To Edit or Not to Edit: This is Not a Valid Question!
I read a lot. I have also judged numerous writing contests in various genres, and I can tell if a book has been properly edited. If it hasn’t been, my level of confidence in the author plummets, as does the credibility of the story.
Types of editing:
- Substantive Editing: the big-picture edit. Does the story make sense? Do events happen via cause and effect? Do the characters act consistently with their characteristics? Do they evolve reasonably? Does the whole work hang together (cohesiveness)?
Does each scene have goal, motivation and conflict? Does every scene move the story along? Is the dialogue realistic, unique and consistent? Does it move the story ahead / aid in character development?
In my opinion, a self-edit at this point is possible, but it takes time, objectivity and copious note-taking. Character arcs, plot division, fact checks and many more areas must be subject to scrutiny. Key words here are cohesiveness and consistency.
- Copyediting: a closer view of the manuscript that includes what I call PUG: punctuation, usage and grammar. Does the work contain anachronisms?
If you’re a grammar guru or a spelling pro, go for it. If not, ask for help. Maybe a fellow author will copyedit your work if you return the favor. If you use Spell Check, please follow up with a read-through by you or someone else. One of my pet peeves is misuse of homonyms (sound the same but differ in meaning, e.g. die / dye) and homophones (sound the same but differ in meaning and possibly spelling, e.g. to / too/ two). It matters!
- Proofreading: “the detection and correction of production errors,” (Wikipedia). This is the time to fix minor mistakes such as the way numbers are used (20 / twenty), grammar, and generally catching anything missed in the previous processes. This is the polish.
*One method of self-editing at this stage is to read the entire work aloud. You may even choose to read it out of order so your brain concentrates on the words instead of the storyline. It’s also a great idea to ask several people with good English skills for feedback at this stage.
Where to find Editing Help
- Self-edit if you feel competent and are obsessive about perfection. A few great resources:
- Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell
- Editing Your Fiction by Michael Seidman
- Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King
- Trade skills with fellow writers.
- Ask your writing group for feedback.
- Hire out the editing, one or more levels, to a professional.
- First readers – non-professionals who will read and give feedback on early drafts.
- Beta readers – non-professionals who will read your “next-to-final” draft.
- Final readers – professionals who agree to read the ARC (Advance Reading Copy) you send them. They may also write an endorsement if requested (payment usually a copy of the book when it’s released).
NOTE: If you plan to publish via the traditional route, don’t think your editing problems are solved. A poorly edited manuscript will not even be considered. There’s neither the time nor the budget for it. It’s up to you to submit a saleable piece of writing.
The traditional publishing industry is in constant flux right now. Many houses have closed or amalgamated, and there are editors out there who have formed their own businesses. They are well-qualified and experienced in editing, and for a fee, they will make your work much more publication-ready than you or your non-professional friends can make it. The choice is yours—ours.