Welcome back to the Friday Feature of our Fantasy writers group, A Drift of Quills! We Quills get together once a month to chat up aspects of reading and writing—and this time we discuss the exciting prospect of self-editing. Grab yourself some cookies and a notepad for jotting notes!
Is it possible to self-edit your book?
YES! In fact, even if you hire an editor, you MUST be able to self-edit your book or you will be wasting money. As Kristen Lamb says, there are many editors who charge by the hour. Don’t waste money on edits you can do yourself! If you hire an editor, you want him or her to be looking at the guts and glory, the meat and potatoes of your story not the dinnerware–in other words, don’t have an editor clearing out overused adverbs and fixing repetitive, common errors that YOU can fix.
Site after site on the internet can help you self-edit well. USE them!
Just because you may hire an editor does not mean you won’t be self-editing. Every writer must do some self-editing and if you, like me, can’t afford an editor in the beginning for that first novel, don’t be terrified. It isn’t the end of the world. If you can write a good hook, you can edit that hook.
1–Put space between yourself and your work. Finish a story and give yourself a month to step away from it before you begin editing. Don’t think about it, work on it or play with it.
2–Edit hard copy. Make changes right on the paper, look for continuity, frequently repeated words or common usage errors. It’s all easier to see on paper without the danger of deleting something you might want to keep.
3–Read it out loud. Dialogue that looks good on the screen or on paper can sound campy, stilted or downright ridiculous when read out loud. This tip also helps with long, detailed sections of descriptions. If you get tired of reading it aloud, your readers will get tired of it, too.
It isn’t easy, but it can be done. Stick to it! Check out these websites for more helpful tips on self-editing your novel. You’ll find some great stuff in these pages:
Advice for Self-Editing Your Novel, by Steven J. Carroll
How I Self-Edit My Novels: 15 Steps From First Draft to Publication, by K.M. Weiland
Six Easy Tips for Self-Editing Your Fiction, by Kristen Lamb
Is it possible to self-edit your book? Yes, but…
It’s really hard to do it on your own! Kristie gives some excellent advice in her part of the panel—worth repeating, so read it again but with my voice in your head.
I recently read a best-selling novel written by an indie author who claimed to have run the manuscript several times through a couple of editors. The experience left me slack-jawed. I do not know if the editors (two of them!) were really that bad, or if the author simply didn’t implement their suggestions. Unfortunately, the former is all too possible. One can find many “editors” online, but that doesn’t mean they can actually do the work. The aforementioned one came with a website and all sorts of credentials, which leaves me wondering. A large portion of the errors could have been fixed “in house” if the author had followed Kristie’s advice, but…
This requires an author actually knowing what adverbs/adjectives are and how to use them, how to properly punctuate and spell, understanding point of view, recognizing the difference between active and passive voice, and so on. There are an astonishing number of authors who don’t, or who believe it doesn’t really matter. It does. Take the time to learn. A writer should always be learning. In addition to trade books, we get to read fiction! Lots of fiction! One of the coolest things about reading is how we start assimilating what we read: we learn how to spell and to punctuate, we pick up the rhythm of words in a tale, we learn how to weave a story.
There are several fantastic online editing aids available to you. Use those, too. Here are a few to get you started:
Writing Dynamo ($)
AutoCrit Editing Wizard
Next, you need to form a good beta reader group (not less than three) to test your manuscript. Your readers should be in your target audience, forthright but tactful, not related to you, and regular readers (in your genre) that understand how a book is structured.
And finally, there are some very decent books to help you with self-editing:
Revision & Editing, by James Scott Bell
Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, 2n Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print, by Renni Browne and Dave King
The Little Book of Self-Editing for Writers: 12 Ways to Take Your Book from Good to Great, by Bridget McKenna
Is it possible to edit your own work? I think so, though it is difficult. I direct your attention to some terrific resources my fellow Quills shared with you today. They address many potential pitfalls, all of which it is wise to address and consider. The one thing those resources do not address, however, is the possibility of losing your story for the sake of pleasing someone else.
I have conversed over the past few days with an author whose work I’ve read and very much enjoyed. I explained how I am going through another round of edits and have reached the point where I am changing things one way, then changing them back. (At this rate, I will never make it to the end.) I mentioned to him that I had others reading as beta readers. While they had only gone through the first few chapters, they had addressed critical issues. I cannot say enough how much I appreciate their time and effort on my behalf. Some of their ideas I adopted readily. Others, if I were to follow, would cause the entire story to fall apart. The author I mentioned explained to me how precisely that had happened to one of his earlier works. He changed things until the story was no longer his own—and no longer one he enjoyed or would share. It sits on a shelf where it collects dust. “We cannot write by committee,” he told me.
The author of a work is the only one with the big picture—the only one who sees how each meeting, each conversation fits into the whole. While there are all sorts of grammar rules, point of view issues and so forth that need to be addressed, there is also the author’s own voice and unique story to consider.
During my editing process, I picked up a best selling work by one of my favorite authors, one I’ve read several times and will probably read again. I discovered that of its 962 pages, I could easily cut 350 without changing the story one whit. How? I would remove repeated material and unnecessary adjectives and change passive voice to active—and that’s about it. According to the “rules,” the author had done a lot “wrong.” Still, I’ve read that book over and over and have enjoyed the story every single time—as have many others. In part, I enjoyed it because of the author’s own perspective and voice, its strengths and its “weaknesses.” This process reinforced something for me: some people will like my work, some will not.
So, can you edit your own work? Yes. Use the materials available and make it the best you can—but stay true to yourself. Tell your story, not someone else’s story. Use your voice, not someone else’s. Follow your instincts—and then be prepared: some will like it, some will not.