Time to Edit Your Book!
But what does edit mean?
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Editing and revising is a a part of writing, right? That’s what everyone says. Don’t send a query for a book you haven’t ~edited~. Make sure you revise revise revise. But also, you’re not going to make your book perfect, so don’t over-edit your book.
What the af does all that mean?
Today we’re going to talk about the different kinds of editing, and what you might encounter at what stage. Your book is basically going to be edited a dozen times before it hits shelves, so buckle up. Editing is good. Editing is your friend.
First up: let’s talk about self-editing.
Self-editing is what you do yourself! Revolutionary! It shouldn’t be, though, what stops you from progressing, getting the words down, finishing a draft. It shouldn’t be a force that tells you no one’s going to read that, you can’t write that, you’re not good enough to write that. Don’t listen to that kind of self-editing. Power through. Everyone thinks it. Learn how to ignore it.
Once you have actual words on the page, then you can edit for content, plot, pacing, style, voice, etc. You might choose to edit as you go. Maybe you edit the previous day’s or session’s pages before you get started on the next part. Maybe you have an editing day and a writing day. Maybe you switch it up all the time and do what needs to be done. As long as you don’t call it “editing,” i.e. moving words around without benefiting the work, when it’s procrastination, do whatever works for you.
Editing is a skill like writing. You have to do it and practice it to get good at it. You’re not going to be good at it right away, and that’s ok. We’re all not good at anything right away. To develop editing skills you need to practice looking at your work objectively. It’s hard! But you can do it.
You have to learn how to listen to your gut. When you’re reading things over, do you always stumble over that second sentence there? Your reader will probably, too. Go back and see how you can smooth it out. Do you have the feeling that maybe your character is overreacting and you haven’t properly set up their emotional arc? Your reader definitely feels that way, too. If you’re thinking it—the person who knows the absolute most about your characters and story—then your reader is certainly feeling that way, too. Get it on the page. If you go too far and put too much in, you can pare it back later. If you’re getting bored or distracted while reading, if your pacing is lagging or you aren’t advancing the plot fast enough GET ON IT. Fix it. Fix it before you share it with others, because it’s less helpful for you to get feedback on things you already know you need to fix. Let your beta readers help you fix the things you don’t know you need to fix. If you’re thinking it, you’re probably right. Again, you know your work better than anyone.
Oh, did you notice I used the word fix five times in the last paragraph? I should go take some of those out. Do you start too many paragraphs with but or so? Did you describe the night as “full on dark” twice in four pages? Take. That. Out. Now.
When you’re ready to talk to professionals about your work, either to work with an agent who edits or maybe hire a freelance editor, there are a couple of styles of editing you may need or want or get.
I’m a pretty editorial agent, meaning I edit my clients’ work when I feel it’s needed, and the client agrees. (They usually agree even if they don’t really ~want~ to do edits. No one ~wants~ to do edits.) I approach an edit a couple of ways.
Structural edit: If I think something needs a good bit of work, I’ll approach it like a structural edit. Does the plot unfold in an engrossing way? Are the stakes high enough? Will the reader care about these characters? Is it too long or short? Did I get bored anywhere? These are the questions I ask while reading.
I use the metaphor of a ticking clock a lot. Every time you introduce a problem for character or a new part of the plot, a clock starts ticking. The reader expects to understand that problem or see it resolve in a reasonable amount of time. There are little clocks (who’s at the door?) and big clocks (whodunnit?). If your clocks go off at the wrong time, your reader gets bored and stops reading. And that’s no good.
In the case of a structural edit, I may give the author an edit letter, outlining issues and asking questions or I might edit on the actual pages. It varies book to book.
Sweep out edit: Some might call this a line edit, and I don’t know why I have this name for it, but I do. A sweep out edit is not a structural edit. We may have already done that or maybe the book doesn’t need it. This is where I might pare away too many adjectives that are slowing down prose, suggest one metaphor be used over another, point out smaller sections that could be moved elsewhere or cut. I’m looking at the work line by line for readability, interest, flow, charm, that stuff that makes reading great. The author can reject any or all of these changes. You can keep a darling or two. In my experience it’s rare an author will reject all the changes I’ve made. Once someone points out something that could be changed, it’s hard not to see it all the time.
My goal in all my editing is not make the book perfect. There is no perfect book. It’s to make it hard for an editor to say no. If the beginning is slow, we’re going to work on that, because the editor might not get beyond a slow beginning. If the stakes are too low, we’re going to work on that, because it’s very easy to reject a book because the stakes are too low. Editors are looking for easy ways to reject a book because there are too many books and they cannot take a flier on just anything, even if you could make it better with their help. The bar is high. You have to meet it before you’re published.
You might do all these same things with a freelance editor before you get an agent. Most freelance editors have a menu of options and you can discuss with them what you want and need. They can even tell you what they think you need. Most if not all the freelance editors I know were once agents or traditional editors, so they know what they’re talking about. And we’re going to talk Thursday about whether you NEED a professional freelance editor to get an agent or a book deal. Stay tuned or subscribe to find out.
Ok, we’ve covered a lot of ground here and haven’t even gotten to what it’s like to be edited after you get a book deal. Next week we’ll talk about editor-editing, copyediting, and proofreading and why there is absolutely going to be a typo in your published book.