Writing process: The editing phase

I’ve been doing line edits in preparation for publishing a new two-book series, a project for which I’ve given myself the very scary deadline of July 26. It’s much, much too late for me to be doing the amount of editing that I am, but the process is revealing some interesting things about the writing and editing process.

Here’s how the process works in traditional publishing:
1. You write the manuscript, do whatever editing you feel like on it, and turn it in to your editor.
2. Your editor sends you feedback in the form of a long and intimidating editorial letter. This will include big-picture stuff like her reactions to your theme and style, as well as some page-by-page feedback on things that were confusing, implausible, or simply wrong. (I’m a particular fan of changing a character’s eye color, and finding unnecessarily convoluted ways to get characters from point A to point B.) There may also be some notes about typos, but those are mostly handled later.
3. You get a chance to fix the stuff your editor wanted you to fix, and then you turn in your final manuscript.
4. Your manuscript is sent to the copyeditor, who redlines all the spelling and grammar errors, as well as catching any eye-color changes and similar mistakes that your editor overlooked.
5. You get some time (maybe a month if I recall correctly) to go over the copyeditor’s corrections, address them, or write STET on anything you stubbornly want to keep the way you wrote it.
6. Your copyedited manuscript goes to the typesetter. Yes, as late as 2005, major publishers like the one that published me were manually typesetting books, despite the fact that they asked me for an electronic copy.
7. You get the first pass proofs for line edits. This is the process of going line-by-line through the printout that the typsetter produced and looking for any typos they inserted. Using a ruler helps you keep your eyes on the right line, since by this time you’re feeling like you never want to look at this book again, dammit. You get about 2 weeks to do this and send back the corrections.
8. Your editor gets the second pass proofs to review the corrections. Her turnaround time is usually too short for you to get a look at these.
9. The book goes to the printer, and soon – woo hoo! – you’re published.

Here’s how the process works in self publishing:
1. You write.
2. You edit.
3. Hopefully, you get someone to look at your manuscript before you click that Publish button. If you’re serious and you have the cash, you hire a freelance editor.
4. You make your own corrections.
5. You click that Publish button.

Scary! I realize that I felt a whole lot more confident when I sat down to write these books seven years ago than I do now. Then, I had several years of experience working with my editor at Spectra and a raft of knowledge I gained from that experience, and I (hopefully) brought it all to the process of writing this new series. I also assumed I’d get a publishing contract for it. Lots has changed since then.

After finally making the decision to self publish, I rounded up some friends, mostly local writers I met in a now-defunct writers’ group I used to attend, and asked if they would be able to beta read for me. I sent the manuscript out to four of them. Then I gave the books a quick reread so I’d be ready for their feedback.

Oh dear. Here’s another unpleasant realization: I had a bad habit, while writing these books, of complicating my language. Too many em-dashes, too many semicolons, too much passive tense, too many clauses stuck in the middle of sentences. I don’t know why I did that. Maybe I was trying to go for a certain tone, or maybe I was just working fast and not paying much attention to word choice. I knew, or I thought I did, that an editor would be helping me clean all that up later.

Now it’s just me doing the clean-up. This is the third time I’ve gone through the books since April and I’m still finding goobledegook language that needs straightening out.

Next: editorial/beta reader feedback. I’m extremely grateful for the time my readers have invested, but I have to say that I will definitely be saving up some cash and hiring an editor next time. I just had the bad luck of hitting every one of my readers during incredibly busy times in their lives, and they weren’t able to supply very much feedback. What I did get was extremely valuable, simply because I needed a second set of eyes to catch anything that was unclear to anyone not already in my head. I thought it was perfectly obvious how my fictional world was set up and how the magic system worked. It never occurred to me that a reader could misinterpret it until one told me she had.

Dear independent and aspiring authors: Do not skip this step! Even if you can’t afford to hire a professional editor (which really is a great benefit), find an intelligent reader to review your book before you publish!

Which brings me to the current step: line edits. I’m going over the manuscript with a red pen to catch typos, misspellings, and other small mistakes. (There are many more of these than I’d like. My favorite was making a ship come from the wrong country.) It can help to print out the document and literally use a red pen. Remember that ruler – it helps you slow down and focus on each line, which can be more difficult to do on a screen.

I’ve gotten through book one and put in the changes, and now it’s time for conversion and uploading. So I’d better get to that. Hopefully the books will be available by the next time I post!

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3 thoughts on “Writing process: The editing phase

  1. LaTanya D.

    It is scary. With self-publishing the writer has to make sure that his or her work shines. Most people don’t realize that with traditional publishing, there is a lot of help in shaping their story. Self-publishing really means more work. Having said that, I intend to self-publish my memoir.

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