31 July 2012

How to be a published writer: Step 4

Step 4: Edit and proofread.

Only after I've completed one or two revisions and have judged a work "good enough" (because it will never be perfect) do I turn my attention to editing and proofreading.

As I wrote in "Every writer needs an editor," when it came time to edit and proofread my novella, I couldn't trust myself to do it. My head was so much in it that I stopped seeing what was on the page. I noticed as I tried to read it for the billionth time that I was skipping over whole sentences or even entire paragraphs. I needed an editor's help.

A quick note on terminology here, because there are at least three kinds of editing--developmental editing, line editing, and copy editing--and then there's proofreading too. "Oh my!" I hear you say. "What's the difference?"

In a nutshell:
  • Developmental editing - Helping with earlier stages of the writing process, possibly as early as idea generation up through revision.
  • Line editing - Making specific suggestions (i.e. rewriting) to help with organization, clarity, fluidity, etc.
  • Copy editing - Correcting spelling, punctuation, grammar, syntax; ensuring manuscript follows conventions of appropriate style guide (e.g. MLA, AP, APA, Chicago), if applicable.
  • Proofreading - Seeking and destroying typos; making sure everything looks right on the page (consistent fonts, formatting, etc.).
(See also this great article on the difference between copy editing and proofreading on dailywritingtips.com.)

So in this stage of the working-toward-getting-published process, what I'm referring to are the last three: line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. And I strongly recommend you get some help with this. There are professional editors like me (shameless plug!), or you can enlist the aid of a friend or relative (or two) who have strong editing and proofreading skills.

If you have strong copy editing and proofreading skills and are not in a hurry to publish, another way to get around hiring an editor is to sit on your piece for a while. Not literally, of course. What I mean is that you could put it away for a period of time and come back to it when you've more or less forgotten what you (thought you) wrote. How long--a month? three?--depends on how long it takes you to get your head out of it so you can see it objectively again. I've heard of authors putting their manuscripts away in a drawer for as many as ten years before they bring it out again.

Since I cannot yet afford to hire an editor (oh, the irony!), I used a combination of methods when it came time to edit and proofread the novella. A fellow writer and I have agreed to trade editing services, so first I sent my manuscript to him. For copy editing and proofreading only; I was clear with him that I was not open to developmental or line editing suggestions at that point in my process. He caught a couple things, which I corrected. And then I put the book away for a month. When I came back to it, I no longer found myself skipping over sentences or paragraphs. I could see the writing with a more objective eye and tend to the detail-oriented task of copy editing and proofreading myself.

To be honest, though, I'm still a bit nervous about it. I'm sure there are errors that escaped our notice. So when I can afford to hire an editor, I will. And I'll have more faith in the final product as a result.

Previous posts in this series:
Step 1: Write
Step 2: Share it
Step 3: Revise

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