to producing a solid bit of work.
[RICK ADDS: Scott is one of the best self-editors I've seen. He knows what he's doing. Every piece that he posts for critique is impressively edited. Sure, he misses a few things from time to time, but I'll put his editing work up against anything I've seen from most traditional publishers. So, I know it is possible to self-edit and to self-edit very well--if you know your English spelling, grammar, and punctuation. I'd trust him to edit my work anytime, and I plan to use him as a second set of eyes on anything I self-publish in the future.]