EDITING YOUR FIRST DRAFT
Okay, we’ve discussed writing your first draft in last year’s Writing Tips posts. This year we’re going to talk about what happens after you’ve gotten that first draft down on paper or in your writing program. You may have written your first draft quickly, and you may have used some placeholder words and phrases, put off some research until later, and other things that we’ve talked about in previous posts to get your first draft done. And now you may have let your first draft “breathe,” as we also discussed. Now you can return to your first draft with fresh eyes and perhaps a different perspective.
Now it’s time to begin editing and rewriting (or revising as it’s sometimes called) your manuscript. Many experts recommend hiring an editor, and I believe this is very good advice for most writers. But there are some questions we must ask.
When should you start looking for an editor? This can depend on what kind of editor you want and your level of writing experience and confidence. If you’re a beginning writer, you may want to hire a developmental editor, and if you’re a more experienced writer, you may only need a line or copy editor, or even just a proofreader.
First, let’s discuss the four main types of book editors. There may be more than four, but these are the main four, and two of them – line editing and copy editing – are sometimes combined in one package. So we’ll boil things down to three main types of editors to make things simpler: a proofreader, a line editor, and a developmental editor.
We’ll start with the developmental editor because this is the kind of editor you would use earliest in your work. A developmental editor reads your first draft, or sometimes even your treatments and/or synopsis, and then gives you his or her opinions about your overall story, the plot, the characters, the setting, the marketability and the salability. You would probably use an editor like this if you haven’t been writing a long time and you aren’t skilled with storytelling.
A line (or copy) editor will come later in your manuscript, after you’ve re-read and revised until you’re happy with it. A copy editor will look for mistakes in grammar, spelling, punctuation, syntax, typos, etc. And a line editor will look at the style of the sentences and paragraphs, identifying clumsy writing, making suggestions for clearer writing and a tighter story. I put these two editors together because some offer a hybrid of the two as a service, but there are other editors and editing services who break these two up.
A proofreader reads your manuscript, catching any typos, misspellings, etc. But a proofreader doesn’t usually make suggestions about your writing style or your story.
The prices of these editors will vary widely from service to service, and editor to editor.
Where do you find an editor? The first place is recommendations from other authors. It’s good to find a reputable editor who has done a good job for other authors. You could also check writing groups you belong to on Facebook or other social media sites. You could also search the internet for editors or editing services. When you find an editor online or one who has been recommended to you, I would suggest contacting that editor and communicating with them either vial email or phone and making sure you’re comfortable with them. You should ask for a sample of their work. Some editors may have sample pages or chapters they can send you, and others may offer to edit a few pages of your own work.
I know all of this may seem like it will take a lot of time, but good editing will pay off in the long run if being an author is what you really want to do. If you find a great editor, you may work with that editor over the next several books. You could set up a system where you’re working on another project while your editor is working on the manuscript.
Besides requesting a sample edit, make sure you check out an editor’s experience and education. Maybe they have a degree in English or they have worked at a publishing company or they have a long list of books they have edited that you can look up.
Many experts believe that the cover of your book and the editing (already assuming you’ve written a great book in your genre) are the two most important elements to the success of your book.
What about editing your manuscript yourself, or self-editing? Yes, this is definitely possible, but it has a lot to do with your skill as a writer and the experience you have. If you’re going to self-edit, you should be an expert in English grammar. The great thing is that English grammar is something that you can learn. There are many grammar books out there (one of my favorites is Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss), and there are many online courses you can take to learn English grammar, writing, and editing. I believe every writer should know the basics of story and grammar to begin with – it’s like wanting to work construction but refusing to learn how to read a tape measurer. Never stop learning. Never stop practicing. Never stop reading. Never stop honing your craft.
What about beta readers? Is that the same thing as having editors? Maybe. If you’re lucky enough to have a team of beta readers, and if you’re lucky enough to have one or two beta readers who are experts in English grammar or storytelling, then I would say, based on your own level of experience and skill, you might be able to get away without hiring an editor.
Even if you do hire an editor (or editors) and/or have a team of beta readers, please keep in mind that they are humans. They will have their own suggestions about your story, but you don’t have to use every one of them – art and literature are subjective. And they may miss a typo here and there. If you like your editor, I wouldn’t recommend blowing up over a missed typo or some story suggestions that you don’t agree with.
Even if you hire a topnotch editor and have a team of beta readers, you may still get that negative review claiming your work “needs editing.” There are trolls out there who are going to leave bad reviews just to be mean, and there are some who just didn’t like your book for whatever reason. If you get enough reviews you may get a few of these “needs an editor” reviews. When those negative reviews are overwhelming or if your overall reviews are mostly negative, then maybe you should look into it. And remember, English grammar and literary style are not set in stone like math is. Sometimes there is more than one correct way to write a sentence. And what was grammatically incorrect fifty or a hundred years ago may be more accepted nowadays.
In conclusion, decide what kind of editor you want and then try to find one through recommendations first. Check out your editor’s experience and education. And it’s still a good idea to learn as much as you can about the craft of storytelling and grammar if you want to do this for a living.
Hope this helps someone out there.
Until next time . . .