Writing on, and about, an island

How to Edit Your Book

In Books, Career, Crime & Mystery Writer, Freelance, Writing on February 1, 2012 at 10:55 am

It’s D-Day. Today’s the day I start editing the first draft of my crime novel. I had a nightmare last night that involved packs of Tasmanian Devils attacking me in a dark garden. Coincidence? I think not.

After having done nothing but the prologue of my novel for years, I wrote my 70,000-word novel in winter 2011 – in 3 months, while working full-time and managing a freelance business and a family.

I make these points (which I will turn into posts at some date) because they mean that, while I got a novel written quickly, it’s in a state you’d expect of something written in a flurry.

It will need countless revisions, but this first thorough edit will be mammoth.

I’ve worked as a magazine and book editor for about 15 years. So, therefore it follows that it will be near-impossible for me to edit my own book. Sort of in the same way that chefs don’t like going home to cook for their family…

But, as I plan to self-publish, I am committed to doing this thing. All I can do is approach my book in the same way I approach a stranger’s manuscript.

The 7 Stages of Editing

  1. I read the entire manuscript in one go – straight through, without stopping or worrying about obvious errors.
  2. I start structural editing – onscreen, in Word or InDesign if it’s an illustrated book – tracking my changes as I go. I love, love, love structural editing.
  3. After the structural editing, I do a copy edit (for grammar etc) – all the way through, making a Style Sheet as I go.
  4. I do another structural check, and cut the clutter (unnecessary words and sections), as well as make a note of anything that needs to be padded out. I know the book pretty darn well at this point, and I find this stage easy, and exciting.
  5. I do another copy edit, making sure I’ve adhered to the publisher’s specific requests.
  6. I do another full read through, ignoring minor errors, to make sure the story makes logical sense (I remember one crime novel I edited, where a murderer killed the victim on a Sunday, when it turned out later that the victim was still alive on the following Monday… Actually, that author mistake is not such a bad idea for a book…).
  7. Final tidy up – a proofread – and it’s off to the author and publisher.

I spend a while on stage 4, especially as I need to liaise with the author on what I recommend be removed, and also what I need from them.

Of course, every book is different and I don’t necessarily follow this exact recipe with each – an illustrated book, for example, often requires work on the appearance and the typesetting, and the writing of captions; I also do a lot of ghostwriting for authors at the editing stage – but it’s my tried-and-tested method for most of the author books I am privileged enough to work on (I get paid to read books!).

Hopefully it’s a method that will work with my book.

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