Monday, September 30, 2013

My Editing Process

My editor recently returned my manuscript with her markups. She uses both Track Changes and Comments. I dread using the Track Changes option, but I’ve learned a few shortcuts, and I wrote about them a while back.

Looking at a 355 page manuscript full of markups and marginal notes is daunting. However, since I wrote the book one word, one scene, one chapter at a time, I tackle my edits the same way, but I prioritize the types of edits and deal with one category at a time.

First, I scroll through the manuscript taking care of all the obvious fixes. My editor will make changes in formatting—she might break a paragraph into two, or combine two into one. Sometimes she’ll add italics, or change a word. These are usually straightforward, and I accept almost all of them.

As I go down the comments, I’m not re-reading the manuscript, but simply hopping from one change to the next. I’ll look at the suggestion in context, but generally these are grammatical, so I don’t need to read more than a paragraph or two. When I come to a comment I’m not sure I agree with it, I simply skip it. I need to deal with the “brainless” ones first. And, this also gets me back into the book, since I’m 19 chapters into another one now.

Then, I’ll consider some of the comments that are suggestions to reword a sentence, or find a better word. Those, too, are usually handled quickly and easily. In this manuscript, she pointed out that she thought I used the word “one” a lot and told me I ought to see if I needed all of them. I did a Find (remembering to check the ‘whole words only’ box) and discovered I’d used the word “one” 377 times.

So, I went through the entire manuscript again, evaluating each instance. I noticed that I said “one of the…” in a lot of places where a simple “a” would suffice. No need to say, “he rested one of his hands on her shoulder” when “he rested a hand…” is clear enough. Readers know how many hands my characters have.  It also tightens the writing by getting rid of unnecessary prepositional phrases.

Then, I deal with questions. She’s asked whether two hours have actually passed in a scene, or whether it’s night or day. Have I mentioned what color that character’s eyes are before page 273?  Maybe I have, but if she’s forgotten, then a reader will probably have, too.

She’ll point out that I need better transitions in places.  Or that I need to show a little bit more about the setting, or characterization in a scene. Those require rewrites, and I save them for last, again prioritizing so I can do the ‘easy’ ones first.

Lastly, I take on the places where she thinks I’ve dropped threads. This is the content type of editing, and I think it’s the most important. Line editing might be tedious work, but it’s the content editing that makes the story hold together. Too many people say, “My wife edited my book, and she’s got a keen eye. I know  there are no typos.” But that’s proofreading, and unless that wife also can evaluate content, plot, and characterization, it’s not really editing.

And, after I finish the edits and rewrites, I'll print a hard copy one more time. It's amazing how much more you can see when you're reading on paper, not a computer. 

Terry Odell is the author of numerous romantic suspense novels, mystery novels, as well as contemporary romance short stories. Most of her books are available in both print and digital formats. She’s the author of the Blackthorne, Inc. series, steamy romantic suspense novels featuring a team of covert ops specialists, the Pine Hills Police series, set in a small Oregon town, and the Mapleton Mystery series, featuring a reluctant police chief in a small Colorado town. To see all her books, visit her website. You can also find her at her blog, Terry's Place, as well as follow her on Twitter, or visit her Facebook page.

27 comments :

  1. I'm lucky in that I get this sort of feedback from my critique group. There is no replacement for other, educated, eyes looking over your manuscript to catch things you inevitably miss. It is particularly hard to revise when you are sick of that story and in the middle of another. But I find that during the revisions I fall in love with it all over again.

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    1. My crit group offer feedback as I write, but I still want a professional editor to look at the entire ms. She's reading it "fresh" and all at once.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  2. I agree with you about printing out the work. It's so easy to miss errors on the computer that stare out at you in print.

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  3. I've mentioned my other 'tips' for hard copy reading before -- 1. Use a totally different font. 2. Print it in columns -- changes the line length and new stuff pops out. You have to 'fool' your brain.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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    1. The different font (and size) is important to me because I'm such a nazi about paper use, one printing is about all I can cope with. Even though I recycle.

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    2. This is Dani - I'm apparently in hubbo's email account. ;)

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    3. I recycle as well; I print my final read manuscript in a smaller (different) font in columns and on both sides of the paper rather than use recycled paper for this pass. (By mistake, I once sent my accountant a form I'd printed on the back of recycled paper, and it turned out to be the last few paragraphs of a sex scene. He said he really enjoyed it)

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  4. From what you described, we go about our edits much the same way. Get the easy stuff done, then spend more time figuring out the complex.

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    1. I like to make the easy changes first, even if those pages might not end up in the final ms, because once it's "clean" the editing process is so much more heartening. It's somehow easier to see what's still wrong with it.

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  5. Thanks for your tips, Terry.

    "It's amazing how much more you can see when you're reading on paper, not a computer."

    I use different colored highlighters for this part of the process, and I don't fix anything on the main MS until I've reached the end.

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    1. Kathy -- that's more of what I do before I send the manuscript to my editor. Once I get her edits back, I fix them 'as I go' but in several steps. Then I'll re-read it making notes and go back and fix those once I finish the read-through.

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  6. Wow ... that computer-based editing thing is intimidating ... my editor was old-school ... she applied 'the blood red pencil' liberally, so my manuscript came back looking like a Forth of July celebration ... I'd make the changes and send it back ... we'd go back and forth like that until the manuscript just looked more like just a kid's birthday party ... then it was just a little final sanding ... and viola ... it was done.

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    1. I got such a late start in writing that everything was done electronically, so I'm used to editing on a computer for drafts. And, my editor usually doesn't want to see anything more than once more, unless we have to discuss a plot thread or something more major than where to put the commas.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  7. I usually do several read-throughs on my computer, making corrections and changes. Then I do a print-out and edit that. You really do see things differently on paper than on computer.

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    1. I do all that, too, but once I reach that point, the manuscript goes to my editor for fresh eyes and a better knowledge of the CMS.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  8. I swear we are connected by some karma, Terry. So many of your approaches to writing and editing are in tandem with what I do. It's almost scary. LOL I particularly liked your comment about the wife editing, or really proofing. Too many new writers depend on someone just to catch those typos and simple mistakes, and you are so right about what help a good content editor can be. I have had the pleasure of working with two really good editors and know they have made my books so much better with their input.

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    1. It seems to be a good system, Maryann, so I'm not surprised when others use it, too. I think my crit partners are pretty good, and they catch a lot of technical stuff, but I want people to love my stories, not my punctuation, so a content editor is vital.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  9. Even the best writers can miss stuff. I just read an ARC that seemed to have a hanging dead character... no pun intended. And no resolution of how or why he died. Knowing the author, I'm so surprised, I'm rereading to make sure I didn't miss something.

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    1. And that's a problem we can never solve--readers who for a myriad reasons get distracted or have to put the book down and then they've forgotten information we worked so hard to get onto the page.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  10. Thank you for sharing your process, and I think it will work for me.
    Cheers,
    Margaret

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    1. Margaret -- glad to help, and feel free to adapt to make it work for you.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  11. Great article - I've bookmarked it to come back to time and again. And you've highlighted a pesky phrase I didn't even know I used until you caused me to search for it. "One of" has now gone into my list of things to search and destroy :)

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    1. Amazing how those overused but invisible (to us) phrases sneak in when we're not looking--and when we get rid of them, new ones are ready to jump in to take their places.

      Terry
      Terry's Place

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  12. I do not like Track Changes and have never been able to use them efficiently. "Nough said about that--except that I need to learn how to do it right. The organizational manner in which you address the suggested edits makes excellent sense. Creating some form of organization amidst my semi-controlled chaos is at the top of my to-do list. :-)

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    1. Linda - I'm with you, but it's one of the things we have to deal with as writers working with editors. Most use Track Changes. If you follow the link at the top of this post, it'll take you to another post I did about track changes, which in turn will lead you to an older one where I have a few more hints.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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