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Friday, August 12, 2011

Do I Really Have To Edit My Novel? Seriously?

If there's one thing that lets down Indie authors time and time again, it's their attention to editing. And by editing, I don't just mean running a spell checker through your manuscript. Editing is a little more than that!

Let me give you an example:
Steve came into the room and cashed into the crouch. "Hi, he said, "What have you been doing today? I heard your going our with my sister".
Seriously? Oh, you have no idea. I have read too many books that read like this. And guess what, my fellow Indies, it gives us ALL a bad name.

Editing your manuscript needn't be that hard of a task if you actually let go of it for a while and allow someone else to have at it. Other people coming fresh to your manuscript will spot things much easier than you, especially if you actually ask them to 'edit your manuscript.' It's not that you're a bad writer, it's just that when you read things you've written yourself, you quite often overlook things. You read it as you intended it to be read and not actually how it was written.

I love a good book. I love to get lost in the pages of adventures. But what I hate is to be jerked from a story when I have to try and work out what the author actually meant to write.

Lecture over... Give your book to an editor and publish this instead:
Steve came into the room and crashed into the crouch. "Hi," he said, "what have you been doing today? I heard you're going out with my sister."
Yes, SEVEN errors in total. Did you spot them all?

So, please - and I am seriously begging you here, Indie authors - get some proper editing done before you publish your book on the Kindle. An extra three or four weeks delay in getting your manuscript published is nothing in comparison to the forever that your published book will remain on its virtual shelf in Amazon's library. Take the time, please. Seriously!


  1. Good post. I've seen a few novels on my d-in-law's Kindle, and I am horrified at the number of errors. I don't think this should be acceptable. Many people feel that it is. (Should there be a period after HE SAID in the example?)

  2. the period: In this example, the sentence is just split in two by the 'he said.' It's not a new sentence. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Well, there's editing and there's editing, you know? Catching grammatical errors and typos is important, but the kind that I really think hangs people up is the structural stuff, the things the author has too much tunnel vision to see.

    I am on the 9th version of my novel now--the 8th version sold. I received the letter from my editor a few days ago, and the suggestions she had for a novel that I--and my agent and my trusty readers--would've called 'done' is astounding.

    I think that getting a varied group of objective readers is essential, even before finding the final editor you work with on your book, whether freelance or at a house/press.

    Then again, I saw the new Planet of the Apes movie last night and thought it needed a big ole edit ;)

    Thanks for the post!

  4. @Jenny - you're right. I wanted to write a small and succinct post just to remind Indie writers to take a little more care. Plot and 'editing' is a topic for another day!

  5. Couldn't agree more. I had a group of eight test readers, three of whom read my manuscript three times (at different revision points). People are astonished when I tell them that I spent more time revising my manuscript than I did writing it - I undertook ten full edits. Then I paid an editor and proofreader. I can't claim it's perfect - but I can say that I tried to be as professional and diligent as I possibly could.

  6. To be honest editing is my weakness. That is why I spend three times longer editing my book than writing the first draft. I'm going to hire a professional story editor and copy editor to go over the work when I'm done. That is after my writing group and beta readers get done with it.

    But I'm sure I'll still have a few mistakes here and there.

  7. "... Maybe it's the time of year. And maybe it's the time of man ... " because I just got thru with a small post on my blog last night that got into the "do-it-yourself" mentality many self-publishers have that really leads to "do-it-badly" when they are determined to make the least expensive book possible instead of the best book possible.

  8. I have to echo what jennymilch said - line editing is important for credibility, but a good content/structural editor is key as well. My editor and I went through about 11 revisions on one story in my book, and each revision made the story much better. The typos and grammatical errors will turn readers off immediately, but if we as indies don't get a good editor for the overall story, we're hurting ourselves just as much.

  9. Thank God or goddess or whomever, for crit partners - the excruciatingly brutal ones. And if you haven't edited, revised and rewritten at least ten times, especially as a new author, you're setting yourself up for embarrassment!

    This is a great post - great point!

  10. I make it a point to make my stories as technically perfect as possible, just to rebut the stereotype that indie authors turn in sloppy, unedited work.

    Technical perfection (or coming *really* close) is the second most important part of any novel or short story I write -- after telling a good story.

  11. Great post. Regarding substantive editing, you really need a good rapport with your editor, who should care about your story and want to polish it as best they (he/she) can. When looking for an editor, ask them for a free 500/1000-word edit sample using 'track changes'. That way, you'll know if they are likely to 'get' your voice and have some idea of their skill and method. And you may have to wait a few weeks for a good editor, so take this into account.

    In my method, I don't pussyfoot around making general suggestions of form &c; I prefer to put a direct example where the work is required (unless it's substantial); the writer can accept the change or use it as a mental springboard to formulate their own change.

    ) can

  12. I must agree with you here on the editing. Lack of editing will weaken the perception of the indy author and we have made so much progress that I like to think we have big publishers nervous. Editing keeps us credible.

  13. I couldn't agree more. Of course, I'm an editor. But first and foremost, I'm a writer. I can't edit my own work and see every little technical thing or more substantive issues that another editor can catch in my manuscript.

    For example, in your corrected version (and yes, I've seen indie/self-pubbed books with mistakes this bad and worse), I only count six errors, not seven, that you've corrected. And I would have split "Hi." and "What have you been doing?" into two separate sentences (but that's just to show different editors will make different suggestions).

    And yes, any writer looking for an editor: 1) get references you can trust; 2) get a sample edit of your first chapter or two (at no charge or obligation) in order to see how the editor works and if the editor 'gets' your story, your voice, and what you're trying to accomplish; 3) get a firm price quote, or at least a narrow range, not a wide ballpark or a $X per hour without some guidelines on what the total price will be.

    I've heard some horror stories out there that give editors a bad name, just as unedited works give indie authors a bad name.

    Good post. Thanks.

  14. And I'm betting I made a typo or three in my post. Ha.

  15. "and allow someone else to have at it."

    Unless "have at" is a phrasal verb in the English language unknown to this long-standing editor, I'd say that's a mistake and should read "have a go at it".

    A case of Muphry's law?

  16. Richard - Muphry's law is very powerful ;-) Of course you are technically correct that it should read "have a go at it," but that is way too boring for my little blog post... Colloquial terms are more fun occasionally.

  17. Know what a wether is? Neither did I, til I edited my first manuscript, and found the text full of castrated rams.

  18. Not to mention it appears that Steve is addressing the "crouch."

    As both an editor and a writer, I can't say it enough: if you're an indie author, the best thing you can do for your future is hire a reliable editor. If you can't afford it now, you'll never be able to afford it in the future...

  19. You missed the comma splice, but otherwise this is a great post :) I retweeted.

  20. Shouldn't it be 'crashed onto" the couch, rather than 'into'? Makes me think he stubbed his toe! Good post, very true. :)

  21. Editing is not as easy as some editors seem to think. I had an editor who deleted one sentence in a chapter 'as not neccessary.' When I came back in another chapter to that sentence she had to delete everything around it and when it affected the end of the first volume she changed the end, willing to leave me with all sorts of 'broken pieces' for volume 2. Of course I did not appreciate that sort of interference.
    She also changed about every word with a sexual inuendo.
    She did not notice I used a different name for a same person erroneously.

    Editing is a different thing than 'correcting.' Your example is correcting, editing is to my knowledge changing into a better readible story, correcting is a grammar thing.
    After the horrendous edit I sat down, wondering what I really needed. I decided that I did not need anybody to hack into my story at will and ended up finding a 60 year old teacher who was after 40 years teaching English great at correcting. She did change whole sentences, as she said I tended to put the horse behind the wagon in some cases, which was more editing than correcting. I am very happy with her. Sometimes I reread my books and think: Gee, did I really write that?

  22. The last two books I bought, I have sworn, will be the last ones I buy before I read them digitally. Both abysmal failures were first editions, pre-stamped NYTBS. (Percolate that for a moment.)

    One was an editorial nightmare which would have been better served as a graphic novel with no dialog. The obvious holes in the story were deletions of sentences or paragraphs which crippled all literary staples, specifically flashback and allusion.

    The other was a grammatical abomination with glaring mistakes traditionally ascribed to ESL writers using Google Translate to hit the English market.

    Sadder still than the money I consider burnt is the fact the books came from large publishing houses which allegedly pay both story and copy editors.

    It reminded me why I prefer Indies to farms. Fresher taste and better care for the plot. Still, if I have to read the sentence five times to correct the grammatical mistakes, I lose interest in the joy of reading the story. It frankly becomes too much work.

    Thank you for the reminder!


  23. I'm all for correcting errors, it's when an editor makes suggestions for changes to the story I get defensive.

  24. I have read a couple of those indie books. One was actually a self help book! Not yours. :-)
    I can put up with some of the punctuation mistakes, but misspelled and extra words drive me crazy. If I have to reread a sentence or paragraph two or three times to figure out what the author is trying to say, I'll stop reading. I tell people read it, reread it, and reread it again before publishing it.

  25. This is so important. As a reviewer of self-published e-books, I find that, unfortunately, so many indie books are poorly edited, making them nearly unreadable. It's such a disappointment when you know there's a great story hiding in between the errors!

  26. Agreed! And a note, even if you have a publisher (small press like mine) that is NO guarantee they have quality copy editors! I am versed in grammar but not so as an indepth copy editor.

    Luckily, I had an editor friend tell me and she marked up my entire book and I was horrified! 95% I realize the average reader wont catch (and havent with 4.8 starred average on 35 reviews)but it was awful to know I have sloppy work out there.

    I am now having my publisher re-edit my book to the higher standards and cant wait to have the clean version uploaded. Love POD! Still have 50 paperbacks to sell, so guess I will but wish I didnt. Makes we wonder what good a small press is if they cant provide good editing! Rather pay a decent editor and cover designer and do it myself.

    Bottom line: before going with a small press get recommendations and testimonials.

  27. Editing comes in stages - beginning with the big stuff (is this told from the most effective point of view, does the plot hang together, are my characters consistent, would it word better with scenes shifted around etc). That done, it's chapter-polishing time - more or less the same process in each chapter. Then down to sentences - does every word work for its place in the piece. And only then are we at the copy-edit stage. Yes, it's hard work, but it's what makes one novel work and another linger on the 'could do better' shelves.

  28. As a freelance writer/editor and indie author of a book on self-editing for writers, I gotta say thanks for helping get the word out. If we don't take ourselves seriously enough to put a good book out there, who else should?

    I also have a pro editor go over my stuff, then a proofreader. Maybe you can never catch all the ugly spots, but the closer you come the better the book.

  29. Great Post! I'm not perfect, I don't pretend to be and that's why I hire someone to edit!

  30. Fantastic post! I was told once that I must be a frustrated author because I love to edit. Turns out that really, I just love to edit. There's something about helping a manuscript to sing that really gets me fizzy.

  31. I will be honest:
    I haven't noticed a single mistake...

    Probably means my own work will need SOOO much editing =/

    I believe I am now depressed...

  32. YES! Editing is CRUCIAL. I have THREE trusted first-readers, all of whom have had a crack at every chapter, and when I hand the manuscript to my mom to look at, she STILL finds occasional errors.