Can I get a ‘Uuuggghhh’?
Self-publishing can be, at times, a whimsical, liberating profession. At other times – specifically, at editing times – it can be a freakin’ drag.
It’s like you’re trying to rake up the leaves on a 30-acre property on a windy day. The task seems as daunting and never-ending as just about any you can imagine. Why do I have to rake up the leaves when the yard looks PRETTY OKAY anyway??
If you don’t want a below-average yard, you rake up those leaves. If you don’t want a below-average book, you edit that sucker.
Let’s have a look at some of the keys things to remember when editing your work.
Attacking the First Draft
For most of us, when you’ve just finished a first draft, the last thing you’ll want to do is instantly rewind to the start and jump into editing. If you force yourself to, it can be like you’ve been hit with snow blindness, where all the words that you’ve only recently written aren’t properly forming on the page for you to assess.
The answer? Put up your feet.
When analysing your first draft, you want to do so with as fresh a set of eyes as you can muster. If that means taking a load off for a couple of weeks, so be it! Take up a hobby. Head off on a escape. Simply don’t think about writing for a bit.
At some point, you’ll start to get the itch to attack your work, and you’ll be doing so not out of obligation, but out of revitalisation.
Sledgehammer then Scalpel
Once you’re ready to roll, you’ll need to equip yourself with two implements.
The first is a sledgehammer. Through fresh eyes you’ll quickly identify the central vein of your story. If there’s anything that doesn’t either directly relate to or seriously compliment that central vein, you’re going to swing that sledgehammer. Doing so will clear the way for that central story to shine through, and without constantly diverting to subplots, will make it far easier for readers to follow.
Then, perhaps after another break, ask the nurse for the scalpel. This time we’re more looking at sentence structure and grammar. A great way to find inconsistencies and mistakes is to read the entirety of your book aloud. Forcing your mouth to make the manuscript’s sounds will quickly highlight things that don’t work. With your book under a local anaesthetic, cut those things out.
Spit and Shine
There’s one last recommended step before passing your manuscript onto another set of eyes, whether a professional editor or the reading public.
This time, after another enforced break, we’re doing things upside down.
Start at the back of your book. Read the last sentence. Then read the second last sentence. Read the whole book, sentence by sentence, backwards.
Doing this breaks up the tendency of your eyes and brain to gloss over mistakes for the benefits of flow. If you read the work backwards, there’s no ability to get a run on, and you’re forced to analyse every sentence independently. You’ll likely be shocked at how many mistakes you pick up.
Parting with Your Newborn
It’s time. You need to hand your pride and joy over to someone else, and let them have at it.
You want to seek out someone who you can guarantee will give you solid, honest advice. If you think a close family member might go a little easy on you, look elsewhere. Likewise, don’t hand it over to a sworn enemy if you think that the feedback will consist of the manuscript being left burning on your doorstep with the words ‘YOUR BOOK IS AS TRASH AS YOU’ carved into your decking.
A paid editor is always going to be your best bet. They have the expertise in knowing what the public will want to read and how they will want to read it, and won’t hold back in telling you exactly what you need to hear. They may seem like a big investment, but when it comes to perfecting the thing that you’ve already spent so much time on, this particular outlay is more than warranted.
Whether you hire an editor, rely on a loved one, join an online critique group, or find a willing beta-reader, you can do so in the knowledge that you’ve done everything in your power to give them the best first-copy possible. Now it’s just a matter of squeezing the ‘constructive’ out of any constructive criticism.
The yard is raked. But it might also need a mow.