So, I’m at the final stage of editing the third book in my YA paranormal series, The Dark Hollow Chronicles. Because I’ve been through this about seven times now (and made many mistakes), I thought I’d share what I learned from the process. And I’m also taking a break from a three-day editing marathon. Anyone out there feel my pain?
Here we go…
Set a Deadline
If you’re an indie like me, you don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck (if only), so it helps to give yourself a deadline. I use Amazon’s pre-order option to act as the ticking clock attached to the bomb. The first time I listed one of my books for pre-order, I made the classic rookie mistake of missing the deadline (48 hours before the release date), so the e-book my customers received was my shitty first draft and not the polished final copy. I was able to re-upload it eventually, but that was an embarrassing goof that I will not repeat. If you use this option, make sure you note the final upload deadline, not just the release date. Amazon does send reminders, but it’s best to post it in bold type on a hot pink sticky note somewhere at your workstation.
The Screen Edit
Because I wrote this particular story on Wattpad first, it has already gone through at least one edit, from first draft to Wattpad draft. But errors always seep through; and I love it when my readers find them. They act as my beta readers for this book and the other ones in the series. If you’re not on Wattpad, you should check it out. It’s great for readers and writers.
Next comes the screen edit, meaning I pull up the word document on my computer screen and read through my story without stopping to fix any errors (painful). When it comes to writing, I’ve learned that clarity is rule number one. Ask yourself if the events in your story make logical sense in space and time? Ditto for the world in which it takes places. Is it easy to understand? Can a person with a middle to high school education (my audience for this book) follow it? Is the vocabulary appropriate for that age group? Is the plot engaging, or can it use a few tweaks?
I also cut and paste difficult passages into Grammarly (I have the subscription, and it’s worth it) to tease out that dreaded passive voice that continually pops up, as well as other problems. A word about Grammarly and other correction apps: it’s a tool, but it’s not infallible. It’s not the computer’s job to catch your mistakes. It’s yours (or an editor’s if you’re lucky enough to have one).
Make sure each sentence is grammatically correct, but remember that fiction prose is more flexible than nonfiction. Most fiction writers will have a sentence fragment thrown in to quicken the pace or create tension. Grammarly would read that as incorrect, but sometimes it works. For example, I just opened a Stephen King book (The Stand) to a random page and read this: “Silence from the floor.” Should King have added a verb there? No. But sentence fragments should be used sparingly and only when it serves the story.
“Must you write complete sentences each time, every time? Perish the thought.” Stephen King On Writing
Once my work passes the read-through, I go over it again on the screen, fixing errors, searching for character name misspellings, and other types of embarrassing egregiousness.
Then, I format the text for printing. Putting something in print is a bold move. I don’t publish it right away (thank God, I haven’t made that mistake yet). I order the proof through Amazon and use that as my final working copy, which leads to the….
Hard Copy Edit
Seeing one’s work in print is both exciting and terrifying. The clock is ticking for my final upload, and the pressure is on. Holding the proof copy in my hands makes it very real, but the biggest reason I recommend the hard copy edit (you can use a printer too) is that the mistakes jump off the page.
It also helps is take your hard copy to a quiet location away from your workstation. I often work in a carrel in my local library. Surrounded by all those published books, I am inspired and challenged to have my work be just as good. The isolation of the carrel forces me to focus. We live in a world of distractions folks, and if you think you can simultaneously edit your book while half-watching a YouTube video on a small window in the upper corner of your computer screen or listen to your favorite podcast, you’re dead wrong. Get away from all screens! Now! You’re studying for your final exams. This is serious business. Your life depends on it.
I prefer to do my hard copy edit a few chapters at a time. I find if I try to do too much, my mind wanders and my eyes start to cross. So after demolishing a few chapters with my pen, I return to my computer screen and fix the mistakes. Some passages will need to be rewritten, and those passages will have to be checked for errors. You’ve reached the tear out your hair stage, but it’s also when you find your work beginning to reach a level of flow finally, and that’s a great feeling.
The Final Pass
For the final stage, I pull the edited chapter up on the screen, blow up the text, and slowly read it aloud. Many writers recommend this. Again, mistakes will come out of hiding and bop you over the head. You’ll notice how that alliterative passage feels forced, how a better word choice there would improve the flow, etc.
I read my story as if I’m trying to hold the attention of my audience. If I get chills from what I’m hearing, if I’m dying to know what happens next (even if I already know), then I have done my job. I’m starting to feel good about what I’ve accomplished, that all that obsessive hard work was worth it.
Perfection is impossible, but you have to aim for it. I’ll go over my manuscript with a fine-tooth comb, and still mistakes will seep through. It happens even with professionally edited books. At some point, you do need to let go. But before you hit that publish button, you want to make sure that you’re putting forth your best effort. Then you can move onto the next book. And that’s a great feeling too!
But for now, the clock is ticking. I need to get back to work on my final edit. Good luck with yours!