How I edit my novels - from first draft to completed manuscript
I've blogged before about different aspects of the writing process, including plotting and how I organise my working day. This week I'd like to focus on the editing cycle. As part of my contract with Lake Union, my first novel, 'His Kidnapper's Shoes', underwent revision prior to being republished by Amazon, and that proved a fascinating, as well as novel, experience!
When I started my writing journey, I lacked the funds for a professional editor. (They don't come cheap!) Instead, I did the best I could myself. Now I'm with Lake Union, all that's changed, because Amazon pick up the costs. Until now, my editing process has gone as follows. First, I set the manuscript aside for at least a month, so that when I return to it, I do so with a fresh eye. My first drafts are rough, because I prefer to get the story out of my head first and worry about sorting the mess later. In the early stages, I spend a lot of time moving text around, deleting some parts and adding others. Once I have a coherent second draft, I check for correct spelling, punctuation, etc.; I'm a stickler for that sort of thing! I always run my books through Microsoft Word's spelling and grammar check as well, though.
Another tool I use, and love, is Pro Writing Aid. There's a free version, but I use the premium one for its extra features, and have a lifetime subscription. Pro Writing Aid will tell me when I've used the same word too often in close proximity, check for clichés and redundancies, perform a grammar check, and much more.
The next step is to tighten and prune my prose. It's scary how many unnecessary words I find! Often I shed several thousand during this stage. By the time I've done all this, the novel is, with any luck, slimmer and fitter.
Scrivener helps every step of the way
I also run each chapter through a checklist. Does it start with a bang? Will the ending lead the reader to the next chapter and create excitement? Have I included enough (but not too much) description and sensory details? Is the pacing right? I try to view it from a reader's point of view, which is hard for me, as I need to switch hats!
At the end of all this, I read the manuscript several times to make sure it's as good as I can make it. This is hard because I can waste lots of time tweaking tiny details - at some stage I need to release the book to my wonderful beta readers! I have several people who provide feedback on what they like and don't like, what works and what doesn't. I implement most of their advice; it's rare for me to reject anything they say. After all, they come to the novel with a fresh eye, whereas by this stage I'm usually jaded!
For me, editing is the longest part of the process, but unlike some writers, it's something I love doing. I find great satisfaction in polishing my first drafts (believe me, they really are rough!) into something better. I use Scrivener to organise every step of the way. Scrivener is software designed for writers, and has revolutionised my writing. If I could marry a piece of software, it would probably be this one!
My experience with a professional editor
I'll continue to use this process I've outlined above, because it works well for me, but things worked differently for the two novels I've published with Lake Union. Here's how it's worked so far. Soon after I sent 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' to Sammia, my Amazon contact, she assigned Gillian Holmes as the book's editor. Gillian has over twenty years' experience in the industry and has worked with big names such as Kathy Reichs and Tony Parsons, so I was delighted!
First she emailed me her overall impressions of the book and her main recommendations, along with my manuscript containing her detailed notes. Next Sammia organised a conference call between the three of us. She wanted to ensure I understood the process before I got stuck in, and I appreciated her thoughtfulness. I did wonder what Gillian might want to see changed in the book, not because I'm arrogant and consider it perfect, but because I'm too close to it to be objective. All her recommendations made sense and echoed some of the less favourable reviews I've received. She asked me to tone down the sex and swearing, and make Daniel Bateman a more likeable character. With that in mind, I set to work.
I needed to learn Microsoft Word's 'track changes' feature but my inner geek enjoys stuff like that! It didn't take long to implement Gillian's recommendations. My experience of working with her has been very positive. Once I'd experienced the huge benefits of having a professional editor, I asked Gillian to edit my fiction titles that don't fall under my Amazon contract. I'm keen to make my novels as polished as possible, especially now I've joined the Alliance of Independent Authors, a professional writers' association.
I'm happy to answer any questions you have about how novelists (well, me - I can't answer for everyone) edit their books. Leave a comment and let me know!