Editing and Revision: Polishing Your Manuscript

Ask the Authors (Round 2)

1375930515977128357Coloured question marks.svg.hi

We all want our writing to be the best that it can be. Our stories are our creations, our children, and as good parents and creators, we want them to be as close to perfect as possible. And so we toil over it endlessly, trying to find just the right words to make our stories shine and stand out.
Our Ask the Authors panel will be discussing just that this week, the editing process and why it’s necessary, and whether the expense of hiring a professional editor is worth the money. Our panel members this week include: Mark Shaw, RA Winter, Dan Alatorre, DeAnna Knippling, Jordan Elizabeth, Tom Johnson, Lilly Rayman, Amy Cecil, Cynthia Vespia and Margareth Stewart. Let’s find out how they handle the tasks of editing and revision.

I know by the time my book reaches the editing and revision stage, I’m often so tired of looking at it, that the thought of going over it once more, or even a few more times makes me say, “Ugh!” But, if I set the manuscript aside for a while and then try an tackle it again, in the end, I always come out with a better story than I would have had had I not taken the time to edit and revise.
How do you feel about the editing and revision process? Do you love it or loath it?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Not crazy about it but necessary. All writers are re-writers, that’s part of the job. With Denial of Justice, probably at least 300 drafts, at least.
RA Winter
RA Winter Hate editing and revisions but they always pay out in the end.  I usually have a vision and my process is very weird.  I write a piece that is long-winded, combine, cut, cut, smash, then keep the best parts. I overwrite my first draft knowing that it will need a heavy hand.
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre I used to hate it because it’s tedious and boring, but now I see it as a way to improve. I have pretty tight stories that move quickly, so there’s less trimming necessary, and I’ve learned to trust my partners. When they say I need to cut a scene or even a chapter, I hesitate but I cut it.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak It depends?  I often end up getting into discussions with my ghostwriting clients about the edits they request.  I try to champion the reader when I get edits back from an editor–will this benefit the reader? Or will it cause logical issues, plot holes, and strange jumps in emotion?  I don’t stress too much about the line edits I get; comma ci, comma ca.  Of course I dislike the edits that require massive changes, but sometimes they’re just necessary.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan I love the opportunity to make the story better.  I always take into consideration what my critique partners and editors say.  Sometimes I feel a bit wounded at first, but I set the feedback aside, wait a day, and look again.  I’m better able to address the issues when I have a clear head.  The thing I loathe most about the process is changing something to fit an editor’s needs, and then having the editor want something different after the rewrite.  So long as its all good in the end, I’m happy.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture It’s a necessary evil. Believe me, left on my own I can make mistakes. And I never see them because I see what I think I wrote, not what is actually there. Editing and revision is a must in my opinion.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman Meh! LOL. Depends on how much I enjoy the story and how much time I have spent on it. Some stories I just absolutely love, and don’t mind going over it again and again, improving it, making it better. Others I just want out of my hands ASAP. Lol.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil It really doesn’t bother me at all. My editor does the hard part.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy It’s a necessary evil but it’s not my favorite part of the process.


What roles do alpha readers, beta readers, critique partners, editors, or proofreaders play in your editing and revision process? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) Publisher provides editor and proofreader when book reaches that stage.
RA Winter
RA Winter I do each step above.  Alpha readers are key for me.  I have a tendency to let my humor take over and sometimes (read often) it’s just too much.  Alpha readers pull me back and give me a ‘what’s working and geez, RA, cut the humor’.  Critique partners are my first line of attack.  They concentrate on each chapter and give reader reaction, plot development, and interest.  Moving forward, next is the beta readers. Sometimes, if a beta read doesn’t give me the required feedback that I want, I’ll submit my piece for re-crits of certain chapters.  I have an editor/proofreader that I found and you can’t have her, well, you can, but I love my editor. She’s the best at catching every little grammar mistake but allowing me to keep my voice.  I rely on my editor and take her advice in all things.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Huge, each of them. My process is: I create an outline then write chapters and send them to my critique partners, getting daily feedback while I continue to write the rest of the story. Then I incorporate their suggestions, then send that revised MS to another CP who acts as editor. Then after any additional changes, the MS goes to betas, typos and other minor errors get fixed, and then it gets released.

alpha readers – my critique partners are pretty much my alpha readers and editors, as explained below

beta readers – this step is huge. My stories get read by a group of betas (post CPs and post editing) to see if the story is tight and to spot typos or errors. Each will see something the others didn’t, too. I love my betas.

critique partners – I used to be in a free online critique group, which I joined because I was told helping others would sharpen my own skills. It worked. After a few years, I quit that group and started my own (on a pay basis), and I began editing for others for a fee, but I still have a few key people from those days that I rely heavily on. They are basically my sole CPs and editor(s) now.

editors – I reciprocate editing with two other bestselling authors, so we hold each other to high standards. Using them is what makes my stories so good.

proofreaders – I use my beta readers as proofreaders. It’s like crowdsourcing, and they are good at it.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak When I first started out, I tended toward asking everyone’s opinion and trying to take what they said as gospel.  I also spent a lot of time explaining to everyone why their opinions were wrong!  Hah!  I’ve seen that with a lot of newer writers, too, so I guess it’s just part of the process.  Now I tend more toward getting fewer opinions–a good editor is worth their weight in gold, obviously, but a bad editor can drain your will to live.

 

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan After finishing a novel, I send it to my critique partners.  Once I’ve addressed their comments, I send it to my publisher.  My publisher then sends the book through an editor for 2 edits, and then a final proofreader.  I hate it when a typo or two still slip through!

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Now that I am self-publishing, my manuscripts are gone over by my wife. She goes over my manuscript before it goes anywhere, and she is good about catching wrong words, misspellings, and bad grammar.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I have a critique partner who helps me with my second edit stage, and editor on hand that I ask for all those pesky little grammar rules and to make sure I get things right, and then I slip through my own manuscript and apply them. My shorter stories that I write for anthologies I send to my editor, and I use the feedback on my editorial mistakes and learn from them, doing my best to avoid them in my larger manuscripts.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil Once I’m finished writing I send my manuscript to my beta readers before anybody else. They provide me with their suggested changes and most of the time I go with their suggestions. Once that is done, then it is off to the editor for two rounds of editing.  Once the editing process is done then it goes to my arc readers. And then it’s published.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I generally use a professional editor for grammar, mechanics, and to ensure the story flows.


Editing can be expensive and many authors today cannot afford to hire an editor. Some authors do their own editing to cut corners, although that can be a little like a doctor treating himself or a lawyer representing herself in court – we become blind to our own words and see them we intended them to be, overlooking many errors. Another set of eyes can be critical. Some authors join critique groups or writing groups and find their beta readers there. And traditionally and small press published authors likely have editors provided for them by their publisher.
How do you handle editing? Do you hire someone? Trade off with someone? DIY? Have a publisher who handles it?
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) A writer should never do a final edit before publication; money well spent to hire someone to take an objective look.
Dan Alatorre

Alatorre I use a combination. If I let my MS rest, I can catch a lot of mistakes. Between the CPs, the betas, and a final edit (I trade editing with two other bestselling authors), my MS is good to go. I do this for these reasons: 1. editing is expensive, but most stories need better pace more than they need commas in the right place, and few editors do as good a job at pace than I do/my CPs do;  2. Money spent on editing – often $750 – $1500 – would be better spent on marketing; and 3. My team does a good job, but I’ve read plenty of professionally edited manuscripts that (A) have errors and (B) don’t have errors but the story is boring because the pace sucks.

Write a gripping, fast-paced story with interesting characters readers care about, and you can have missing commas. Most editors fix the commas but most writers need the story fixed. MS Word will alert you to a lot of mistakes if you let it, and there is a lot of free online software you can use if you are worried about passive tense nonsense. If you use an editor, deliver them as clean a MS as you can by using the steps I’ve discussed first. It’ll save you money.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak I’ve done pretty much every option at some point or other.  My current preference is for advanced readers and a proofreader for novel-length work.  Short stories tend to get a little more fast and loose due to deadlines.

Jordan Elizabeth

Jordan My publishers all handle the editing process.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Before I started self-publishing my books, publishers supplied editors to go over my manuscripts. Now I do it myself, but with my wife’s help.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman As a self-published author on the smell of an oily rag budget a 130K word manuscript can be very pricey to have edited. My critique partner is a wonderful help in the editing and proofing of the monster sized stories, and I use my editorial feedback from my shorter, professionally edited ones to try and avoid my errors. Like I said, I see them as learning experiences and use them to improve. But I ALWAYS have another set of eyes go across my manuscripts to check for final proofing before I hit publish.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil I hire someone to do my editing, I don’t trust myself, and I think other authors are way too critical and read more into content and they do actual editing. Although my editor helps me with content he is less biased than another author would be.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy I’ve worked with in-house editors at the publishing house; I’ve done it myself; and I’ve hired a freelancer. Of the 3 I preferred the in-house editor. I believe it was because she was on a retainer so she gave my work more attention than the freelancer who seemed to rush through it. I’m not saying all freelance editors are that way but you get what you pay for indeed. As for doing it yourself, I have done that to cut corners and it always comes back to bite me. Inevitably a reader will find a mistake.

Margareth Stewart 

Margareth Stewart I do everything. First, I edit it on myself. Then, I apply some online media resources, like “Prowritingaid” for instance. When I can´t find any mistakes, but I know they are there, I send it to a professional editor for line editing and proofreading. While doing this, I test some excerpts of the book in writing groups so I can receive feed-back on plot, voice, and narrative. When I get it back, I start my submissions to publishers. When it is accepted by a publisher, it will be edited again. On top of all that, I have no mercy while editing, I cut and cut repeatedly until it is the core essential words within the book. My motto is “if there is an idea that has been said in a hundred words that can be said in ten; use ten.” I am very satisfied with it, I may not have a long book, but I have everything that is needed for an enjoyable reading!

Have you ever received edits which you felt showed that the editor didn’t get what you were doing at all? 
Mark Shaw
MarkAtSFTS (1) The Reporter Who Knew Too Much became a bestseller but the editor who first looked at it said it was disjointed, too much repetition, didn’t make sense in places, nasty, nasty. Publisher let me ignore those comments and published the book I wanted to write.
Dan Alatorre
Alatorre Nope. If I did, I wouldn’t worry about it. My stories are strong, and they aren’t meant for everyone.
DeAnna Knippling
deannak Yes, lots, but mostly from ghostwriting clients who want a certain type of book but didn’t explain that ahead of time, or who don’t know the genre all that well but think that it’ll turn a profit.  And some clients are frustrated that you didn’t write the book exactly as they envisioned.  But mostly edits that I receive from clients are very good.
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan It did happen once, and I brought it up with the publisher.  They assigned me to a different editor and we clicked instantly.  She understood the story and had a keen eye for details.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture Yes, I write in the old style, the way authors wrote for the pulp magazines, and more was allowed back then. Adjectives, adverbs, verbs, and colorful phrases. Editors want to eliminate a lot of extra words, but writing for the pulps paid a cent a word, and authors had to get as many words in as they could to make enough for a good paycheck. That’s not how we’re paid today, for the most part. Although I recently submitted a story that pays three cents a word, we don’t really need all the extra words. But I’m writing stories that would have fit in the pulp magazines of the 1930s & ‘40s, and I want my stories to have the same sound. Editors can’t understand that.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman I’ve had edits from an editor for an anthology that showed that they didn’t know what they were doing. Some people ‘think’ they know, but really they don’t. I think it’s important to get a sample edit done from an editor to see their work before you hire someone. My first book, I had three different sample edits done and quotes for the editing – one guy almost completely re-wrote my sample with all of his editing and totally missed the point entirely suggesting name changes to make characters easier for the reader to remember – I don’t think he grasped if I changed the names of my Egyptian gods, they wouldn’t be recognised as my Egyptian gods.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy Yes. I had an editor work on two different manuscripts and on the first one it was a more in-depth edit. When it came to the second manuscript they seemed to have hurried through it. I wasn’t happy with that at all.


Have you ever received edits that made you think the editor was totally off, only to find as you began to work through them, that they were actually spot on?

Dan Alatorre

Alatorre Sort of. My very first editor was trying to help me but I was too defensive about the story. I learned to not be defensive, and things got a lot better.

DeAnna Knippling

deannak Isn’t that how edits just go?  Like, when you first receive your edits, you go, “CAN’T THEY SEE THE VISION IN MY HEAD?!?”  No matter how good the edits are, your first reaction is to reject them!  Good editors still elicit this reaction from me; I just don’t say anything about it until later, when we can both look back and laugh.
I’d like to add a note:
I also do edits, so I’ve been on both sides of the table.  Most of the time, authors are very accommodating about edits, especially when it’s a question of getting their name in print!  But there’s something I’d like to note:  a lot of time when I’m working with an intermediate writer on a developmental level, I’ll have to stop and…unfix what a previous editor or critique group has broken.  I think a lot of writers have an almost pathological fear that their writing isn’t good enough, so they edit it to death, and let other people’s comments control what they choose to do with their work.  One of the reasons that I’ve pulled back from getting so much feedback (as a writer) is that I’ve seen too many clients (as an editor) who have brutalized their fiction in the name of achieving “perfection” at the cost of “good enough.”  A lot of the time, I’ll go, “You let a bunch of people comment on this, and I can tell; please send me a previous draft.”  If the previous draft ends up being better, which it often does, then I’ll have them work from that.
Here’s what constitutes “good enough”:
  • The reader can understand what’s going on.
  • The reader forms clear opinions about the characters.
  • The reader had a clear feeling about the ending.
The rest is all gravy, and of course you have to make sure your test readers actually like the kind of thing that you write before taking their opinions into account.  Another thing to remember is that an editor is essentially a super-qualified reader.  Your editor has to love the kind of thing that you write and in particular want to stand up as an advocate for your story in a positive way, or it’s going to be a train wreck!  You need a champion, not a book reviewer 🙂
Jordan Elizabeth
Jordan It has happened a time or two.  Many of my stories, like GOAT CHILDREN, are personal, based off real events, and to have an editor say something is unrealistic (even though it really happened) or to change around major points can be tough to hear.  I did utilize all of the feedback, waited a few weeks, and reread the story.  Changing those points did make it stronger, and the story wasn’t a memoir so it didn’t feel too dishonest.

Tom Johnson

Tom's Back Cover Picture That’s hard to say. Yes, the editor is qualified to make those changes in the modern style, but are they destroying what I am doing by making me follow modern writing, instead an eighty-year-old style I’m trying to imitate? There’s no easy answer here.

Lilly Rayman

L Rayman My favourite editor, the one who puts up with me asking for clarification of grammar rules. At first I was confused with some of her suggestions, and then when I queried her on them – yes, you can challenge your editor and ask them to clarify – and she explained WHY something was as it was, I nodded my head, filed the information away and worked to keep that new lesson learned first and forefront in my mind as I move forward with my new works.

Amy Cecil

Amy Cecil No, my editors help me think outside the box at times and two right in areas that are far out of my comfort zone.

Cynthia Vespia

colorheadshot - Copy For the most part the editors I’ve worked with did have some good feedback. But its the readers who have given me the most food for thought. For instance, my last book Karma has some well developed antagonists that seemed to take over the story. It told me 2 things. (1) I need to punch up my hero characters and (2) The antagonist needs a story of their own!


What I take away from all this is that having a publisher to take care of tasks such as editing, so the author doesn’t have to worry about it is great, although it doesn’t offer much choice as to who you work with, and then your faced with deciding if their suggestions hit the mark or not. For independently published authors, it seems that if you can afford an editor, it’s probably well worth the money, but on a tight budget just being sure that more than your own eyes comb the manuscript, whether in the form of critique partners, alpha or beta readers, or exchanging edits with your fellow authors. (No, your mother/spouse/children do not count. We’re talking about a trained set of eyes, not someone who is expected to say they love it whether they do or not.) Just be sure that whoever reads and comments on your manuscript, they are a good fit for your work. And remember an addage my M.F.A. instructor, Russell Davis, pounded into his students heads. “Don’t take it personal. Their criticism is not about you, it’s all about the work.”

Like this post? Subscribe to Writing to be Read for e-mail notifications whenever new content is posted or follow WtbR on WordPress.


3 Comments on “Editing and Revision: Polishing Your Manuscript”

  1. It is always interesting to read how other people do things like editing and what they think of the process. I am so used to getting comments and feedback and doing re-writes from my day job that I don’t worry about editing at all.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s