Blocking time and different types of editing – what does it take to edit your novel?
There are many types of editing that I’ve been exposed to, and not only do they have many names, but also overlap in function and many are re-visited in the publishing journey. There is no rule of what you must do, but it is advisable to develop your own process to have your manuscript publish ready. The more steps you include in your vetting process, the more professional your novel will appear. And we all want to give ourselves the best possible chance of success.
It can be daunting to hand over your book baby to someone else to critique, but I’ve put together some information that may help you view the process objectively and put you on the road to publishing success:
Contextual edit (Substantive or Developmental edit also called a Structural edit) – This type of edit is best done by a professional in the publishing industry. They should concentrate on story structure, organisation, coherence, logical consistency, relevance, continuity, world building, and character development. It’s ‘big picture’ thinking over your novel. To make sure it makes sense. That the basics are covered and you have a sound structure to build off.
This type of edit can be done on a partially completed manuscript, or a first draft. It’s about shaping the concept.
Story structure is about making sure you have a beginning, middle and end. Identifying the themes of your novel, its genre, and clearly plotting things out like the heroes (protagonist) quest and the obstacles they overcome. Ensuring a turning point (or points) and the climax of the storyline.
Organisation deals with a logical sequencing of your plot/paragraphs. You may switch and reorganise chunks of text to create a better flow to your story and cut other parts completely.
Coherence and logical consistency are all about making sure the story makes sense. That it follows a clear train of thought. That ‘voice’ or narrative style is consistent. Or that character perspectives are consistent and definitive from each other if including more than one point of view. This can also help identify tense, active or passive voice, show don’t tell, perspective (first person, third person, third person removed/omnipresent) and ensure each of these remain consistent throughout the manuscript.
Relevance refers to judging if the sentence/paragraph adds to, or drives the plot forward. Whether it helps develop the character, or sets a scene – otherwise it should be cut so as not to drag the pacing of your novel.
Continuity deals with the following up of events, mentions, dates, passage of time, names of characters and so on. For instance if you state early on in your novel that a character hides an object in a place, that it is resolved in some manner. Like tying up all the plot points. That Wednesday follows Tuesday. That the descriptors used for each character remains consistent throughout. This is a great step to eliminate plot holes and inconsistency within the physical world of your novel.
World building deals with how you introduce the reader to the rules, mythology, and description of the setting of your novel. How much is too much description? How much to suggest so the reader can use their imagination to fill in the gaps? This is important to ground your story and create a set of parameters in which your characters interact with each other and their physical environment. Again, show and don’t tell usually come into play where you are uncovering facts about the characters surroundings, or getting to know other characters through experience rather than a long paragraphs of info dumping.
Character Development is also an important aspect. You want the protagonist of your story to be impacted from the obstacles he/she/it faces and change from the experience. This also ties into motivation of the character – why do they do the things they do? What is driving them towards the goal/climax of the story? It not only adds for interest for the reader, but gives a sense of completion and the ability to connect with the character through a shared experience. At this time attributes of a character can be addressed. Aspects like race, gender, sexual orientation, special abilities, able-bodiedness, financial resources, social hierarchy, mental/medical ailments or disorders, physical characteristics, age… elements like these help paint a more realistic picture and add interest for the reader.
Word count – Depending on your genre, how you are publishing your work, and market trends, it may be identified that your manuscript may be too long or too short. In this stage of the editing process you will need to identify a word count goal (usually decided by your publisher) to work to. Publishers use this to not only stick to a budget when dealing with the cost in printing, or to meet an expected length commonly accepted by the targeted demographic. Word count will differ per publisher, genre, target audience and relevance to your manuscript.
A professional can complete a contextual edit from anywhere between three days to a couple of weeks depending on the length of your manuscript and how much work is needed. Editors also charge per word, so be sure to get a quote before committing.
Line edit or Copy edit – Where the abovementioned edit deals with larger issues of the story and structure, a line edit, or copy edit deals with intricacies in how it is delivered. Issues like grammar, style, repetition, word usage, and jargon come into play. As does relevance (again).
Grammar focuses on sentence structure, the sequence of words and their meaning. Style refers to the tone and feeling that your writing as an author invokes – something that is unique to your expression. Repetition looks at eliminating common words that frequently appear in your manuscript so that you don’t bore your reader with overuse of particular words. You can either rework the sentence or replace a word with a synonym to add interest and keep flow. Word usage usually refers to ensuring you are using a word in its intended context, that it makes sense, and that it does not confuse the reader. Jargon (and slang) can be polarising – depending on the intended format of delivery of your novel (i.e stream of consciousness) Jargon and slang are usually confined to dialogue, however if deemed appropriate, can be used in the narrative. The reason it’s not common practice is that because of the different culture and backgrounds of readers, you will be limiting your audience to those who are familiar with the jargon/slang you are using – and it messes with the voice and tone of your novel. Letting the reader create that in their own mind will help them relate to and connect with your novel. Excessive use of colloquial words may isolate your story from its intended market. Again relevance comes into play – ensuring each paragraph helps to drive your story forward and is not weighing down the pace of the novel.
A line or copy edit from a professional usually can take anywhere between three days to a couple of weeks depending on the length of your manuscript – as also will a content edit, or proofreading.
Content edit – Depending on the style and genre of your novel, checking on factual information and their sequence i.e. dates, places, references; fact checking may be of high importance. You want to make sure all of these things are correct. It adds trust, integrity, and professionalism to your name as an author. This type of edit is especially important in non-fiction.
Proofreading – Is done after the above edits are completed. Proofreading is a light form or editing primarily used to pick up minor errors: grammar, capitalisation, punctuation, spelling, and word usage. This can be done by anyone with a high competency in the language in which the manuscript is written, and who has knowledge in the topics mentioned in the novel. Obviously a professional is more adept and identifying errors and suggesting corrections.
Formatting – This step deals with text, ensuring layout is appropriate for the medium in which it is being delivered (i.e. script, novel, electronic media, etc…) You determine how the words will appear on the page/screen. Font size. Whether you are having chapter headings or artwork. Number of pages in the printed copy. Content to be included in the end pages. Margins from the edges of the page or screen. It’s all about the physical appearance of your manuscript.
Formatting takes as long as it takes – it is dependent on technology, software, and process for the intended delivery. But it should not take any longer than a few weeks at most.
Critical Partner – It is important to have at least one critical partner in your writing process. More if possible. A critical partner is usually another writing professional who writes in a similar genre as you do to help identify issues in pace, relevance, structure, impact, plot holes, potential triggers, flow, tense, and narrative style consistency. Commonly in the form of writer’s groups (or online groups) where you swap work for a critique for free. Its authors supporting fellow authors. It helps to have friends or professional associates within your industry, not only to become a critical partner, but also to be a resource of information, emotional support, and even a mentor in your writing process.
Beta reader – This type of editing comes at the end of the process mainly to determine the impression your story makes, or market reception predicted after publishing. Beta readers usually aren’t professionals, just readers for your intended demographic that will give you feedback on how your novel will be received. This can offer valuable insight of tweaks and issues that may have been overlooked and a valuable resource before spending time and money on publishing and marketing your novel.
The time it takes for a beta reader to complete offering feedback varies depending on their available time and reading speed. Some can get back to you in a couple of days, others can take longer than a month. But use understanding and manners when dealing with beta readers as they are usually doing it out of kindness. I usually touch base every few chapters for feedback while it is fresh in their mind with a list of questions on hand (and it keeps track of their reading.)
I’ve listed the types of editing in the journey towards publishing in a logical order, but of course you may cycle back up the list, or jump down depending on your needs, resources, and state of your manuscript. It will also depend on if you are following a traditional publishing route, or choose to self publish; and well, how much money you want to invest in this step.
Editing services can be expensive, and you need to identify an editor who works with your writing style. You can find editors endorsed by your states/countries publishers and writing associations on websites. Usually they are registered and vetted for you, and you can send a chapter or two as a sample to see if you are happy with their style and get a quote for your entire manuscript before deciding on services. Critical partners may also have suggestions for different types of editors you can use.
Sending your work out for critique can be scary, but you have to develop some objectivity and a thick skin to give your book baby the best possible chance to succeed. Do your research and take the time to get it right. I find this list (and process) handy in the writing process for self-editing – so I have the manuscript as polished as possible before sending it out to a professional. Hopefully to reduce the number of times I have to pay for services, and flex and grow my writing muscles.
What is your editing process? Do you have any resources you can recommend to fellow writers?
In the meantime, happy editing 🙂
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