Editing Your Book with Track Changes

When you work with an editor on your book, you will probably use the Track Changes feature in Microsoft Word. This can be a little daunting if you’ve never used it before, especially when you get a file back with more red on it than Sweeney Todd’s apron.

First, don’t panic. Remember your editor is there to help you, and those red marks are meant to be instructive, not destructive.

Schedule a time when you can go through your manuscript slowly. If there‘s a change you don’t understand, feel free to ask. For example, one client asked why I had replaced e-mail with e‑mail, since she had in fact hyphenated it. I explained that I had replaced the regular hyphen with a nonbreaking hyphen so that if the word fell at the end of a line, the e‑ wouldn’t be stranded by itself.

Reject or change the edits you don’t like, and leave the ones you approve of. You should have many more approvals than rejections—like, 20 to 1. If you are rejecting more than 5 percent of your editor’s suggestions, there’s a bigger problem to address than how to use Track Changes. More on that next time.

Using Word Track Changes

Save time by accepting all changes at once.

If you’re sending your manuscript back to the editor for a second pass, leave the Tracked Changes and comments in place. That lets them see everything you’ve done in context with their original edit. Often if we’ve worked on other manuscripts since the last time we saw yours, we may not remember what the original text said, what changes we made, or what we asked you to fix. So leaving all those changes and notes gives us the background we need to assess your latest revision.

Once you and your editor agree that the editing is finished and you’re ready to submit the manuscript to agents and editors (or to send to a typesetter or Kindle converter), you can use the Accept All Changes command to clear all the approved edits at once. You’ll find this command in Ribbon’s Review tab, under the pull-down menu of the Accept button.

You’ll also need to delete all the comments from the manuscript. This command is also in the Review tab, under Comments. There’s a New button to create a new comment, and a Delete button for deleting comments once you’ve addressed whatever issue they brought up. The Delete button also has a drop-down menu, where you’ll find the Delete all Comments command.

Note that my screen shot is from Word for Mac 2011. Microsoft seems to delight in moving commands around from one version to the next and from one platform to the other, so that no two versions of any Office app are entirely the same. So use a bit of Google-fu to get what you need. Start your search terms with your operating system, then your version of Word, then the thing you’re trying to find. I might, for example, search for Mac Word 2011 nonbreaking hyphen. Hypothetically.

Microsoft Word is often accused of feature bloat, and it does contain myriad functions some of us will never use. But its powerful change tracking and commenting features are the main reason it is still the standard software for writing and editing books. If you plan a career as a writer, you’ll do well to take advantage of these features.

 

Let me know if further teaching on this would interest you. I’m thinking a screencast may be called for. What do you think?

Where to Find Professional Editors

As I said last time, if you’re self-publishing, you need a professional editor. But where do you get one? There is no licensing standard for editors. Anyone with a fondness for reading and a bent for grammar can declare themselves an editor and start seeking clients. Many sites exist to pair this sort of freelancer with writers, but beware. At such sites, pricing often becomes a race to the bottom. Continue reading

Q&A: When to hire an editor

Q: I took your Elements of Fiction seminar and read the blog posts and I’ve gone through the checklist. Now what? How do I know when to hire an editor or writing coach?

question answer

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A: When you feel stuck, or when you’re ready to go.

If you’ve worked through the checklist and you still feel stuck on your manuscript, not knowing what to do next, that’s a good time to bring in a writing coach. You may just need to talk things though so you can get advice about what the next step is. Continue reading

Know when to stop editing

We’ve made our way through the whole Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist. Now there are two vastly different errors writers can fall into.

The first is thinking you’re done. If you are working on your first—or even second or third—novel, one or even two passes through your manuscript will not be enough. Let the book lay fallow for a couple of weeks or even a month, while you start writing something new. Then give it another read-through. Look at each category of the checklist and ask whether you’ve really done each element as well as you possibly can. Then make another pass.

The second error is making an infinite number of editing passes, so your manuscript is never finished. The pursuit of perfection is unending. At some point, to borrow an expression from Seth Godin, you just have to decide it’s good enough to ship. Usually that’s the point at which you’re just making things different instead of better. Continue reading

Beware analysis paralysis when editing

When you look at it all at once, the Elements of Fiction Editing Checklist can be daunting. And as writers, we tend to waver between thinking we’re literary geniuses and thinking we’re hack poseurs no one will ever take seriously.

The danger in self-editing is that you fall too severely on one side or the other. In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul warns against this. Continue reading

Simplify dialogue tags

The way writers tag dialog is often evidence of how experienced they are. New writers frequently make dialog tags more complicated than they need to me. The classic example is the flagrant use of “said bookisms,” those awkward constructions reminiscent of Tom Swift.

“I love Old Faithful,” she gushed.

Such constructions are usually misguided attempts to avoid repeated use of “said.” The worst I’ve ever seen in a published book:

“Hello,” she greeted.

That line would never have survived a Word Weavers critique group meeting. Continue reading

Q&A: developmental and substantive editing

question answer

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Q: What’s the difference between developmental editing and substantive editing?

A: That depends on whom you ask. Seriously, even editors can’t agree amongst ourselves what’s what, which is why each of us has some kind of web page where we define different types of editing in our own terms.

“Substantive” is an especially squishy term—I’ve heard it applied to several different kinds of editing. Continue reading