Monday, July 6, 2015

How To Be An Indie Author 3: Editing

This is the third post in a series about self-publishing from ideation through sales. To check out other posts in this series, click here.

Last post I wrote about the writing process, or turning an idea into a first draft. Now that you have a first draft, you must begin the intense and stress-inducing process of editing.

Editing is messy, but necessary.
When talking editing in writing circles, there is a lot of ambivalence, especially when thinking about publishers and "creative control" or final say over content and style.

"I can't believe he made me take out that scene! It's my best written scene!"
"I had to write out that character."
"But I really love adjectives!"

The list of complaints could go on however, editing is necessary.

Anyone who is a professional writer (or aspiring to be) understands the importance of good editing. Sometimes this means reworking a paragraph (or entire chapter) and other times it means slicing something in half. No matter what the requirement, the reason is always this: to create a more polished, precise, and effective piece of writing.

In this post I'm actually lumping editing and proofing into one major process. When I taught composition, we separated these two things into editing (content) and proofing (grammar, spelling, punctuation). For me, these two processes are intertwined, which is why I will discuss both in a single post.

First, Edit

There are two camps about editing for the indie author, but for the purposes of this post, I'm going to share my process (which admittedly has its limits).

Once I have a first draft, I let it sit for a while. Sometimes this means a month. Sometimes it means a year - it all depends on my publishing goals and how I feel about the manuscript generally.

Then I do a first reading where I focus on making sure I've communicated major ideas, double check whether characters are developed enough, and "tie up loose ends." This often includes cutting out repetitive sentences, assuring balance in lists, and making sure I'm being consistent throughout the manuscript.

This first read-through often includes correcting spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors, though it is not the primary focus. Ultimately, the focus here is content consistency/smoothness.

Then, Proof

Now that I have all the big fixes out of the way, I can move on to details. This is a second read-through where I double check all my "there, their, and they're" usage. Because let's face it, even though I know the difference, when I'm hammering out a first draft, I'm not always all there (see what I just did?). Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I'm thinking about the next chapter as I scramble to get my story all onto the page. So something gets lost in the writing, and I end up typing the wrong word.

Now, this is where we start seeing the difference between Big 6 (as in Harper Collins and Penguin) published authors and the indie author. This is what also separates Riot Grrrl bootstrappers like myself, and a la carters.

While Big 6 authors may go through this process before pitching their manuscript to an agent, they will get a professional proofreader courtesy of their publisher. Sometimes this is a good thing, and the person is really thorough and other times, they are a sleep deprived intern coffee-gofer. And an author won't know, except for a few typos still in the manuscript after publication (or too many adjectives, or not enough showing, and too much telling etc).

Indie authors, especially bootstrappers, do this themselves.

Let me repeat...bootstrappers do it on their own (this is me, I'm talking about here). So when there is a typo in the final manuscript, it's my personal fault. Seriously. And I got paid worse than a Big 6 publisher intern to not find it.

Hey! Beta, Beta, Beta!

The best friend of the bootstrapping indie is the beta reader. This is a third read-through, if you have the luxury of time, by someone else. Hopefully this involves several someones.

The most success I have had with betas (and this is supported by other author friends) is to ask specific questions:

"I'm having trouble in chapter 2, can you tell me if it follows well?"
"I'm worried I might offend someone with this section of the piece, but I don't want to alienate readers. How does it read for you?"
"I don't quite like this character. Tell me what you think."

The key here is to find people who will give thorough feedback. Outside of teachers (read: ESL and English Lit), and other writers, this will be hard to find. A lot of people will say things to the effect of, "It's good. I liked it."


Obviously this is unhelpful and doesn't give good direction as to what needs work. Sometimes people will be wary of giving feedback because they don't want to offend you. They worry that criticizing your work will create rifts in your relationship.

Emphasize they have immunity. You are asking for specific feedback because you need it. Ask them to be completely honest. If they don't like something, tell them you need to know why. And say it's okay.

This really makes a difference in a beta's comfort level. And you want them to be comfortable.

Hired Guns

If you have resources, you may fall into the a la cart category of indie authors (lucky you!).

It is nice to have professional editors because they do this as their job. That means you are paying (often upwards of $200) for them to find all the errant apostrophes and theres. And they will.

Which is great.

The reason is it is a lot easier for someone else to find those little mistakes than it is for you. While beta readers are helpful, and should be used as a kind of test run for gauging the receipt of manuscripts, they are not professional. They are your friends, or some other writer you found through a Facebook Group.

So if you can hire a professional editor, then do it. It will help you sleep better (Probably - I wouldn't know.). If however, you are like me, here are a few tricks to get another level of correction into your manuscript:
  1. Read it out loud. You'll find mistakes you didn't realize were there.
  2. Use spell-checkers. Seriously.
  3. Run your manuscript through grammar checkers (they aren't all created equal but you can find a few for free online...try at your own risk, i.e. proof it every other way too.).


Some writers will over analyze and freak out about the editing portion of writing. And yes, you could pour over your manuscript for ages. You could go over it a thousand times and find something else to change.

And that would be a waste of time.

At some point you have to give up the neurosis of perfectionism and accept yourself (and therefore your writing) as good enough. Someone will always be better. Someone will always be worse. The more you go through this process, the better you will become.

Also, debut books are almost always crap. I know, you've read some Big 6 writers  that were God's gift to literature. That is the exception rather than the rule. Chances are those people wrote a ton before they ever wrote their first book. They may have been in ten writing groups, had professional writers go over their manuscripts, and of course, had the benefit of Big 6 publishing house resources.

Forget them.

Don't worry about them. This is about you and where you are. Getting out there is better than being stuck behind a process. Trust me. It is liberating.

That said, do what you feel comfortable doing. If you can't handle putting out a book that is obviously a first attempt, then don't. If you need to go over your manuscript a thousand times, you're not ready to publish. Period.

Indie publishing is not an easy path. It is not for everyone. And it most certainly can send perfectionists over the edge.

If you have the opposite problem, like me, and you just want to get everything out and into the world as soon as possible because your voice is bursting out of you...wait a second. Force yourself to read through your manuscript another time. Ask at least one other person to read the damn thing. Really. You'll thank yourself later. Trust me on this, I learned that one the hard way (i.e. 2nd editions of KHLOE ALWELL series for just that reason).

What is your editing process? Have you used the strategies above? To what success? Leave a comment below!

Be sure to check out the next post in this series, formatting! And to support your local, lovely indie bootstrapper, visit my website to donate or buy my books!

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