Saturday, May 19, 2012

Writing Tip - Editing and Proofing

Since I missed my writing tip this week, I figured I would make up for it today and discuss a topic that is first and foremost in my mind right now as I take my latest manuscript through final edits and proofing.

In my opinion, editing and proofing a manuscript (MS) are dwarfed in importance by writing a manuscript only because if you don't write a manuscript, you won't have anything to edit. In other words, editing and proofing are IMPORTANT! I think too many authors scrimp in this area.

I read On Writing by Stephen King and something he said about his writing process made such an impression on me that I never forgot it. He said he writes a draft of a story, then puts it in a drawer for a month or two before taking it out and running it through the first edit. Then he puts the edited MS back in the drawer, and a month or two later, he takes it out again for re-edits. He does this so he can read his MS with "fresh eyes." This is important in helping you catch more errors, weak writing, and plot holes.

In the age of e-publishing, it's a bit more challenging to take this kind of time, because readers want more stories, faster. So authors have to crank them out more rapidly than in days gone by. However, authors should still set a MS aside for a few weeks before editing it. It really does help. Having strong beta readers (God love mine) helps overcome this time-constraint issue, as well. Beta readers are the "fresh eyes" that can identify problems in a MS. The challenge is in finding beta readers who won't just say, "I love it." You want beta readers who will give you honest feedback and rip your MS to shreds looking for issues, proverbially speaking.

Okay, so that's the first part of editing and proofing. Here's the other:

Read & edit, re-read & edit some more, re-read again & edit some more, etc.

By the time a book is published, an author should have read it at least five times, preferably more.

Here's my typical writing, editing, and proofing process:

  1. Write the first draft
  2. Send to beta readers and let the MS "breathe" (I won't even look at it during this phase)
  3. First edit (I make massive changes to the MS at this point, taking into consideration beta feedback and my own notes upon my first re-read. I added 30,000 words to Heart of the Warrior during my first edit)
  4. Send to editor (I may tweak while my editor reviews the MS)
  5. Second edit (more massive changes are possible here, based on editor feedback and my own notes)
  6. Let MS "breathe"
  7. Third edit (significant changes, but not massive)
  8. Return to editor
  9. Begin final edit (I begin proofing at this point, but the final edit is primarily for the final changes I want to make to a manuscript)
  10. Send to proofreader (who happens to also be my editor)
  11. Final proofread (This is where I address my proofreader's notes and re-read the MS for a fifth or sixth time and refine the MS with tiny tweaks, such as removing or adding a word or phrase here or there, while I proofread).
  12. Format the MS for publishing
  13. Publish

Whew! Yes, I do this for every MS I write. For Rise of the Fallen, I think I read the MS more than ten times before publishing it. And I was still catching errors on the last read-through. For Heart of the Warrior, I'm on my 5th read, I think, and I'm in proofing. Notice that I run a MS through edits 5 times (I count proofing as an edit since I still make tweaks to the MS at that stage).

I have read so many self-published books that were riddled with errors in spelling, punctuation, and grammar, and when I see that I know the author either didn't edit or didn't edit enough. And that's a shame, because even a great story can't overcome sloppy mistakes that could have been fixed if a little time had been taken up front. When I see a ton of errors in a book, it unfortunately tells me that the author falls into one of the following categories: 1) Doesn't care; 2) Doesn't know and doesn't care enough to find out; 3) Only wants to make a buck without giving readers a quality product; 4) Is sloppy.

Now, some authors might get shitty with me for saying that, but when I'm reading, I'm not a writer, I'm a customer. And if I read a book full of errors, I won't buy another book from that author. And I'm not the only reader who feels that way, so take that for what it is. I mean, you wouldn't continue buying clothes from a designer when you bought one of their shirts and the sleeve fell off, or a brand of crackers you found bugs crawling in once. And remember the Tylenol scare? Another example: RCA used to be the epitome of home entertainment products. But they decided to cut corners and make "cheap" products (I know, I worked for them for a while), and now RCA is basically nonexistent. People stopped buying their products because it was obvious they were cheaply made and didn't work, and they ended up closing down several facilities and laying off thousands of workers. People don't buy services or products that are shoddy or that they perceive as shoddy. Books are no different, and just as consumers associate the once prolific RCA with the word "crap" now, they will associate a shoddy book with its author. They won't care if the bad book was a fluke, or that the author was under duress. They will only see "bad" in their mind and that author will be forever tainted. It's the reality, so please don't shoot the messenger.

Also, notice that I'm saying "full of errors." All books have errors in them. It's the nature of the beast. I'm not talking about books that have a few errors every 100 pages. I'm talking about books that have a few errors on EVERY page. And, yes, I've read books like that and wanted to throw my Kindle against the wall.

And on that subject, if a book's blurb contains errors, I won't even buy it. I read a blurb for a book this week like that. I was seriously considering buying the book, but upon reading the 2-paragraph blurb and seeing three glaring errors, I pulled back from hitting the buy button.

So, yes, editing and proofing are UBER-IMPORTANT!!! A well-edited book and blurb can make the difference between making future sales and losing your readership.

As a writer, I take how I feel when I'm reading and I apply it to my own stories. Seeing errors in others' work influences me to buy or not buy their future books, so I want to make sure my MSs are publishing as impeccably as I can make them. Editing and proofing are not areas of the writing process authors can afford to scrimp on.

Happy writing for happy reading!


  1. Wonderful informative advice! Thank you! I know exactly what you mean about not buying a certain book because of errors in the back-cover blurb. I feel the same way. It's almost like saying, "I suck, my editor sucks, my copy editor sucks, my publisher sucks, because not one of us caught these glaring errors! Just wait until you open the cover!"

    I have friends who are published and so many, many times these types of errors were completely out of the author's control and since the books were already sent out for sale, there's not much the publisher can or will do to remedy the problem. Knowing this, I try not to lay blame on the author, but still, it leaves a bad first impression.

    When an author decides to self-publish, whether they are already published through a publishing house or not, they are taking on all the responsibility of editing and leaving no one to blame but themselves. If the book description is written poorly, I don't bother going any further. If an author sucks at the summary, I won't waste my time even if the ebook is FREE.

    1. You're so right. And, yes, I'm more referring to self-published authors because they have to take on all responsibility for editing, proofing, and formatting. But even when a publisher is involved, unfortunately, it's the author who will be affected the most by poor editing.

      I wrote a short story last year, and when I turned it in, it was correct. The punctuation was correct, and the dialect of one of my characters was written correctly. Unbeknownst to me, the editor at the publishing house altered my work. They removed my italics and replaced them with single quotes. Ummmm, no. Single quotes are only used for quotes within quotes, which my italicized words were most certainly not. And they rewrote a couple of pieces of dialogue so that it was totally incorrect and grammatically just plain wrong. I was NOT happy when I saw these changes in the published piece, because I was never informed about them and never approved them. But, as the author, these changes (errors) reflected on ME, not them. It looked like I didn't know what I was doing, but that's not the case.

      The moral of that story is that an author should insist on being informed about editorial changes so they can approve/reject them. Those are their stories, after all, and any mistakes an editor makes will reflect on the author more than the editor.

      The other moral of the story is that self-published authors need to be wary of people calling themselves editors who have no training or education as an editor. Authors need to take more responsibility in the area of editing and proofing, because I'm finding that many people who call themselves editors are really just glorified proofreaders who know nothing of story crafting and mechanics. But even as glorified proofreaders, they aren't getting the job done and manuscripts are being returned to authors full of mistakes. This is probably the biggest complaint I hear from authors, that they can't find a good editor.

      Again, some people might bash me hard for saying that, but it's true. I've studied writing, editing, and proofreading for over a decade, and while I will never know it all, I do know that finding a good editor in the world of e-publishing is a challenging task. This is one area of self-publishing and e-publishing that needs major and significant improvement, and it means e-published authors need to know their shit when it comes to grammar, punctuation, spelling, and story crafting...because there is a good chance their editors don't.

      Yes, I am passionate about this thing called writing. It's not my intention to piss people off with what I've said here, but rather to protect authors and make them aware they need to be more responsible for their work than to simply trust someone who calls him/herself an editor. And it's to also raise awareness that these editors need to become better-trained and educated.

      There are people editing who have no business doing so. And when someone alters my work by using single quotes improperly and altering my grammatically correct work so that it becomes incorrect, it makes me look like I don't know what I'm doing, and that makes me angry. And I have every right to get angry, because that person is taking a portion of money from sales of my book, and they just made me look bad. Authors needs to get angry about this, in my opinion. They need to insist on a higher standard which needs to begin with them. If that means taking writing and editing classes themselves, then authors need to do that.

  2. I believe self-publishing can be an excellent tool for writers, but yes, they may need to take some classes, join critique groups and attend multiple seminars to perfect their style. Writing, as well as editing, is a craft. The stories may come naturally to some, but getting it down on WORD, or whatever program, correctly is something else entirely.

    I can imagine how you must feel after going through all that work for your story to have someone much less knowledgeable make changes and send it to print without telling you. What a shock that must have been.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I truly appreciate them.