More from the Self-Editing-For-Indies webseries…
This checklist is a hybrid from two sources:
- A self-editing guide that never came to pass
- The editing checklist that spawned Monday’s More Lore post
For me, getting my head in the right place to self edit has been (and apparently always will be) a major chore. This checklist is the “stern talking to” I need to hear every time.
1 ) Writing and publishing are not the same.
Writing is about creating. Publishing is about making money.
Writers who find the subject of money gauche, embarrassing or distasteful should not seek publication. At all. Ever. They will never achieve the satisfaction they seek.
For everyone else, self-editing is the first proud step toward product quality control.
2) Writers and authors are not the same.
A writer is the brilliant neurotic who toils at the keyboard day after day, slaving over storytelling technique and word choice. An author is a writer’s public spokesman, protector, and business manager.
Remember the phrase ‘don’t bring a knife to a gunfight?’ Don’t bring a writer to the editorial table, either. Decisions there must be made to please the paying customer, not the writer.
An author who truly values their readers, and does everything possible to surprise and please them, will succeed. This is the only promise anyone in publishing can keep.
3) Distance matters.
Point A: Writer writes THE END
Point B: Author begins to self-edit
Allow as much time between Point A and Point B as possible. Good self-editing requires objectivity. True objectivity requires an author to distance themselves from the writer’s words and logic processes, and only time can create that distance.
Do not waste that time. Completing or at least putting a good dent in the next book is the best and most efficient way to clear the palate.
4) Self-editing separates the pros from the amateurs.
Everyone in the publishing process knows that authors are thoroughly sick of a book by the time it’s finished. Everyone knows authors get emotionally attached to their words. Everyone knows authors are volatile compactions of insecurity, vanity and angst.
Everyone knows, but no one cares. Beta readers, editors and/or submissions screeners have their own jobs to do. Any author who expects others to do their job for them will not have a job for long.
Ultimately, errors are the author’s responsibility to resolve before a work leaves their hands. No author is the exception, regardless of experience level.
5) Author vs. Page-blindness
Great professional editors are aware of everything on the page, be it concept or punctuation mark. Writers, in comparison, are clueless due to a phenomenon called page-blindness.
Page-blindness is the inability to see what’s actually on the page. What writers see is more like a composite of what used to be and what they meant to put there, which is sometimes nothing like what’s really there. This is not a writer weakness or flaw, simply a reality of the trade.
Page-blindness does complicate the self-editing process. Awareness is the ultimate weapon. While progressing through the self-editing stages, focus on one thing at a time. Practice really does make perfect in this task—the more experience at self-editing, the better and broader the focus.
6) Grammar and style guides don’t kill authors. Editors do.
Kidding. Well, sort of. There is simply no excuse for an author not to own or at least have access to both a grammar and style guide.
Having said that, however, anyone who has ever read a grammar or style guide cover-to-cover clearly missed the point: knowledge is a stagnant, peaceful junkyard. It’s virtually forgotten and invisible until the lights and sirens go on and the guard dog bites someone in the ass.
Short, periodic visits to the junkyard are best. Sneak in, steal a page or a paragraph a day, highlight one small rule to raise awareness, if only briefly. Over time, more and more of it can be internalized.
7) Self-editing is not enough.
Self-editing is not a substitute for professional editing. Books must always be reviewed by one or more objective editors multiple times before going public.
8) Blank pages can’t be edited.
Self-editing is not a hobby. It’s fine to edit along the way, but that doesn’t mean edits are complete when you type “THE END”.
Generally, monkeying about with an incomplete work goes by another name: procrastination.
9) When all else fails, be consistent.
Some editorial issues have no right or wrong answer. These issues include certain forms of punctuation (ellipses and dashes), stylized spellings (e-mail vs. email, okay vs. OK) and other minutiae an author can’t necessarily resolve without a publishing house’s tip sheet in hand.
Doing something wrong is not the end of the world. Doing something wrong the same way throughout a manuscript shows an author paid attention to detail. Doing the same thing wrong a hundred different ways throughout a manuscript makes editors dislike authors intensely.
So make a decision and stick with it. Every instance of an issue must be handled exactly the same way throughout the manuscript.
Consistency, consistency, consistency.
10) Print and digital are not the same.
Print books are made of paper and ink. Digital books are made of ones and zeroes. Thanks to technological limitations, what’s possible in print might not be advisable or even possible in an ebook. Even as technology continues to progress and ebook display devices become cheaper and more robust, don’t forget that just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should. Beware the siren song of digital bells and whistles.
Why? Because immersion is the Holy Grail of straight-form commercial fiction. It’s the grand desire of every author and marketer, the divine emotional connection between reader and story. Sustain that connection, and the reader will block out the real world in favor of an author’s created version. That is immersion, and that is where loyal fan-bases are born.
Beware that digital publishing ushers in an entirely new spectrum of threats against immersion like slow page-refresh rates and display errors. Issues like these have never been considered editorial issues before. They sure as heck are now.