The parenthesis about editing shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly it still is, because far from all authors edit their work

I am curious: how do authors and writers edit their work. But sadly, I’m aware that a lot of people don’t, at least not by a second set of professional eyes. I can’t believe that there are still books published that have not been properly edited, but alas, just last week, I had the following exchange with a friend who recommended me to read the book of another author. This is what she said about it:

“…he finally self-published it, in the end, which is a shame, because it needs another round of editing…”

Self-publishing has (had) a bad rap because of sentences like the above for a long time, undeservedly, because let’s face it. A lot of great books aren’t published through traditional models because most larger publishers today are too niched. If your story doesn’t fit the mold, you won’t get it out. Self-publishing is, therefore, the answer for a lot of authors. However, editing isn’t just a problem for self-publishers. I know at least one publisher I will never read again, because of how bad their editing is. So, once and for all, here’s my recommendation to authors: edit, edit, edit, and make sure you proof your texts, too!

Disease, the cover, a novel by Hans M Hirschi

My next novel, my eleventh, took me a lot longer to write than the first. New doubts and lessons learned needed time to be applied. And I self-edited more than ever before. The manuscript is now with my external editor.

But how do you edit? There are of course many ways to edit your work, and in this post, I’ll let you know how I’ve worked, and how my process has changed and hopefully improved. Mind you, and this is the only time I’ll say this: editing is not a one-stage rocket. You can edit your own work to a degree, but EVERY work (no exceptions!) needs a second set of eyes. And I am sooo tired of hearing people saying they can’t afford a professional editor. What do you do if you can’t afford the bus ticket? Ride it anyway? Or do you abstain and walk? Take the bike? Not even a professor in English can edit their own work, simply because you lose sight of your own writing, you can’t see the individual trees in the forest anymore.

Now, how do you edit? I’ll start with my own process. When I first began writing, I had no clue about editing or proof reading. I wrote my texts and sent them off to my editors, and eventually got back their comments and fixes. Trust me, no fun. English isn’t my first language and yeah, I am definitely not one to see trees in the forest. Wow! But, I knew that my language skills were limited, and I had learned from a publishing debacle in 2010 (a book that had been edited and proofed by a professional publisher, or so they claimed) that bad editing won’t primarily affect the publisher, but the author. I took the hit. The comment about the first edition of Common Sense is still up there on Amazon and it hurts, still, after seven years! To fix those errors was one of the main reasons I decided to put out a second edition…

So I learned, hired editors. For my fourth novel I even hired two editors (just to be really, really sure), which turned out to be a really bad idea, because the two editors, as good as they each are, have different ideas about how to structure things, how to polish a text, and I almost ended up losing both of them in the process. These days, I use my publisher’s editor(s), which simplifies things for me, and I trust them implicitly to bring out the best in me, not to push their own agenda. However, I learn from the feedback from them and try to put that feedback to work in my future writing. We literally talked about literally once. The word is virtually gone from my writing today, to just make one concrete example.

Here’s my workspace as shown in my current novel. Manuscript to the left, the support document with the timeline & notes to the right.

In the last couple of novels, I made sure to not only work on my manuscript, but I also keep a second document open, with notes. I know that some writers swear by Scrivener to do this, some use the header and footer section, but none of that worked for me. The second document side-by-side to my manuscript on a full screen helps me to keep time lines straight, names and places right etc. Because here’s the deal, an editor will look at several things (this list isn’t complete, I’m sure):

  • consistency: does the manuscript make sense, is the overall story tight, interesting enough, are conflicts resolved etc.
  • continuity: does the same car return which left in the morning (I’ve seen the opposite…), do people age accurately etc.
  • plot holes: do people disappear without explanation, what do you see when you stand and look out over a place, etc.
  • Grammar: yeah, they do look at your language, your sentences, structure, dialogue, repeated words etc. As I write in American English, my editors use the Chicago style guide. There are other style guides, particularly if you use other flavors of English or other languages.
  • Typos: yes, even that, if they catch them, among all of the above…

Let’s face it, editors are humans, too, and much of what they do above isn’t always guided by the AP or Chicago style guide, but often by preference. You can resolve consistency issues several ways, and the same is true for continuity, and yeah, preference is very individual. These days, when I work on my own stories, I try to make sure to send a manuscript without consistency or continuity issues, or plot holes to my editor. For my latest manuscript, I even used grammar tools to try and minimize the work for them. Have I been successful? That remains to be seen. We haven’t really begun the editing process yet. But Debbie is welcome to comment. I do know that I will have missed grammar and typos, and I know that in the editing process, words are added and dropped, leading to new issues to look at.

I do try to put the lessons from the previous manuscripts to work in my next story. I really do, and for every book, I edit more and more. I read my books aloud, I even printed my most recent manuscript, for the first time, to see it with different eyes. I’m really curious to see if it’s made life easier for my editor. But, no matter what, an external edit remains a given!

The writer of this post in Central Park, NYC. May 1, 2017. Photo: Alina Oswald.

Once we are done, the manuscript is proofed, by at least three sets of eyes. Again, “trees in the forest”. After working on a manuscript for a few weeks, an editor will lose perspective. That’s where proof readers come in handy. We all put it aside for a while and then read it again. My publisher uses reading software to have the novel read out loud as a tool. That way, they hear instantly, if something is amiss because the software will mispronounce misspelled words. A great tip. Do we find all typos in this process? I hope so, but I also doubt it.

 

However, and this is really the main point here: editing (and proofing) isn’t about finding that last typo, it’s about getting rid of a text’s big and small problems because they are the ones you want to catch. You want to read about them in e-mails from your editor, not in reviews from readers. By then it’s too late and your reputation damaged. This is my process, but how do you edit? How do you work with your texts to make sure they are the best possible versions of themselves before they reach your readers? Tell me, because I’m sure there are other ways that I might profit from, not to mention the fact that my blog is read by a lot of new writers. I’m sure they’d appreciate hearing about other people’s processes, not just mine because what might work for me, might not work for you…

If you like my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on TwitterFacebookYouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week. If you want to comment, go ahead. I’d like to see this post as a conversation starter, so let’s keep talking.

Thanks,

Hans

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