Monday, January 10, 2011

How do author's do there editing?

Okay, did you catch it? Yes, there are two glaring mistakes in my title.

Author's, of course, should be authors.
And there, of course, should be their.
And in the third place, even with out the grammatical errors, that title is really quite lame.

Today's post is focusing on editing. If you are going to be a writer, you are going to have to get familiar with this subject. There will be various stages of editing. Your own revisions, rewrites and copy editing. And then that of your publishing house's authors. Some of you may even have an in-between stage with an outside editor.

I remember my newspaper days huddled over proof sheets with my fellow staffers. I held a blue editing marker in one hand and a greasy piece of pizza in the other. We'd start with our headlines. Misspellings and even glaring errors such as "Pet cat shoots boy" are common place in journalism. Then we would work our way through bylines, stories, ads, and anything else that was on its way to the press.

Imagine some of the costly errors that would harm a newspaper if its pages weren't properly edited.

Budding authors should treat their manuscripts the same way. No publishing house wants to hold an author's hand through the cleaning up process of their first draft. And in fact, unless the work is a masterpiece, most houses won't even give it a second glance if it is riddled with silly errors.

But, you argue, my rough draft is done! I am ready to shout from the roof tops, I've written a book! But hold the phone, there is still a lot of work to do. Here is how I tackle the post-rough-draft end of writing a book.

1. Put my rough draft away and absolutely don't look at it for a month. Fresh eyes do a novel good in my opinion.
2. Read a printed version of my rough draft, marking it up along the way. In this step I am looking for serious plot problems; areas where the novel is not developed enough; chapters that need reworked or even cut all together; that I maintained a consistent point of view and tense. I am especially making sure that the book stayed in line with the standards I have set for myself as a writer (language, morals etc.)
3. Make the changes I had noted and begin reading again. Now I am looking for SHOW vs. TELL, voice, lack of detail, and how natural the dialogue sounds. I also look at every verb and see if it can be "punched up" a bit.
4. Copy edit. This is the boring old blue marker part. This is a line by line edit of spelling, word confusion (such as there for their), and punctuation problems.
5. Then the book goes to my first readers. I give about four or five people a copy and request they please read it in some fairly quick amount of time (a few weeks to a month). I also give them an idea of a few things I want them to consider while reading it. I want their overall impression of the novel, their feeling about the plot and characters, and maybe if it ended too abruptly or something like that.
*On a side note, while the book is out with first readers I begin crafting a query letter.
6. I look at each of my reader's written suggestions and consider if they would make the novel better. If so, I make appropriate changes.
7. Finally, I read through my novel one more time. And this is going to sound silly, but I read it out loud. I catch many things I may have not noticed when I do this.
8. I print the final version and query letter and send out the book.

That is my process. I am by no means infallible. In fact, if you've found any mistakes in Growing Up Gracie, I apologize. However, an outside editor, my publishing house, and a top LDS reviewer all remarked that I had very few errors, which, in the LDS publishing world is fairly unusual. I attribute this to all those copy editing classes I had to master on the way to earning my journalism degree. (And also to the fact that I had probably re-read and edited the book a total of about 8-10 times by the time it went to press).

I think the bottom line is when submitting a book to a publisher, a writer wants to give their book the best chance to get out of the chute as possible. A clean manuscript is a fantastic start!

Please leave us your ideas or questions on your editing process.


Bonnie R. Paulson said...

Is this terrible or what? I totally didn't even catch the title errors. ugh.
I loved this. one of my favorite things is hearing about how other authors do the "after" part.

Cause anyone can throw together 80k but is it readable? that's the question!
Thanks Mag!

Dan said...

Great post, Maggie! I think waiting a few weeks to re-read the story is essential. You want to keep fresh eyes on the prize!