So you have your first draft finished and would like to polish it up so it’s ready to publish. Authors’ opinions vary on what to do at this stage of the game, so this isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. What I’m going to do is offer my opinion.
1. The initial look over.
This is where you have others look over your story, but they are not the people who will edit your book at the final stage. They are the first ones to seek out.
I say this because you will probably rewrite portions of your manuscript depending on what these people say. There’s no point in editing over your work when you’re only going to rip through it to change things.
I suggest using at least one of the following resources for the initial look over, though it’d be best to do at least two:
a. Content Editor
A content editor will look at your overall book. They will check for pacing, setting, characterizations, style, etc.
b. Critique Groups
You want a group (preferably small) that will be honest but also kind. So when they’re saying what doesn’t work, they are also adding what does. There should be an underlying feeling of support and a high level of comfort. You might not be comfortable at first. It’s normal not to if you’re new to it. But as you go along, you should feel more and more comfortable sharing your work with the group and offering your own critique to their work.
c. Beta Reader
Another option is to have a beta reader (or beta readers) go over your book. Let them know it’s not polished so they’re warned. If you want, give them a list of things you want them to look for. Otherwise, you can get their general input on what works and what doesn’t in the story.
It’s important to have at least one person on your editing team who will not read the book through the eyes of a writer or editor.
Why? Chances are, most of your readers will be non-writers. And believe it or not, non-writers catch the heart of the story and can help fine-tune your voice in ways writers and editors can’t. Writers and editors have been trained to think “rules of writing” while reading, and this can hinder their ability to see the very soul of the story and appreciate your voice. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard writers and editors tell me they can’t read a book for enjoyment because they have their “red pen” out whenever they read. Beta readers who aren’t writers or editors are that much more important because of this.
2. Now that you’ve had the initial look over of your book and have polished up the things the team has found, go through the story again by yourself to tighten it up.
In this stage, you are doing the following things:
- look for typos (ex. misspelled words, words that should be there but aren’t, etc)
- inconsistency errors (ex. the heroine changes eye color in the middle of the book)
- eliminating sentences that don’t add to the plot or are repetitive (ex. if you already said someone was cold in the paragraph above, there’s no sense in doing so again)
- adjusting your word usage (ex. clearing up any confusing sentences; “I go now to the store” is changed to “I’m going to the store now.”)
- making the story easier to understand (ex. if the hero was walking down the street in one paragraph and driving a car the next but you never showed him getting to the car, you need to add him finding a car and getting into it)
I like to print the entire story on paper in 14-font Times New Roman with 1-inch margins on each side. Yes, it’s a lot of paper to go through, but I find the particular font and size with the white space on the edges to be helpful in catching the most errors.
Mark the changes on the paper then go to the computer to fix the errors in the manuscript.
3. Now you can go to your proofreaders.
At this stage, you’re done with the structure of your book. So it’s time to clean up the smaller things that are still there. I guarantee you, at least one typo made it through stage 2. This is why having someone else look it over is important. It needs to be someone who hasn’t read the book yet so they are coming at it with fresh eyes. It doesn’t matter who this person is as long as they are good with details. You need someone who can pick the smallest of typos at this stage.
4. The final read through.
You will change what was caught in stage 3 and go through the book a final time. This stage can be done in several ways. You can listen to it by using the text-to-speech feature on your kindle or the Adobe program on your computer. You can print it out again on paper but use a different font and size. You can read it aloud. You can have someone read it to you. Or maybe there’s a method I haven’t mentioned. Do the method that most appeals to you.
After publishing the book, someone caught an error. What now?
Even after going through this extensive process, you might find a typo or two after you publish the book. The reality is, no matter how many people read your book over and how carefully you go over it, it’s possible to miss something. Don’t sweat it. It’s okay. Despite what some nitpicky people will have you believe, this is not the end of the world.
Just quietly go back to the story, fix the typo and upload the updated version. You can do this on the KDP dashboard, over at the Nook, at Smashwords, and other places without unpublishing the book.
Remember, it’s okay to be human. No one is perfect. Don’t let people get you down if they catch one or two typos in a full-length novel. Worse things have happened. And fortunately, this is easy to correct.
If you are with a publisher, the book is out of your hands, and you can’t change anything yourself. Most publishers will not go back and correct errors in a book.
Excellent post, Ruth! This is very good advice.
Plenty of good tips here. I wish I followed them more closely myself!
I wish I had done this early on. I think it’s a learning process to figure out what works best for us in our particular situation. 🙂
Well, I’ll definitely try to incorporate this more into my work process as time goes on. Thanks.