You’ve finally finished the first draft of your first manuscript. Congratulations! This is no small feat, and you should celebrate. But what’s next if you want to publish your work? Whether you intend to pitch your manuscript to agents or independently publish it, your next step must be editing.
I’ll admit, I had no idea about the scope or intensity of the editing process when I finished my first manuscript. I knew I’d need to pay attention to spell-check and let a few people read it to catch any mistakes, but I didn’t understand that the book I’d saved as Final Draft, would eventually be sent off to the publisher titled Final Draft #12 – no, really, this is the one!
Editing is a crucial activity and one that must be taken seriously. Essentially, there are three types of editing. How you approach them will depend on your individual path to publishing, but eventually, your manuscript will need all three. Here they are in a nutshell:
- Developmental editing: Think of developmental edits as big picture edits. A developmental edit identifies plot holes, character issues, places where the writing drags, or where something doesn’t make sense. You may work through several rounds of developmental edits before you feel the story is just right.
- Copy editing: A copy edit will assure consistency throughout the manuscript. For example, if a character has brown eyes in the first chapter but blue in the fifth, or if you set a scene up in the middle of the night but mention the broiling heat of the sun, a copyeditor will catch this. A copyeditor will also identify overused words or phrases, correct grammar mistakes, and essentially polish the manuscript.
- Proof-reading: A proofreader will give the manuscript a final look before publishing to find typos and small mistakes. I always proof-read one more time after the proofreader, but I’ll admit to a little OCD!
So, that’s a brief outline of the types of editing your manuscript will need, but it doesn’t capture the emotional challenge inherent in the process. Enter some of the fuss! Writers are artists. Our work is personal. Editing opens up our beloved creation to criticism, and that criticism often feels personal even when it isn’t. So, how can we navigate the emotional storm of editing? For me, three things have helped:
- Trust: I only have a few beta readers who read early versions of my manuscript. But these few are invaluable to me. I trust their judgement. I know they appreciate my writing style, but they’re also willing to call me out when my bad habits show up or something isn’t working. I’ll talk more about beta readers in next Thursday’s post. I also trust my editor. She connects with my work, really appreciates it, but gives it a thorough, spot-on critique.
- Distance: When I finish a manuscript, I am so invested it the story, and so exhausted from getting it out on the page, that I have no perspective. I have to put it away and work on something else while my editor has it. This gives me the space I need to objectively work through the edits later.
- Practice: The first time I realized that a developmental edit might mean I had to change entire plot-lines, re-work a character arc, or cut 15K words, I was overwhelmed. But having been through it a few times now, I know I can do it. And I know my book will be much, much better for it.
If you are pitching your manuscript to agents, be sure you’ve polished it as much as possible before you submit it, and understand that it will go through several more rounds of editing before publication. If you are independently publishing, don’t cut corners. Either way, take the time to be sure you are sending your best work into the world. Good editing is worth the effort!