10 WORST Tips for Editing your Book
Today we're talking about one of my favorite parts of the writing process, editing.
“But Jennaaa! Obviously, you're joking!”
Except I'm not. I genuinely love editing. For me, it's super satisfying to take a story that I wrote and perfect it. I enjoy watching my work grow and I feel like if other writers saw the editing process as a natural part of artistic growth, they’d feel the same way. But until then, you can continue hating editing like everyone else.
On a related note, it has come to my attention that some people have some really shitty editing practices. Practices that not only result in a terrible book, they just make no fucking sense. Because of this, I am breaking down the ten worst editing practices that writers often fall into when it comes to editing their books. These practices are widespread, they're all too common, and you shouldn't do any of them. Seriously. Please do not do any of these practices ’cause they're gonna fuck you right up. I mean you can if you want, but it's your book's funeral.
This video is sponsored by Bound By Words. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Not Soliciting Enough Feedback
When car manufacturers build a new vehicle they run test drives, because people will eventually be driving these cars. Similarly, readers will eventually read your book. See where I'm going with this?
You need feedback before you publish, even before the professional edit. That means critique partners and beta readers. Critique partners are fellow writers who, as the name suggests, critique your manuscript. Whereas beta readers are readers within your target audience that give you the reader perspective. I have a whole bunch of information about this in Shut Up and Write the Book. These people are pivotal to the editing process because you are too close to your work to see some of its most glaring issues.
And for the love of God, you absolutely need to enlist an adequate number of beta readers. At least ten! You need a significant number because you're looking for trends in the feedback, and you're not gonna find any trends among three people.
Number 2: Ignoring the Proper Editing Steps
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times. There are steps to the professional edit, and you need to do all of them. First is the developmental edit, which covers your book on a story and plot basis, like characterization and world-building. Next is the line edit, which covers your story on a paragraph and sentence level. After that is a copy edit, which focuses on grammar and punctuation. And then we have a proofread, which is just a final check for any lingering typos or formatting errors. You need to go through all of these edits before publishing your novel. All of them!
“But Jennaaa! I'm really good at writing. I can totally skip these steps.”
That's a load of bullshit and you know it. Unless you've been doing this for decades, or have won multiple awards, you’re not the exception to the rule. You can combine professional editing steps if you want to, but skipping them hurts no one but yourself. And your readers, I guess.
Number 3: Enlisting a "Shmeditor"
Yes, it's vital to hire an editor, but make sure you're hiring an editor and not a “shmeditor.” There are plenty of editors to choose from, but there are just as many people offering editing services without the proper qualifications or education.
“But Jennaaa! I don't even know my editor's credentials.”
Why don't you just . . . ask them? Take Bound By Words. We already covered that Madii has a graduate-level editing certificate. She's a member of the EFA. And she has both traditional and indie experience. Then there are some shmeditors who claim they're qualified because they teach high school English. It's not the same.
I'm not saying all editors are cons–that is hardly the case. But you should do your due diligence and make sure you're hiring someone credible. And if you're ever unsure about someone's qualifications, ask.
Number 4: To Hell With Grammar!
Who even cares about grammar and punctuation? It's not like they're the building blocks of writing. Of all editing practices, it seems that grammar and punctuation are the steps that most authors are willing to completely bypass. Writers, you may not know how punctuation works, but other people do. Other people understand commas. Other people can see your run-ons. Just because it's not important to you, doesn't mean it's not important to readers.
These building blocks are fundamental because they make the reading experience easier. That is your goal: to make reading your book entertaining, inspiring, and easy. But you have to actually care about grammar. Even if you don't fully understand it, that's fine. Invest time and education into getting better. And be ready to invest money in qualified editors who can catch any lingering mistakes you've left behind.
Number 5: Believing You Are the Exception to the Rule
I genuinely love breaking rules, but you have to first understand the rules in order to break them. That's the issue here. A lot of writers write what they wanna write, and then at the editing phase realize they've broken a rule. Instead of expressing concern, they say, “Pfft, whatever. I'm the exception.”
Are you sure about that? Did you break the rule intentionally and artistically? Or are you just a moron? Editing requires research and deep analysis, and you need to be willing to admit when you've made a mistake. It's great to turn the tables and subvert expectations, but readers can tell when you just don't know what the fuck you're doing.
Number 6: Recruiting “Yes Men”
It's amazing to have support. I'd absolutely recommend surrounding yourself with people who uplift and motivate you. But these people don't have to be your editors or even your beta readers.
Don't get me wrong. You don't want an editor who’s so cruel that they send you spiraling into madness. But the people who help you with your writing need to actually help. That means giving the positive and the negative, the good and the bad. When I critique my friends’ work, I highlight the parts that I absolutely loved, the lines that made me laugh out loud. But I'm also transparent about what needs work; the plot holes, the inconsistencies, the shitty grammar.
This can be hard for writers. It's tricky to put your heart and soul into a piece of writing only to be told that it’s flawed. But you need to be able to tolerate this feeling. It'll come over time; you just have to be patient. That doesn't happen when you recruit yes men–people who just tell you what you want to hear for the sake of staying in your good graces. You don't want these people reading your work. First, they're liars. And second, they're not helping you at all. Yes, they may stroke your ego, but they are going to send your writing crashing and burning.
Number 7: Preserve Your Darlings
To kill your darlings is to delete content, characters, or scenes that have no benefit to your story. This is something a lot of writers really struggle to do. When The Savior's Champion was in its professional edit, my editor pointed out a scene that absolutely had to be scrapped. Problem is, I didn't want to delete the scene. So what did I do? I deleted the scene! It had to go!
It's tough to do, but if it benefits the story, for fuck’s sake just do it. I know it stings, but you need to be willing to delete plot holes, filler, inconsistencies, and other pieces of writing that don't serve a benefit to the plot. And if you can't make these tough calls, the industry is gonna be real hard for you.
Number 8: Rushing It
I know you have a tight schedule, but I also know your first draft fucking sucks. I’ve met people who expect to write and edit an entire novel in one month. One man's trash is another man's book, I guess?
Listen, the self-edit and professional edit are extremely important parts of the writing process, and they can take as long or longer than drafting itself. You need to accept this as a necessary step. It'll probably be time-consuming. Plus, when you hire an editor, you're on their schedule. Unless you're willing to pay extra, how can you expect them to edit an entire novel in one day?
Quite often, writers who rush the edit cut corners. They do this by skipping important steps which, as we already covered, is a big mistake. I'm not asking you to spend a year on the edit. That's not a good idea either. I'm just recommending you not breeze through the edit just to meet some sort of timetable. Unless you’re comfortable with a whole lot of bad reviews . . .
Number 9: Get a Family Member To Edit
Seriously? Do I even need to explain why this is an issue? I have met so many people who told me their mom, or aunt, or grandpa was gonna edit their book. And that's because they were really good at writing, or they used to be a teacher. This is stupid. You are stupid.
You must know that a family member is too emotionally close to you to read your book with a critical, impartial eye. And I'm sure the free price tag is tempting but is it really worth it to release a shitty book? I don't wanna elaborate on this because it just hurts my heart. Stop enlisting family members to do your dirty work. You're better than this. This is embarrassing.
Number 10: Not Hiring an Editor
I shouldn't need to say this but you know what they say, common sense ain’t common. When you go shopping, you expect to see a t-shirt or a pair of jeans on a hanger. You're not looking for strips of fabric and denim with loose thread and a needle. That's what releasing an unedited manuscript feels like. The story feels unfinished because it is unfinished.
Editing is a mandatory step of the publishing process. You may feel differently but ask your readers. They're the ones sifting through typos and grammatical errors trying to make sense of it all. They didn't sign up for that. They bought your book assuming it was a finished, polished product.
Publishing the novel means just that. You're telling the world your book is done. Readers don't have to work. They don't have to piece bits together. All they have to do is relax and read. And you need to hire an editor in order to achieve this effect.
Publishing the novel means just that. You're telling the world your book is done . . . And you need to hire an editor in order to achieve this effect.
So that's all I've got for you today!
Welp, that about sums it up! Now that I’ve told you the main book editing mistakes to avoid, make sure you steer clear of these bad editing practices. If you’re thinking about making any of these mistakes, let me be the first person to tell you: don’t do it! Stay far away from these editorial mistakes and remember, you’re better than this. At least, I hope you are.
What’s the one editing mistake you’ll never make again? Lemme know in the comments below!
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