004. Professional Editing

Updated: May 24, 2021

In my previous blog I talked about drafts and how I take a blank page, dump my raw thoughts onto it, then gradually mould it into something coherent before applying the polish and finesse. Once I have received the feedback from my beta readers, and applied their comments to my third draft, I am finally prepared to speak the dreaded words out loud: ‘This is now good enough.’

Importantly, it is not the end of your work, but the start of professional intervention. But, of course, there are many types of editing and, when I first started out, the options blew my mind (and threatened to blow my budget).

As a traditionally published author, you do not really have to worry about any of this as it will all be taken care of via the publishing house (at their cost). As an indie author, I had to foot the bill myself so it was important that I understood what I was spending my money on because, to be honest, I couldn’t afford each option.

Like anything, until you’ve experienced it, the thought of editing can be quite daunting, so I thought I would discuss the various editing processes and share my experience with each.

Manuscript Assessment (sometimes referred to as a Manuscript Appraisal)

This often gets conflated with developmental editing because both are a high-level appraisal of a manuscript, but there are some differences.

A manuscript assessment is important as it ensures you are on the right path before you fork out any money on more detailed editing. It is particularly important if this is your first book (or your first book in a new genre). For subsequent books of the same genre, or part of a series, we can skip this type of edit.

For my Adventure Quest books, I did not bother with a manuscript assessment because I had a very clear vision for the niche I was writing in. There are not many interactive adventure books targeted at 6 to 10-year-olds so, in essence, it was up to me to decide what was suitable. Also, there is not a vast market for self-published children’s books which gave me a lot of creative freedom.

For more established categories, there are expectations from the readers which should be fulfilled and so, with my ‘child with superpowers’ story, I needed guidance.

When I sent off for a manuscript assessment, they gave me the opportunity to point to any specific areas of concern or ask questions which would be addressed as part of the assessment. I submitted my full manuscript and, 6 weeks later, received a four-page assessment, which was split into the following areas of focus:

· Presentation – focusing on how the submission was presented, how the manuscript was formatted, quality of the synopsis/cover letter, if there was anything missing and/or surplus to standard submission requirements.

· Targeting – How well the manuscript was suited for the target market (you specify the target market in the submission).

· Writing style – How well the writing flows, its suitability for the target audience, the type of voice/style of narration used.

· Characterisation & Dialogue – An evaluation of the protagonist, antagonist and periphery characters, use of dialogue tags and quality of the dialogue.

· Plot and Structure – The structure of the story, how quickly the story arrives at ‘the problem’ and if the structure pertains to the traditional framework a reader would expect.

· Summary – A brief outline of the key points above. It is here that any questions asked during submission will be answered. The summary should indicate as to whether or not the manuscript is ready for public consumption and, if not, what the next steps should be.

The conclusion for my ‘child with superpowers’ story was that it was well pitched at the target audience (6 to 10-year-olds), had a suitable writing style and a good use of characters. The reviewer particularly liked the main protagonist and felt that the number of different situations I could put him into were limitless.

Unfortunately, the reviewer had a major problem with the plot (and rightly so). I was so focused on the background of how the protagonist acquired his super powers that I had created a plot which was more a series of remotely connected events rather than the traditional (and expected) structure of ‘a problem is introduced and the hero must overcome that problem’.

This meant that the book needed a substantial re-write to make the plot work better. I am pleased to say that, while the process was arduous (it felt like starting again, but worse), I am now left with a story which works much better. During the re-write, I mopped up a few more issues I had spotted along the way.

It was very worthwhile and, in the future when I write a book in a new genre, I will be sure to do this again.

Developmental Editing (sometimes referred to as Conceptual Editing)

A developmental edit is similar to a manuscript assessment in that it focuses on high level details relating to the manuscript however it is much more detailed. If the manuscript assessment is a canapé, then the developmental edit is the main course.

I have not experienced developmental editing, but my understanding is that you will receive an in depth and comprehensive set of notes relating to specific areas of your manuscript rather than an overall report, with examples, such as I received.

Line Editing (sometimes referred to as Stylistic/Comprehensive Editing)

As the name suggests, this is where your manuscript is placed under the microscope and analysed line by line. If your manuscript needs a substantial re-write, or requires large structural changes, then there is no point moving to this point.

When I wrote my Fantasy Premier League (FPL) book, I did not go for a manuscript assessment or developmental editing. Here, the subject matter was niche and, as someone who has lived and breathed it for 17 years, the matter of content, structure and flow was best left in my own hands. What I needed was someone who could dig deep and examine each line.

My editor, Ian Howe, is a big football fan and has previous experience of editing sport non-fiction works but he had no familiarity with FPL. This turned out to be the perfect combination. Ian knew enough about the core subject that the knowledge was there for him to draw from, but he was not tainted with knowledge of FPL. This meant he didn’t suffer from the same blind spot I had; he immediately noticed any terminology which only FPL aficionados would recognise but which would deter a newcomer.

Ian did a full line edit of the manuscript. This was done in two passes. The first pass was for Ian to acquaint himself with the structure and content of the book and to read it with the eye of a first-time reader rather than focusing on the nuances of the text. The second pass focused on errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar as well as ensuring consistency of style and voice throughout.

Editing was an element of the book’s creation I was dreading but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

First Ian sent me a style sheet to fill in which took care of all the style preferences. For example, I wanted all numbers less than 10 to be written as words and all numbers above to be numerical (nine and 11).

Two weeks later I received the manuscript fully edited as an MS document with tracked changes and comments. Where something was technically incorrect, Ian simply corrected it. Where something was confusing, could have been worded better or displayed use of overly FPL-centric jargon, Ian would highlight this with a ‘query’ which was a comment in the margin which I could read and then respond to by clicking a button. Once I had dealt with all the queries, I saved it as a new document and send it back to Ian.

After a bit of back and forth, the manuscript was fully edited. Ian sent me two copies. One with tracked changes and another ‘clean’ version and that was that. My manuscript was done.

Proof Reading (Copy Editing)

Proof reading and copy editing, while similar, are not the same thing. Traditionally, proof reading happens when the book is fully formatted and typeset and a physical copy (a proof) is then read to check for any errors which have escaped the editing process.

Copy editing happens before this but effectively both processes are looking for any mistakes which have been missed throughout all the stages of author drafting and professional editing. Remember that the very act of editing is likely to introduce new errors which weren’t previously present in a manuscript.

With my Adventure Quest books, I did not opt for any form of editing but I did have it professionally proof read. For a long time I was seriously considering publishing the book without professional intervention, but I am so glad that I did because my editor found a bunch of mistakes I had missed.

Read your book out loud

When all this is done, before you hit publish, the final check is to read your book out loud, slowly. This will hopefully mop up any mistakes your editor has missed (because yes, they can make mistakes too). This will feel arduous because by now you will, frankly, be sick to death of your manuscript. But you owe it to your readers to ensure the product they have buy is of the highest quality.

Post publication errors

If you are self-publishing and you notice (or are informed of) errors after your book is published, then it is not the end of the world. On Amazon KDP you can easily upload the new (error-free) manuscript and, within 48 hours, the revised version will be available to anyone who purchases your book.

Please share your editing experiences in the comments below.

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