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. Continue reading

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?

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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

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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