Editing the Heck out of Your Indie Novel – Part One: The Extra Mile

2008-01-26 (Editing a paper) - 31

If there is one professional service that indie authors should be spending their money on prior to publishing their books, it’s editing. Unfortunately, many (too many) self-published authors don’t do this. Some think they don’t need to. But many of them, especially in the beginning, simply can’t afford to.

If you fall into the latter camp, does that mean you shouldn’t publish your book? No. But it does mean that you shouldn’t publish your book until you’ve gone the extra mile (or five) in the editing process. It means you shouldn’t be in a such rush to share your story with the world that you neglect these steps, and it means you should NEVER shrug off manuscript problems thinking that if the story is good enough nobody will care. Because let me tell you something about mistakes in indie books:

PEOPLE CARE.

Sure, I have yet to read a book from a major publishing house that didn’t have its fair share of typos or other errors. I also have yet to read a review of any of these books that mentions said errors. But for some reason, reviewers tend to hold self-published books to a higher standard, and no matter how much they love your story, they will mention errors in their reviews. Some will even deduct points, or those coveted stars, because of them. A bad edit, or no edit at all, can hurt sales and harm your reputation as a writer.

Worse yet, it contributes to the perception that indies are basically one big slush pile unleashed on the masses and that only books that have been vetted by a major New York publishing house are truly worthy. So please: do us all a favor and GET YOUR BOOK EDITED.

So back to what to do if you can’t afford a professional edit. I’ve been there with both of my novels, so I’ve got some experience in this — and overall it’s been a good experience. Not to say that either of my books were perfect the first time I put them on the market, but what errors were pointed out in reviews were few enough and minor enough that I’m pretty confident my self-editing method is about as effective as it gets (oh, and as soon as I notice a reviewer point out an error, I immediately FIX it, then republished the book — that’s not something traditionally published authors get to do). Hopefully, by sharing my method here we’ll have fewer barely-edited and rushed-to-publication books winding up on the market.

There is a lot of great advice out there already about how to edit your manuscript. The thing is, most of it is by established authors, most of whom either are or have been traditionally published. They are primarily concerned with getting your manuscript to a point that an agent or editor will want to read it, presuming that if it gets accepted by one or both of those then it’s going to go through another round of editing (or several) with the publisher.

But as an indie author, you ARE the publisher. That means that you’ve got to go through the whole process as a writer–and then go through it all AGAIN as a publisher.

This means a lot of drafts. It takes a lot of time and there’s going to come a point where your eyes feel like they’re going to melt and leak out of their sockets if you have to look at that blasted manuscript one more time. But stick with it, because I promise, it will be worth the extra effort.

This is turning into a monster of a post, so I’m going to stop here and split it into three parts. Next week, we’ll get into the nitty-gritty as I start going step by step through my editing process.

Do you have any questions for me about the editing process? If so, leave it in a comment. If it’s not already addressed in the next two parts of this series, I’ll do a follow-up Q&A post at the end. Also, I’d LOVE to hear any editing tips you have to offer.

Ready to start editing? Proceed to Part Two.

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5 thoughts on “Editing the Heck out of Your Indie Novel – Part One: The Extra Mile

  1. When do you know when to stop? I recently did ANOTHER edit since I read that each 10,000 words is 10% more cost. My friend read it and thought I over-edited? She said she could tell b/c some of the paragraph transitions seemed choppy. So, back to the ms, for ANOTHER edit run through. But it’s a fair question. How do you know when it’s too much? AND Kristen Lamb mentioned “Fish Heads,” Like chopping the first 100 pages? Not sure I can do that, but maybe the first 2 Chapters, but then how do you make up the lost info? Anyway, here’s my short synopsis. I would LOVE help if you chose mine 🙂

    Enter a world of big band jazz, dance halls and malt shops. 17 year-old Violet struggles to balance her troubled father, seamstress job, and growing passion for a “jitterbug” sailor who moves her to distraction by “expertly shifting his leg between hers, delicately pushing her into intricately guided dance steps.” They race against his deployment and her grifting father to win a dance contest and tie the knot before WWII interrupts.
    Half a century later, another 17 year-old ingénue discovers dirty martinis, old jazz, vintage clothing, a skirt wrapping around a warm thigh on a crowded dance floor. Before leaving for college, June’s mother drops a bombshell: her recently deceased grandmother is not her biological one.
    While navigating college and unsuccessfully researching her ancestry, she finds an antique jitterbug dress which may lead her to the one person she’s been looking for, and an unexpected quest to find the woman’s long lost dance partner.
    “The Girl in the Jitterbug Dress” is the parallel story of two young women struggling with budding sensuality, new independence and recent loss, united across generations by a 1940’s swing dress. (140,000 wrds- unpublished)

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    1. That’s a great question. But I have to ask, what do you mean by more cost? In self-publishing, unless you’re going through a vanity press, I don’t really see how that’s an issue. If you’re publishing through a POD publisher like Createspace, then thickness of the book has a slight bearing on the wholesale cost, but their wholesale writer’s copies are pretty cheap and I don’t think it makes that much of a difference (although it might increase shipping costs a little). As far as publishing e-books, size really doesn’t matter.

      I would say, unless you’re going wildly off the rails of what’s expected as far as word count range in your genre, or you’re writing for a publication with a maximum word limit, or you’re publishing traditionally and an editor tells you to, then don’t edit just for a reduced word count. Of course, it’s good to tighten up your prose, but do that so that each sentence and paragraph is as strong as possible, not just to reduce the overall number of words.

      I don’t think I’ve read the “Fish Heads” post, but I imagine Kristen Lamb is talking about the fact that most first drafts start way too early in the story. You want to be sure to start as close to where the action begins as possible. If your first few chapters contain a lot of information and back story, then it’s generally better to cut those chapters and work that info in throughout the story, having it come up in character conversations or even using flashbacks if necessary.

      As far as when to stop, with my method, which involves sending it to different beta readers after every pass, when the beta readers start telling you it’s great and stop pointing out problems, it’s done.

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