Thursday, August 27, 2009

WORKSHOP: Revising Your Book

Revising your book is a important step in the process of writing a book.

Authors, Michelle Chester and Rhonda McKnight will offer their advice on revising your manuscript.

Revising your Manuscript
by Michelle Chester

So you’ve finally done it. You’ve finished your manuscript – the masterpiece of the millennium! The one you’ve spent months, maybe years creating. The temptation to print it out, pop it into a postal package, and ship it off to an agent or publisher is very tempting. I urge you to resist the temptation…for now anyway.

After spending so much of your time and effort in producing what you have so far, it would seem a shame to rush things at this crucial stage in your manuscript’s life. Once the first draft is done, an edit or partial rewrite is a necessary task.

Self-editing is a very important aspect of re-writing. I look at self-editing as a final housecleaning chore. Not a lot of fun when it’s done, but don’t you feel good when you’re done?

There is no better way to spot room or improvement in your manuscript than by looking at it with fresh eyes.

There are many different ways to edit and re-write, as many as there are writers. Some prefer to edit as they go. There are those who prefer to chop and change storylines midway through the creation process. Other seems to race through the first draft and spend time polishing it up once they’re done.

It makes no difference which technique you prefer, as long as it works for you. The point is to end up with a professional manuscript.

To start the self-editing process, print out the manuscript. Seeing your words on screen is one thing; reading your words in a different form means you will see it in a different perspective. You must also be able to see your work as an agent, editor, or even the reader sees it. Too much introspection or narrative all in a row with no breaks for dialogue or adequate paragraphing makes a reader skip ahead for some excitement. Sometimes you don’t notice this until you read your hard copy in the self-editing stage.

Next, read out loud. Okay, so this might look a bit silly to anyone peeking through your windows, but the point of this task is to bring out the natural flow (or lack thereof) in your writing. For this step, a notepad and pen will be helpful. As you read, don’t be tempted to stop and correct any redundancies, or awkward phrasings. Jot down anything you notice in your notepad but keep reading. Nothing will benefit your writing more than hearing it read aloud. You’ll discover nuances of rhythm and interpretation that the printed word will not show. You may also discover odd-sounding cadences that interrupt the flow. Whatever you discover, hearing what you’ve written will give you a sense of distance.

The self-editing stage can be as tedious as the writing stage. As you go through your self-editing, ask yourself the following questions. It can mean the difference between a sale and a rejection.

1) Are you telling instead of showing?
Showing keeps up your sense of immediacy and pace. Look at the examples below. The first is telling; the second is showing.

Telling: Genny heard chanting. The wind rushed about her ankles. Lighting struck nearby. Thunder shook the yard and woke the dog. He snarled.

Showing: The sound of chanting filled the yard, riding a sudden gust of wind that picked up Genny’s skirt and swirled them about her ankles. The ground shuddered with heavenly thunder. Lightening flashed close enough for her nostrils to flare with the heat. The dog started up from his sleep in the yard; a low, evil snarl erupted from his throat.

The only time when telling is better than showing is when you want the reader to experience the repetitive action in the same way your character does. For instance:
The nights were too short after endless days spent experiencing West Texas from the back of a horse.

We don’t show every day – we don’t need to- they’re all the same.

Remember the RUE rule: R.U.E. – resist the urge to explain. Show a character’s emotions by his or her actions instead of explaining how they feel.

Joanna was very, very angry.

Should be changed to:
Joanna slammed her palm onto the table. The china cup fell off the edge and shattered. She didn’t notice.

2) Are your dialogue mechanics sophisticated?

If you’re like most writers, you probably find that writing dialogue takes more thought than writing narration or action. Your characters come alive – or fail to – when they speak, and it’s no easy matter to put just the right words in their mouths. Here are some things to consider:

* Avoid ‘ly’ – …she snapped, angrily.
If you’re snapping, you’re angry. Look for the verb that will get your point across without needing an adverb to qualify.

* Get rid of any attributions unnecessary to understand who’s speaking.

* Use ‘said’ whenever possible. It fades into the background and is ignored by most readers.

* People cannot snort, laugh, or grimace words.

* Try using action to tell who’s speaking instead of attributions.

‘Just leave me alone.’ Genny turned away with a swirl of her skirt.

Remember: Ellipses…are for gaps, and dashes for interruptions.

3) Have you checked for sophistication throughout the novel?

You can easily learn a few stylistic tricks that will lend your writing that extra bit of sophistication that gives it an edge. These tricks range from avoiding legitimate constructions that have been overused by hack writers to finding alternatives to certain stylistics techniques that have virtually disappeared over the last few decades. Whatever it is that makes your mechanics sophisticated, awareness of them when revising will help your work look like that of a professional rather than an amateur.
One easy way to make your writing seem more sophisticated is to avoid two stylistic constructions that are common, namely:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.
As she pulled off her gloves, she turned to face him.

both the as construction and the –ing construction as used above are grammatically correct and express the action clearly and unambiguously. But notice that both of these constructions take a bit of action (“she pulled off her gloves…”) and tuck it away into a dependent clause (“Pulling off her gloves…”). This tends to make the action seem incidental, unimportant. If you use these constructions often, you weaken your writing.

Another reason to avoid the as and –ing constructions is that they can give rise to physical impossibilities. Consider the following:

Disappearing into my tent, I changed into fresh jeans.

The –ing construction forced simultaneity on two actions that can’t be simultaneous. Make sure the two actions connected by these clauses can be done at the same time. I’m not saying you should avoid these phrases altogether. But be aware that hacks have long ago run these useful constructions into the ground. Learn to spot them in your own writing, and, if you see more than one or two a page, start hunting around for alternatives. For instance:

Pulling off her gloves, she turned to face him.

Could easily be changed to:

She pulled off her gloves and turned to face him.

Or you can make an –ing phrase les conspicuous by moving it to the middle of the sentence rather than the beginning, where it seems particularly amateurish.

* Have you checked your general mechanics?

* Check spelling with a spell check.

* Make sure you’re using the right form of the word:

* Use active vs passive voice. Passive voice weakens any piece of writing, while active voice adds power and immediacy to your story. Instead of writing “the boat was tossed about by the rough sea,” replace with “rough seas tossed the boat.” Keep a look out for any section of passive voice and remove them, or replace them with a stronger alternative.

On a final read through, check words your spell check missed. For instance, you’ve typed ‘her’ instead of ‘here.’ Your spell check won’t get this because ‘her’ is spelled correctly, even though it’s not the right word.

In Summary, Self-editing involves an ability to look at your work with an impersonal eye. For some this can be difficult. The best thing to do is to let your completed manuscript sit for a month, then go back and do a final edit. Time and distance can give you a clearer view of your dream.

Always remember that the best books are not written, they are re-written.

Although self-editing is an important step in the journey of our manuscript, it’s also important to ask someone else to edit the document after you’ve finished self-editing. Don’t ask your spouse or mother, though; they’ll probably tell you it’s wonderful! A teacher may be excellent for spelling, grammar, and punctuation, but a reader of the genre may be better to point out loose ends you need to tie up in a mystery novel (for example). Someone who isn’t familiar with the subject matter may be helpful for a how-two book; if she understands your explanation, other readers probably will also. On the other hand, sometimes experts in the subject are best to ensure that your information is accurate.

Joining a critique group to get feedback from other writers may be helpful. I encourage seeking out a professional editor to help with grammar as well as content. The more eyes and perspectives you get on your work, the more likely it will be the best you can make it.

This may seem like a lot of work – and it is – but it you don’t edit your work…again and again, your brilliant advice or your exciting story will never have the impact you want on your readers.

Writing the first draft is only the first step – editing your work finishes the job.

Good Luck!

Michelle Chester
EBM Professional Services
A full-service firm specializing in content editing, copyediting, and proofreading
The proof is in the edit.

Editing Workshop
Rhonda McKnight

“To edit or not to edit is never the question, because the answer is always to edit. The question is what type of editing and who do I hire to do it.”

Editing – Three Types

There are basically three types of editing. Different words/names are used to define them, but editing primarily falls into these categories:

Substantive/Heavy Editing (sometimes referred to as developmental editing)
This edit is highly developmental in nature. It is used to coach or guide the author’s work to produce a better product. It will help get to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be fixed with suggestions on how to fix it. The editor usually does some rewriting at this level to assist the author in making the needed changes. Rewriting is a way of coaching or guiding the author in the right direction. However, most rewriting will be done at the beginning of the manuscript and the author is expected to learn from the examples and apply them to other areas of the project.

The editor will identify any weaknesses in story structure, character arcs, plot and sound. The edit usually will analyze your manuscript for key writing and story elements such as:

· Opening hook/inciting incident
· POV (point of view)
· Dialogue
· Use of dialogue tags vs. beats
· Description
· Distinct character voices
· Word usage
· Use of adverbs
· Identification of passive verbs
· Proper tense and consistency of tense
· Showing vs. telling
· Balance between narrative and dialogue
· Unique use of prose and identification of cliché statements
· Realism in character emotions
· Voice
· Scene structure--goal, motivation, conflict
· Pacing
· Redundancies
· Biased language/stereotyping
· Formatting

Copyediting (also known as Content Editing or Critique)

This editing involves the components of a substantive edit. The editor will tell you if the characters are weak, or the plot needs refining, if you’re using passive verbs or any one of the areas listed above. However, this edit will not include rewriting. You’ll be told what needs to be fixed, possibly be referred to books or websites that can help you and then it’s the author’s responsibility to work through the changes. Additionally, the editor will mark mechanical, grammar, and usage errors, red line for spelling, punctuation, and grammar, comment on awkward transitions, redundancies, and note inconsistencies with formatting, alignment, and spacing of text. This may also include fact checking if negotiated, but probably won’t be a finished proofread, because of course the project may still need work.


This is a review for technical errors that related to punctuation, spelling and typos.

Frequently Asked Questions: Hiring an Editor

Why do I need an Editor?

If you are self-publishing, you need an editor. Authors who are published through traditional houses have several benefits; one of them is in-house editing. You are our own publishing house, so you have to subcontract the editing. A good editor will most assuredly help you improve your novel. They will look at the elements of plot, structure, characterization and pacing. These are the things that will make or break your project.

Many authors, particularly self-published authors will hire an editor to provide proofreading when in truth the manuscript has larger structural issues or problems with characters or plausibility issues that are hard for the author to see because the author is so familiar with the story.

Can’t I just ask my girlfriend to edit for me? She’s an English teacher.

No. Your English teacher friend will certainly be able to proofread your project, find those out of place commas and misspelled words. But she won’t be able to determine if you have the right mix of narrative and dialogue, or tell you if your characters are properly developed and what to do to fix them. She may not be familiar with the Chicago Manual of Style and she most assuredly won’t be able to tell if you need to do more showing and less telling and how to improve the plot by strengthening goal, motivation and conflict. If you want a professional job, hire a professional who is trained to provide the level of expertise you need.

I can’t afford an editor. What do I do?

Delay the project until you can. Come up with a savings or fundraising plan so that you can pay for the service. Negotiate with the editor on payment. In this economy some editors will work with you. Ask for a better price, it can’t hurt. No matter what – you cannot skimp in this area. It shows and readers resent it. Remember, printed books are forever. What impression do you want to leave on your readers.

How do I find a good editor?

By referral; or if you don’t have anyone that can refer you to someone begin to seek out editing services online or look in the acknowledgement sections of authors books to see if they mention a free-lance editor. When you find one you are considering, make sure to have them give you a sample. With respect to samples, it may make sense to take advantage of free samples, but a free sample is usually for a very small piece of your work. It’s hardly enough for you to determine if the editor is right for you or even competent to edit. I recommend paying for a sample of at least 5,000 words. That upfront investment could save you lots of time, frustration and money on the back end of the project.

Interview that person about their credentials. How did they learn about the craft of writing? Ask for references from other clients and follow-up on those references. Make sure they have good things to say. If someone will not respond to an email about an editor, they probably were unhappy with the service. Ask for more references.

Look for competitive pricing. We all want a deal, but if the price is too good to be true. It’s probably too good to be true. A good editor has to put a lot of time into a project. Time is money. If you find a super low ball price, you may be getting
what you pay for.

You should NOT hire a freelance editor if…

You are a beginning writer

You are content with your current critique group and you get good feedback

You do not want to hear the truth about your work

You are prone to arguing with or getting angry at people who give you feedback on your work

You want someone to teach you how to write fiction

You want someone to write your novel for you

You don’t plan to make any changes to your work anyway!

Thank you for attending my session. I look forward to talking in the tele-chat.

Please let me know if I may be of service to you at Legacy Editing.

Rhonda McKnight
Legacy Editing

“Helping authors produce books that leave a lasting impression.”


Makasha Dorsey said...


I love this information. However, I don't lower my rates but I do work a a deliverable based payment plan that will fit the client's budget. This way I can still get my normal rate and help the client.

Jeanette Hill said...

Thanks, Rhonda! This will help me get the different types of editing right.

Shelia Goss said...

Rhonda, great workshop.

LaShaunda said...

HOST UPDATE: I added Michelle's workshop so if you read the post, reread to check out what she has to say.

Shawneda said...

Great post ladies!

Susan Falck said...

Nice workshop. It cleared up some things for me.

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