Self Editing – Advice and Apology

  One of the first bits of advice fledgling authors get is to seek an outside editor before they self publish. It is also a bit of advice many ignore. I know I did. I now know I shouldn’t have.

Here is what I’ve discovered.

Writers know their stories. This is the first reason they cannot be objective editors for them. They are too close. The story the writer reads when editing is the story he or she meant to tell. It may not be the story that was actually written.

Scenes cut from the final version are still known to the writer. If information provided in them is essential for readers to know, the writer may not realize the final draft fails to provide it.

Characters and settings are so well known to the writer, they may fail to describe them sufficiently. This can be a flaw when some aspect known to the writer is important but not mentioned. This can be especially true with character motivations.

Writers know what each line of prose is supposed to convey so when they read it, it does — to them. It may not to others. The wording may be vague or confusing.

The writer wrote each word. He also made each typo. This is the one problem I was most surprised to find in my own work. I’ve edited the writing of others before and was normally quite adept at spotting typos. However I failed to notice about seventy-five such errors in my own first book. Why? Because I knew what each sentence was supposed to say so that is what I saw.

Before showing my first novel to anyone, I went over it many times, confident in my own ability to spot flaws. When I was sure it was ready, I self published. About a month later, someone contacted me to tell me how much they were enjoying the book but pointed out a number of typos. Impossible, I thought. I went over that manuscript dozens of times. There were no typos. I checked again. There were typos.

So I read it on my Kindle and was surprised and embarrassed to find even more. How could these have mysteriously appeared in the Kindle version when the manuscript was flawless? Obviously malicious typo fairies were to blame. What other explanation was possible? They’re probably related to those nasty creatures who steal my socks out of the laundry and hide my daughter’s car keys.

Or maybe not. I’m still not dismissing the typo fairy hypothesis but I’m not going to make life easy for them and you shouldn’t either. So here is my advice.

1: After you’ve completed your manuscript and you’re sure it’s flawless, reformat it as an e-book (Kindle, PDF, or EPUB). Don’t publish it yet.

 2: Ask others to read it and tell you what they think. This may be hard to do if you don’t have a lot of favors to call in but you may be able to guilt friends or relatives into it. Just remember, now you will owe them. This is one of the burdens writers must accept for their art.

3: Don’t look at it again yourself until you hear back from them, or failing that, a month, or two, or three later. Start writing your next book. Catch up on your reading. Paint a picture. Clean your garage. Do whatever you need to do to distance yourself from your book.

 4: Now open the book in the ‘finished’ format. I used a Kindle because I have one but even PDF on your computer should do. Your book should look as much like any other e-book in your library as possible. Don’t reread your double spaced manuscript using your word processing program. Trust me on this. You need to look at your work as objectively as possible and going back to your original manuscript will prevent that.

5: Read your book as if it was the work of someone else. Make notes on any flaws you see but do not try to correct them. Just note them and keep noting them until you’ve read the whole thing.

6: Now take your notes and those of the people kind enough to comment on your book and to whom you now owe your soul, first born child, or favor of their choice, and make corrections. Format the manuscript as an e-book, wait another month and read it again.

 7: If you are wealthy (it’s possible–even for writers) consider hiring a professional editor. If not, wait another month or two and reread your book again. If it still looks good, submit it to agents, traditional publishers, or self publish it, whatever route you have decided to pursue.

Now for the promised apology: To all those who have read the first published version of my book with the uncaught typos, whether you have provided comments back to me or not, I’m sorry for them (they typos, that is). I appreciate the time you have taken to look at my work. I would especially like to thank those who brought errors to my attention. I have learned from your feedback and will endeavor to make my next books even better.

About Dave

A reader and writer of speculative fiction. See my website for more information on me and my writing.

Posted on September 5, 2011, in Self Publishing, Writing and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. You describe many of the same challenges I struggle with while rereading my own work. I absolutely hate that when I cut a scene I can’t gauge whether or not I’ve stripped something away from the characters or plot that I need to compensate for elsewhere. Then, if I have a suspicion that after cutting a scene I need to include some aspect of it elsewhere else I find I’m overcompensating when I should have just let it go.

    Editing is the hardest part of writing, but I think it’s what separates those who write for fun and those who write because they have a story to tell.

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