How To Self-Publish Your Novel Professionally – Step One: Editing

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I posted something similar to this before, but I want to go more in depth now, so we’re going to start with the first part of the story. The content. This is the simplest part, but it’s the easiest to get wrong. Technically step one is to write the novel, but we’ll pretend editing is the first step. (If you haven’t written a novel I don’t know why you’d be here in the first place.)

What you really need for this part is an editor. Freelance editors are easy to find if you have internet access, and if you’ve been blogging about writing or reading for long enough you’ve probably come across some editors in your time here. Pick someone you trust who has good reviews/recommendations that’s within your price range. If you’re not sure about them, ask if they can do a smaller chuck of your work to see if you can work together alright.

Another option is to obviously get an editor that works with an agency, but that will be more expensive and those editors are bound to be more selective. Some won’t take submissions unless you have an agent. However, once you decide to hire an editor, your life is relatively easy. You just need to work with the suggestions they make and correct highlighted mistakes. Bam, you’re done.

Note: Do NOT try to haggle down the price unless it’s $10,000 or something ridiculous. These people are trying to make a living. You wouldn’t like it if someone said, “Oh, you’re self-published, that means your book isn’t worth more than X amount” so why would you do that to an editor?

However, I know that a lot of people who are just starting out don’t have money for an editor, and you know what? That’s fine. We can’t let money stop us from being in the publishing game, so here’s how I prepared my novel.

First off, I finished writing. Then I let it stew for a while before going back and making changes on my computer. For the second draft, I printed it out and looked through for mistakes. I also rearranged scenes, cut out parts that didn’t fit well with the story, and worked on my characterizations. I typed it all up and then read through it another time, again fixing any mistakes I found. By then, it was looking pretty polished. I printed out a proof copy and gave it to my mother to look for mistakes (she’s not really the best or most observant of beta readers, but hey, I didn’t have anyone else). Finally, I printed out another proof copy for myself and am going through fixing all errors that I find, including extra spaces after hyphens, quotes that face the wrong way, saying her instead of his…. all the fun little things that can easily slip by. It will be my last run through the novel. There were other drafts with minor changes in between, but that’s the gist of it.

If you noticed, I wasn’t nitpicking things for my second draft. Or my third. The first thing you look for should NOT be grammar and spelling, though you can fix that too if you pick up on it. You HAVE to look at the content of your novel. Does the plot make sense? Are your characters consistent throughout the story? Are there things that your readers wouldn’t understand? Basically, is it a good story? Does it make you want to keep reading? Are there things you have in there that sounded good while writing, but don’t really fit anymore? It can be hard to cut out scenes and characters that you’ve grown fond of, but it’s for the best in the end.

A beta reader would be useful at this time, but they won’t always want to look at it if the grammar is a hot holy mess. Finding people to read your novel might be hard. You have to make them want to read it, otherwise how will you convince people to buy it once it’s published?

Now, if you don’t know a lot of grammar rules, Google is going to be your friend for these steps. Look up common mistakes or buy a grammar for dummies book. Ask a friend who is English-smart to look over your work (even if you can only convince them to read two chapters at most). If you’re no good at grammar, do NOT say “Oh, it’s okay, it’s just grammar, my story will still be okay.” It won’t. It really won’t.

I read a wonderful story that had little to no editing and it was absolutely terrible. I couldn’t give it a good review because I will not recommend a book that is hard to read. Bad grammar makes a book hard to get through. If on your first page you use the word “alot”, no one is picking up that book. I cannot stress enough how important editing is. If you can’t do it yourself, wait to publish. Either learn about grammar or find someone to help you out (assuming you don’t have money for an editor).

Here are some tips for editing your novel:

  • While reading through the first few chapters in your first draft, make a note of which mistakes you make and how often you make them. If you always forget to use a comma after a dialogue instead of a period, that’s something you know you have to focus on when reading the rest of the story. If you mess up affect/effect a lot, search your document for every instance of those words to ensure you didn’t miss them.
  • Don’t read it through all at once for a grammar run through. For plot/characterization this is fine, but you don’t want to get caught up in the story when looking for errors. Read one or two chapters, take a break, then come back. Each chapter should be fresh. Also, avoid editing while sleepy or drunk. You will not do a good job.
  • Don’t write in all caps, overuse/underuse dialogue, have character react unrealistically to things for the sake of the plot, use words that would be found in the verbal section of the SATs, or write a series for the sake of writing a series (as in, not because the plot calls for it, but because you want to stretch it out).
  • If you don’t have a deadline, set your novel aside for a while. Months, weeks, however long you want. Come back to it and read it again as if it was entirely new. Try to see it like a reader would.
  • Read more. Especially novels in your genre, but any reading will help (assuming it’s news articles and blog posts rather than tweets and craigslist ads). Reading improves your skill in the English language overall.
  • If you have gone through less than three drafts of your novel, it’s not enough. I don’t care if you think it’s the next Harry Potter/50 Shades/(Insert popular novel here), edit it again.
  • Do not treat beta readers as slaves. Beta readers are those people who agree to help you look over your novel. If you’re not paying them, they have no obligation to get back to you. They don’t have to catch every mistake or even read the whole thing. Many beta readers will mysteriously disappear, either because they weren’t that into your story or you were abusing them. Remember that beta readers are an asset. Cherish them.
  • Finally, only send your novel to people that you know you can trust. I’ve personally had my novel stolen (more info here) just from having it on FictionPress. The easiest way to prevent this is to only send it to those you know, but to also only send bits and pieces of it. I put it in a PDF file to make it a bit harder to just copy and paste everything. The best way to ensure that no one can steal your work is to register with the U.S. Copyright Office. To register online is like $35. It will be more once you factor in paper and ink to send in the physical copy of your work, but you have to do this anyways. Get a copyright for your work. Do it. Do it do it do it. Seriously. I’m sending mine in later this week. It’s important. Seriously. (Have I stressed enough that you should do this?)

Next up: Step Two: Cover Image.

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4 thoughts on “How To Self-Publish Your Novel Professionally – Step One: Editing

  1. Fabulous article! I have written my first book, edited it quite a few times, but then I let it sit and hibernate for a few months. I am now ready to come back to it and I will employ some of the advice you have offered. I really appreciate your help! Thanks, Sharon

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  2. Great advice! I’m currently thinking about hiring an editor to help me with one of my novels, but after going through your tips i may try do a couple more run throughs myself before I get to that stage. To me editing is daunting! But I much rather get it as far as I can before allowing someone else to come in and help me out.

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