On editing

I have a confession to make: I am supposed to be editing. I am not editing. This is a problem.

Some people who aren't writers may think that only indie, self-published writers like me ever do any major editing of their own work. Oh, sure, the traditionally published writers with agents and major publishing companies behind them still read through a manuscript and clean it up a little, but surely those people have built-in editors to do all the really hard editing, right?

Believe me, if that were true, it would be reason enough to keep querying agents and begging publishers to look at my books--even if statistically speaking most writers have virtually no chance of ever being published by one of the so-called Big Five publishing companies, who produce about 85% of the total number of books published each year. Because a nearly-zero chance might seem like a fair trade for doing the hard work of editing.

However, even a writer hoping to land that magical agency representation (without which a Big 5 contract is pretty much impossible) will have to edit, and edit, and edit again. This is because, if you are hoping to attract the attention of a potential agent, you have to make your manuscript as close to perfect as you possibly can. Some writers will even hire freelance editors to comb through their finished manuscripts before they submit them to agents--but at a cost of several thousand dollars per work, this is not a path that many people can afford. Most writers will do the majority of the work themselves, even if they use beta readers, join writers' groups, and pay for some critiques that fall short of a full-scale editing job (which are less expensive).

Whether you can afford lots of paid editing help, or whether you are hoping to convince a few of your friends to read and critique your work, it is important to get other people's eyes on your copy to check for major plot or continuity errors, places where things just aren't clear, and those annoying typos you've already corrected two or three times (and more seem to jump in somehow, as every writer knows). But it's a waste of your friends' time (and possibly your money, if you are paying readers or editors) to hand over a manuscript you haven't touched since you wrote the last line of text and staggered, exhausted, out to the kitchen for some victory ice cream (not that I've ever done that).

I find myself making several "passes" through a manuscript before I'm ready for anyone else to read it. The first time I'm just reading, correcting only a few typos here and there. The second time I'm looking for any discrepancies in plot, changes in names (characters, towns and cities, forbidden potions--any little thing like that). The third time I'm going slowly through the text and asking myself whether I've used too many cliches, whether the characters sound right, whether my descriptions make sense, whether the writing quality in general is satisfactory.

After that, the fourth time, I set the book up in the format in which it will be published--and then I read the whole thing again, looking for anything jarring or mistaken that I haven't already caught and fixed.

At that point, it's time to get someone else (or, in a perfect world, several people) to look at it before proceeding to the publishing stage.

Does this seem like a lot to do? It is, but there's no escaping a process like this one no matter how you plan to publish. I'll say it again: you should be prepared to do all of these steps before querying an agent and submitting your manuscript to him or her, if you plan to go the traditional-published route (and there will be additional steps involving the agent's preferred format for your manuscript and so on).

Like I said at the beginning of this post, though, I'm currently in the "supposed to be editing" stage. I have already read this MS twice, but am finding it hard to get enough time in my day to do the slow, careful reading required for the third reading. But I know it has to happen, and I want this book to appear in my catalog, so I'll keep going!


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