E is for Editing

Editing is one of those things that many writers hate. I don’t. I love it. I think there are a number of reasons why some writers hate editing and why I love it.

There seem to be two kinds of writers. (I know these two kinds of people lists are kind of cliché.) Some writers think in written form. They often do little planning because they can’t, at least not the way the second group can. Why not? Because they think through writing, so the idea of thinking about writing before you start writing is kind of a horse before the cart proposition.

I am in the second category. I think visually. I also consider myself a storyteller first and a writer second. My stories often start with a single dramatic scene or even image. I slowly build from there, identifying who is there and why. From each answer comes new questions and new scenes. I don’t start writing until I have seen the entire book running through my head like a movie.

And that is the first point. Some writers don’t like to go over there books again and again. But I do this naturally. By the time I start to write I have already been over the material dozens of time. And I don’t mind. That’s the storyteller in me. It also goes back to my earlier post about my hero Ray Bradbury. I want to be memorable. If I get bored with a story by the fifth or sixth pass, then its not a great story idea. I have plenty of partially finished projects that are partially finished for that exact reason. If I lose interest in a story, so will the reader.

Mostly I like editing because it is chance to make my work just a little better. Every mistake I find, every sentence I smooth, makes my writing that much better.

One of the big reasons that many writers don’t like editing is because they don’t really know what they are doing. I was there when I started out. I hated rewriting my novels because I always wondered if I was really making the novel better or just different.

(I currently have the same problem with marketing. It’s not that I don’t like marketing per se. But it is so hard to tell if a particular activity connects in any meaningful way with sales. So I spend most of my “marketing” time wondering if this is really something productive or not.)

I have developed my own method for editing and it works for me. I can’t claim that any of it’s original. I credit the first four steps of my editing process to Blogger and writer Mike Nappa. The fifth and final step came from my sister, Mickey Eliason, who is also a writer. (Most of her writing is academic but you can pick up a great piece of humor here.)

Here is my five step process for editing a novel.

1. Write a novel. This is draft one or the rough draft or whatever.

2. Re-read it on your computer and clean up the mistakes that you see. This is draft two.

3. Print the entire document and read it in print with a red pen in hand. You will probably be amazed how many mistakes you miss reading on your computer that will appear obvious now. Fix those problems now. This is draft three.

4. Read the entire thing aloud. Yes, aloud. Go into a room by yourself and start reading. It’s clunky at first but you will get into a flow. Or not. If not you’ve got some work to do, but that’s the point of this edit, to see how it flows. Your writing will appear completely different when read aloud and once again you will find lots of mistakes you would miss any other way.

5. This is the suggestion I got from my sister and I call it the “brain hurts” edit. Print the entire novel and read it backwards. Read it one sentence at a time from back to front. It does hurt the brain but it forces you to analyze each sentence and word individually. You catch a lot of typos and little mistakes that way. This is the final edit and your work is now read for beta readers, writing workshops, submission or your freelance editor.

Do you need a professional editor? The simplistic answer is yes. There will always be mistakes that the author doesn’t see. A second set of eyes is vital to catching every mistake. In reality there are two questions that need to be answered about editing. Does it need to be professional? How much are you willing to spend?

The answers depend on your genre and your goals. Lots of research shows that readers prefer edited books. That’s kind of a no brainer. Typos and rough sentences break the spell. It varies from slightly annoying to extremely frustrating depending on how many there are.

If you want to be a professional author-publisher than you need to put out a professional product. That means you should consider hiring a good quality professional editor, if you can afford it. It’s not exactly cheap. Between editing and cover art it cost me almost a thousand dollars to put out a novel. That’s not exactly pocket change.

Is it worth that kind of money? Many Indie authors justify not using an editor by arguing the return on investment isn’t there. In the long term I think they are mistaken. If you sell the book on the kindle at the bargain price of 2.99, the author makes about just over two dollars per book sold. At that return you need to sell five hundred copies to pay for editing and cover design. Most books will over time sell at least that well.

That’s over time. In the short term it’s still a lot of money and I know many writers don’t have lucrative day jobs to pay those sort of fees. At very least I think every writer should make an effort to have fellow writers look over their work. I am involved in a number of writer’s groups and I have beta-read, critiqued and even helped proof books. Help is available, especially if you are willing to return the favor.

Self-editing, professional editing, volunteer editing, the most important thing is to get some sort of editing done. Your readers will thank you.

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