My house was recently under construction. Chaos, tarps, and paint fumes everywhere! During the month-long process, we decided to paint the ceiling and a few accent walls before the new floors were put in, the last thing on the construction to-do list. We freely painted the walls without a drop cloth, letting our bright orange paint stain the old floor. If we had decided to paint after the floors were put in, we would have had to cover the entire house in tarps. By painting first, we saved ourselves unnecessary work and worry.
Writing a book is like building a house. First, you collect and organize your supplies. Second, you roll up your sleeves and construct your book; this is the blood, sweat, and tears of writing. Finally, once the structure is built and the walls of your chapters have been hammered in, you can paint the walls, put in the carpet, and cover up the electrical sockets. These final steps are the editing process.
Both building a house and writing a book are hard work. Well worth it, but hard! This is why you want to make sure you are editing in the right order.
Always begin your editing with focusing on the big picture. Does the structure of your book hold up? Would you rather tear out this wall and have a combined kitchen and living room? In this stage, you may end up chopping up your novel and piecing it back together. You will probably shuffle around some paragraphs and you may even move or delete entire chapters! You don’t want to spend time and money on painting a wall you are just going to take out. Save the painting, or minute copy editing, until you have fully developmentally edited your book.
Here are some sample questions and tips to help you move from big picture developmental editing down to copy editing:
- Ask the big picture/structure questions first:
- Do you have everything you need to fully explain your thesis?
- If fiction: Does your plot build up towards a climax? Is the climax in the right spot to build the most tension?
- Does the flow of thought makes sense across entire book?
- Does your book need to be re-ordered?
- Are there any repeated sections?
- Then move on to the consistency questions:
- Are all your chapters and sub-sections are roughly the same length?
- If fiction: are your characters consistent? Do their dialogue and actions reflect who they are?
- Does the pace of book pull the reader through? (does not lag partway through)
- Do the chapters end with a satisfying conclusion and transition to the next chapter?
- Is your tone consistent? Right? (e.g., Friendly and casual? Formal and academic? Too cute or overly humorous? Harsh or condescending?)
- Finally, make sure your manuscript follows the components of good writing:
- Use grammar/spell check (but know it won’t catch everything)
- Sentence type variation
- Sentence length variation
- Active voice
- Show don’t tell
- Use imaginative vocabulary
Final tip: Take advantage of the services of a developmental editor as well as a copy editor (and proofer!) to help you refine your manuscript before publication. (Check out our blog on Why Your Book Needs a Developmental Editor). They can save you a lot of headaches along the way!
Also, check our out workshop, happening Sept. 24th, 2016 in Gig Harbor, Washington: So You’ve Got a Story, Now What: Steps to Publication. Learn hands-on from our team how to navigate the publishing process (traditional or self). Includes a delicious lunch and a beautiful waterfront location!