Editing my debut novel, ‘The Sister,’ I took the ‘read through a million times and keep my fingers crossed’ approach. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but with no time restraints it didn’t seem to matter I didn’t have any sort of ‘system’ in place.
With ‘The Gift’ the pressure is on. There’s a timeline from my publishers pinned above my desk documenting not only when my editor expects it, but also the copy editor, the proof-reader and the typesetter.
Knowing I have to make the most of every second I have left to work on my manuscript I’ve turned to some best-selling authors for their favourite editing tips and they have helped me enormously. I do hope you find these useful too.
“It’s my favourite part of the writing process. First drafts are precarious, but once I have a first draft, I can work on it to my hearts content! I tend to go through my work many times, making changes as they occur to me, saving each draft new once I’ve made substantial changes. I usually end up at about 20 drafts in this way. I don’t look at specifics with each read through, but tend to look at each sentence and look for where it could be improved or cut. It’s a lengthy process lasting weeks or months (even years). I’m less keen on the proof reading stage though… that’s when it becomes tedious for me.” Louise Walters
“I always print out the structural edits and work on the small stuff first. It is very satisfying to start putting lines through things while your mind continues to work on the bigger stuff. Anything after that, I work on the document itself. I always have a full read through after making changes. It is amazing to me what can still be missed. Blood Lines had been read by me, Julie, Keshini, copy editor and it wasn’t until I was finishing off the copy edits that I realised I’d named two different children in the book Tommy. Also, how can editing use up the same amount of calories as writing when it is much harder work?” Angela Marsons
“My editing goes through several stages, the first is to read through looking for over use of certain words, phrase repetition and clunky or lazy sentences. After that I’ll read through again several times, fine tuning it. I find it really helps to have a few days break between the read throughs, otherwise you stop seeing what you’ve actually written and see what you think you’ve written, which can often be two different things.” Sue Fortin
“I edit as I go, which means I take forever to get a first draft down! Then when I type ‘the end’ I wait a few days/weeks (depending on time – won’t have THAT luxury with this next one!!) and read through from the beginning. That first read through/edit usually involves me picking up the spelling/grammar errors (that are noticeable to me!) Also on the first edit I’ll write notes as I go for bigger things that I’ll need to go back and alter. That might be continuity errors or a chapter needing to be swapped for novel to read more smoothly. I might highlight chunks of text too if there’s something that needs to be fact-checked or if it needs extra description adding in later. The second edit will be sorting the issues the first read-through picked up! Then I’m likely to send the MS to two of my trusty writer friends to read and they will use track changes to highlight anything that doesn’t make sense to them (they might suggest a better way of saying something), and they highlight any grammatical errors/typos I’ve missed. They also comment as they read with questions/thoughts about the story, which helps me to see where further work may be needed. So, I’ll work on that feedback during the third edit – then send to my agent. I’ll relax for a while before she sends back all of her feedback and line edits! And then the editing begins again…” Sam Carrington
“I am not very good or fond of editing. I’m dyslexic and have a poor relationship with grammar but none of that stops me from writing. Stephen King say that “The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story.” I write because I love it and editing is a vital step in polishing your work. I read through a few times, after I’ve finished my first draft, and try to pick up on mistakes or strengthen the plot where I see gaps. But I rely on friends, family, other authors and my editor to guide me through the final stages. If you write from the heart then the rest of it should fall into place, with a little bit of help.” Betsy Reavley
“The best tip I was ever given was to go through and highlight words that you know you use a lot – it’s shocking when you see that one word sprinkled all over the page! Then I can go through and change it to other, more exciting words!” Lisa Hall
“If I’m doing a detailed review (i.e. after I’ve accepted the changes on the proofread, before the conversion/typesetting) I always print off a clean copy and go work on it somewhere other than my study. I find a change of scenery as well as working off paper instead of a screen helps me really focus on the detail. I highlight the error and put a sticky-note on it then once I’ve finished the whole thing I go back to the screen and make all the changes at once.” Kelly Rimmer
“I download my manuscript to my Kindle for a final read-through, and it’s surprising how many errors pop up, even though I’ll have already read it several (hundred) times. I’ve also been known to read out loud in an Aussie accent (the postman caught me doing it once and looked scared). All ways to fool the brain into seeing things I’ve missed before – and my brain is easily fooled.” Karen Clarke
“I like to read through it a few times and make notes, then I fix the document as far as I can. I then like to print the document out and stick colour coded post it notes on the errors I find. Whether it’s a pink post it note for dialogue change, a green post it note for plot points I need to check or an orange post it for punctuation. I find when I read it through on paper and I can scribble thoughts on it, it doesn’t take me out of the story and I see something different to when I stare at it on a computer screen. Even after all of that there will still be things that need changing but at least I will have done as much as I can. The biggest and most useful advice I can give is – don’t start editing until you have a complete first draft.” Katerina Diamond
“Make a list, read multiple times and hope for the best.” Renita D’Silva
“Always, always print out on paper. At very late stage, always find something potentially libellous, factually incorrect that sends me into a huge hot sweat and cannot believe that I have only just noticed it.” Kerry Fisher
“I always print it out. My thing is that I highlight in green parts I should’ve mentioned earlier and purple those that need to show up later in the book. Orange font for the stuff I’m not sure of. That was before Scrivener, of course! I read it several times, one for sp/ gr, one for consistency/ continuity and the finally time for the general FEEL of the story.” Nancy Barone
“I read through on Kindle, making notes for changes. I make those amendments … and rinse and repeat. When I feel reasonably ‘happy’ I print off and also get my husband (who is an eagle-eyed sub editor….handy!) to read through separately. I ALWAYS find things when reading on paper that I don’t spot on screen. Hubby and I are both journalists by background so it gets quite competitive (and funny) at final stage. ‘You spot anything?’ ‘Aaaaaaagh! HOW did I miss that?’ Even after the ‘final, final’ copyedit/line edit…I always do a quick extra read through on Kindle…and usually find something. Perfectionist? Moi? Er…trouble letting go?” Teresa Driscoll
I edit each chapter as I write it. I print it out, go through with a fine tooth comb for structural stuff as well as anything grammatical. Once I’ve got about six chapters together I send to my Kindle and go through it again, before doing the same for the next batch. I send the whole thing to the Kindle and that helps pick up any further nits, before it goes to my editor for ripping to pieces! Actually, there was very little grammatical stuff to edit when the first lot came back and she said how “clean” it was. But I had to add a few more scenes so that made it a bit out of plonk while I made certain dead people didn’t suddenly re-appear after burial. lol. I think I have editing OCD and wish I could just get on with writing the story! Pam Howes
I’ve printed and not printed. But either way it’s an endless slog of repetition really. I re-write/correct every day the stuff I did the day before. Then two days later I might re-write again. That’s probably why my word count is so incredibly slow these days! When the edits come back, I do the big structural stuff first, and then start to go through with a fine tooth comb. Even when I get the final, final version I still find mistakes. It’s one of life’s perennial unanswerable questions – why can we never see all the mistakes at one time? Debbie Rix
“I print, read, change, print, read, change, print, read RUN OUT OF TIME.” Claire Seeber