So You Think You’re Done- The Value of Editing and Revision
By Eileen Cook
There are few things better than typing the words THE END at the bottom of your manuscript. All the long hours, the time spent whacking your head on the desk, and the late night emails to fellow writers despairing that you’d ever finish have come to a conclusion. You’re done. You’re ready to pop the cork on some champagne and wait for publishing fame and glory to come your way.
Wait! Don’t pour that champagne quite yet. There’s at least one more stage on your journey. Edits and Revisions. No matter how brilliant (or horrid) your first draft might seem- you need to give it time and an objective eye to make sure it is the best it can be before you send it out.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF EDITS?
There are two types of editing that typically occur, story and copy edits.
Copy edits are typically the very last step in the process. A good copy editor has an amazing eye for detail. They’re making grammar corrections, wrestling awkward sentences into submission, catching clichés and overused words, as well as spotting errors (you called her eyes blue in chapter one, and in chapter thirty you describe her eyes as greenish brown.)
Story edits are big picture corrections. A story editor is looking at how you’ve constructed your book and ensuring that all the parts: character, setting, pacing, dialogue, narrative, plot are all working together. A good story editor will let you know if your characters are interesting, if your middle sags, plot points that didn’t make sense, and how to ensure you’ve kept readers turning pages.
Because story edits likely result in the largest amount of revision, I would suggest you have these done BEFORE you do a copy edit.
DO YOU NEED TO PAY FOR EDITS?
I say this as someone who offers editing services- you do NOT need to pay for editing. Don’t feel that if you don’t have the funds for an editor that you can’t move forward. You can. I didn’t use a paid editor until after I began selling my books. While paying for an editor may make the process easier, it is not required.
While I think you should be your own first editor taking the time to read your book and doing the first round of revisions on your own, eventually you need an objective eye. This means in most cases that your mom is not the best person to ask. Friends and family often give well-intentioned feedback. “I really liked it!” That feels great in the moment but doesn’t help you move your writing forward.
Many writers are a part of a critique group, where they read and offer notes on each other’s work. Be aware if you are asking another writer for detailed feedback, this is a lot of work. You should expect that the other writer is going to ask you to reciprocate. You also need to discuss with your critique partners what type of feedback you are looking for to ensure they have a style that works with you. Finding a good group of critique readers can be a challenge. Being able to say what is working, or not working, takes a careful eye and an understanding of the craft of writing.
Because reading is so subjective, what one person may like another person may not, I often look to have 2-3 different critique reads. For example, if one person doesn’t like a plot point, but the other two do, I may decide to keep it in. If all three bump on the same point I know it needs to be changed. Different views allow you to see the range of responses to your writing.
Because it can be difficult to find quality critique partners, who also have the time, many people choose to pay for editing services. When you are considering paying an editor, you should feel free to ask for references and details of their experience. Costs for freelance editorial services can vary widely, so be sure you know your own budget and what you’ll get for your money.
WHAT TYPES OF THINGS DOES A STORY EDITOR CONSIDER?
Below are examples of some of the areas I explore in a manuscript when editing and the types of questions that I am asking. While this isn’t a complete list, it will give you an idea of the range of things considered.
a. Did you deliver the type of story you set out in the opening chapters, or did the story change?
b. Did you meet expected genre expectations (Mystery, Thrillers, Romance, YA, etc.)
c. Did you meet the promise you made to reader?
i. Resolve the characters goal/motivation
ii. Are your story questions answered?
iii. Are subplots resolved?
a. Where does your story take place?
b. When does your story take place?
c. Have you made it a unique space?
d. Does the setting reflect your tone? Add to the story?
e. Do you have an established timeline for the story so the reader can tell how much time is passing?
3. Story Structure
a. How is your story told? (Flashback, linear, rotating POV, etc.)
b. Who is the POV? Does it change? If yes, does the change make sense or is it head hopping?
c. Does the story start and end in the right places?
d. Pacing. How do you know if people are turning pages? Why does each scene exist?
4. Character and Conflict
a. What is your character’s want/need- what drives them in the book?
b. How would you describe your character at the start versus the end?
c. How are characters different from each other? How do supporting characters add new perspectives?
d. Is your character consistent? Have purpose/motivation to do what they do?
e. Does your character have to be likeable? What makes them likeable? Are they interesting?
a. Why do your characters want this goal?
b. How can you make it matter MORE?
c. It has to matter a lot because you are going to make it REALLY hard for them to get it.
a. What is the conflict that kicks off your story?
b. What is the primary conflict in the story that must be resolved?
c. Is the dialogue stilted/on the nose? Move your story forward or repetitive?
7. Corrections and Polish
a. Length of chapters- do you have really long chapter and really short? Does it feel choppy or have a flow?
b. How does it appear visually on the page? (blocks of narration, huge long paragraphs)
c. Repeated words or terms?
d. Repeated information?
e. How do sentences flow? Do you use both long and short?
f. Are you using the perfect word? Ambled instead of walked. Be specific.
g. Do you need grammar support?
Then for specific genres- there are even further specific questions. For example- if you are writing a romance, an editor should be looking to see if what draws the two characters together makes sense and that what keeps them apart feels believable.
HOW DO YOU GET THE MOST FROM YOUR EDITOR?
Getting edits can be challenging, and by challenging I mean feeling like someone has stomped on your heart. It’s difficult to put your book out there for someone to critique. A good editor is giving you both positive and constructive criticism. While good feedback feels great- the best way to make your book better is to have someone PUSH you to make it better. Approach edits with an open mind. You don’t have to take an editor’s suggestions, but declaring them idiots with no appreciation of your genius isn’t helpful either.
An edited manuscript gives you the best shot at impressing editors, agents and readers. It makes a good book better and a great book amazing. And you and your story deserve amazing.
Eileen Cook is the author of Remember, The Almost Truth, Used to Be, and With Malice. She’s also an instructor/mentor with the Simon Fraser University Writer’s Studio Program.