This website is, of course, to pitch editing services to writers. If you’re here, you’re either a writer or you follow me somehow on social media. In terms of business, I’m trying to replace Uber as a side hustle, one that lets me interact with other writers and doesn’t risk my car dying before the final payment.
Which means editing costs money. So do book covers, formatting, and other services a writer needs. Marketing can be a real cash suck as there’s no guarantee your social media maven can help you recoup your expenses.
On behalf of all the other freelance editors I know, we get it. Most of us are also writers, have been on a shoestring budget, and know the loneliness of exile in DIY Land. I still do. Wish I knew ten years ago what I know now about formatting and covers. (No, I do not offer those services. Don’t ask.) The one service successful authors and small presses harp on the most for the independent writer is editing. More over, even big name traditional authors will use them before submitting their work to their publisher. Copy editors at big houses are overworked. The less they have to do, the better. But you don’t have the sums it may cost for a line or copy edit. You most likely don’t have the larger sums for a developmental edit. So, while many are saying you have to have an editor, many writers are forced to do it themselves.
When I decided to go into science fiction and be the master control freak that I am, I did my own. I thought, “Eh. I can string sentences together. Beta readers, many of whom are closet editors, will catch the rest.” Um… No, that doesn’t really work.
I just took three novels off the market for clean-up and rerelease. New covers, combined with shorter works as bonus material, and fresh copy edits. Both The Children of Amargosa and Storming Amargosa show the signs of having a developmental edit without having a solid line edit after the fact. Someone else did the dev edit on Children while I did several of my own on Storming. In developmental editing, you’re not proofreading, doing consistency checks, or reading for flow. You’re restructuring the story. Essentially, it’s a collaborative rewrite.
Which means whether you just ripped your own story apart and put it back together with new parts, or someone pointed out the structural flaws in the story, you now have a brand new….
I once knew a writer who did not consider rough drafts to be first drafts. The first draft was the readable version of the rough draft. It’s not an opinion I agreed with, but it is one worth considering. Especially after you do a dev edit. The reason is you are moving scenes around. You are adding new material to replace old or to make existing material fit together. I heard one writer say she would never pay a developmental editor if it came back needing a line edit. That assumes all editing is created equal.
Dev edits, whether you do them yourself or have someone do them for you, by definition introduce new errors. If you’re paying others, you need to either hire at least a proofreader or have really picky beta readers.
So, if this post is about doing it yourself, what does that mean?
1.) When you finish a draft, let it sit. Yes, we’re in an age when indie writers have to get it out fast. However, that first one (and all the subsequent ones) have to be right. Second Wave, the second Amargosa novel, might have had three betas, but I didn’t wait. It had been a while since Children, and I wanted the sequel out, dammit! That’s never a good idea. Get it right. Or take up knitting. Otherwise, you’re wasting the reader’s time.
2.) Editors use editing tools. Hemingway, ProWritingAid, and even the built-in functions in Word and Scrivener give you a leg up. Someone once told me they didn’t need Grammarly because they had an education. I thought that was the most arrogant (and flat-out wrong) writing advice I’d heard since “Write what you know.” (I may rant about that rotting chestnut on the TS Hottle or Jim Winter blogs. Or both.) To shun editing tools is a sign of insecurity. Don’t brag about using a Mac if you’re too stubborn to use the tools the apps have built-in or are available for the platform. (And those apps, like those for Windows, are legion.*) USE THE TOOLS! You’re human. By definition, Francis, you will miss stuff.
3.) Betas are your buddies. Now, let’s define a beta reader. A beta reader is one who reads before the public does. This can be anything from taking it for a test drive (“I didn’t like the character of Joe. Have you considered making him a houseplant?”) to doing a line edit. If they go beyond that, someone’s trying to hawk their editing services without looking like they’re hawking their editing services. I’ve had two do that to me. The second one didn’t end well. (First one, I shrugged and said, “Well, edit for the author’s style, not yours.”)
4.) It’s more important to get it right than to get it fast. Yes, you want to be an author. I get it. I’ve been that person both traditionally and independently. The first novel is, for every writer, “My baby!” Trust me. My first novel is a book called Northcoast Shakedown, and unlike the four that followed it, I want that thing line edited before I republish it in the next couple of years.
5.) Things to look for that editors wish you would look for: Crutch words in varying degrees and pet peeves, adverbs, repeated words, missing words, missing letters, dictation mistakes for those of you brave enough. (Many writers prefer dictation. Others can’t wrap their heads around it. I’m somewhere in the middle.)
6.) Commas still matter. Learn the rules. The Chicago Manual of Style has sections available online. The Elements of Style is cheap in paperback, cheaper in ebook. Read them! Love them! They will save you grief later on.
*If you use Linux, you probably can write your own.