After months (or sometimes years) of putting everything into writing your book, it would be tempting to finish, hit save, and never look it again, hoping it's perfect. But not even the most experienced authors can do that.
There is still a lot of work to do between writing the final word and having the book on the shelf.
Recently, there seems to be a rise in the number of people preferring to self-publish their books. But if you've never written, let alone published, a book before through a traditional publisher, you may not be aware of all the steps (or how to do them) that go into publishing a book.
So, what do we need to do to make our book the best it can be?
Revise, revise, revise!
These revisions include your own revisions as well as revisions by an extra pair (or several) of eyes – be they a beta reader, an editor, or just a friend – at various stages of the process. Love is blind. And this also applies to writers who have put all their heart and soul into a manuscript.
There are many ways to revise and edit for self-publishing, but one thing is important to remember: the more revisions, the better your book will be. If you are self-publishing, you will need to arrange or complete all the steps in the revision process yourself.
The first round of revisions start off looking at the broad picture and become more and more specific as you go on. It’s ok to adapt the process I describe below to suit your needs and the needs of the book you are writing – everyone has different skills and budgets – but remember: you get out the time and effort you put in.
Just a note: Sometimes the different steps in the revision and editing process are called different things by different people, but as long as you know what the service you are receiving entails, then you know that you are getting what you need.
Good things take time. It may be many months before you see the book in print – be patient!
Have you ever reread a story you wrote several years ago? It’s not always as good as you thought it was at the time that you wrote it.
Once you have typed the final word and hit save, it is time to put it away for several weeks and come back to it with fresh eyes and less emotional attachment.
Once you have had a good break from the book, go through your manuscript with a critical eye and make sure it is as good as you can make it on your own. This doesn’t mean just skimming through it and checking for a few typos. You need to have a critical eye and check for holes in the plot, whether the scenes work, if the characters are believable, and if facts are correct. This may take several read-throughs.
There are many ways to do this and you will need to find a process that works for you. Check out this author’s honest account of their self-editing process.
2. Alpha readers
Some writers like to use an alpha reader as they go through their revisions (some writers use them at an even earlier stage where the alpha reader reviews each chapter as it is written). An alpha reader can help you see if the overall structure of your book works and point out any glaring problems (you don’t want to hear about typos or grammar at this stage). Just one or two trusted readers would be enough for you to get an idea of any issues at this early stage.
3. Developmental editing
Once you have made all your revisions and the book is as good as you can make it, it is time to speak to a professional editor. (In fact, it would be helpful to speak to them a lot earlier to make sure you can book a space in their schedule.)
Developmental editing (also called a manuscript assessment) should be the first level of professional editing for a novel or non-fiction book. It is professional writing support for the author and looks at the structure and flow of the whole storyline. Even authors who have written and published many books get a professional opinion on the structure of their novel.
Within developmental editing there can be two levels: editorial letters and substantive editing.
Editorial letters tend to be big-picture stuff and are in the form of a letter (or email) detailing any changes that are recommended.
Substantive editing happens after the editorial letter when the writer and editor are satisfied the structure is good. Usually it is communicated to the writer using Track Changes in Microsoft Word and may focus on specific scenes or dialogue.
Once you have received the editorial letter or substantive editing feedback back, make all your changes and revise again.
3. Beta readers
Now that your storyline is solid, it is time to enlist the help of beta readers. Beta readers (note the plural, as you should use several) can give you a reader’s perspective on the characters, plot, and setting, and spot any remaining story or style issues. They can tell you what works and what doesn’t work. They won’t make direct changes to the manuscript, but will provide written feedback which will help you with subsequent drafts.
Beta readers are not usually professionally trained (though some can also be writers or editors), and most don’t expect payment for their time (however, there are professional beta readers who will expect payment).
Now revise again and implement all the suggestions.
Now your novel is really starting to come together. The overall structure is there, and it is time to start getting into the nitty-gritty.
Copy-editing should be done by a professional editor with experience in your genre.
Different editors have slightly different definitions of copy-editing and what they include in the service. I define copy-editing as enhancing the writing to ensure the target audience receives the intended message in the style that is required. It is the stage that makes your writing shine.
At the copy-editing stage there is no more extensive rewriting or restructuring. We are now getting into the details of the language rather than the overall story structure. Copy-editing can include checking and correcting correct sentence structure and phrasing, consistency, appropriateness of the language, layout of headings, paragraphs and dialogue, and clarity.
The manuscript you receive back will usually have Track Changes and Comments throughout. You will need to take time to go through each one and implement the changes and suggestions… and then revise again!
5. Proofreading (the final check)
Phew, we are almost there!
The last stage before printing in the self-publishing process is proofreading. Even after your revisions from the copy-editing stage, there are likely to still be errors and typos. This last stage of proofreading lessens the chance of these occurring in your final product.
Traditionally, proofreading meant checking for final mistakes once the layout is completed. Today with the rise of self-publishing, it is often used to refer to the final check before layout and printing.
This should also be carried out by a professional editor. It is notoriously difficult to proofread your own work, as you will be too familiar with your writing to spot a typo. However, this stage is not just about typos. A friend who likes to read may not know all the things to look out for.
In my proofreading service, I check and correct spelling, punctuation, grammar (including geographical language variations), typographical errors, and overall consistency throughout the document of fonts, page numbers, line spacing, and numbers relating to references, contents, and diagram lists. Proofreading does not include copy-editing (unless a sentence is grammatically incorrect, it will not be changed for style reasons).
6. Design and publishing
Your book is now ready to send to a book designer or printer.
Whether you are publishing a hard-copy book or an e-book, you will need a designer to format your book and get it ready for print. Some printers and self-publishers provide this service, and sometimes you have to find your own. That is a whole other topic for another time!
One final group of readers you can send your book to before or just after publishing are Advance Reader Copy (ARC) readers. ARC readers will read and review your book for some advance publicity and reviews. The book you send to the ARC reader should be the final version, though sometimes an author might be lucky if a typo is picked up to get it fixed before print.
Congratulations! You have completed the journey and have done all you can to make your book the best it can be.
Marja Stack is a copy-editor and proofreader based in New Zealand. Her business, Clearlingo Editing and Proofreading, caters to all writers, whether business, non-fiction or fiction. For more information or enquiries please see her website: www.clearlingo.co.nz.
*Fact checking fiction writing
*What are beta readers?
*NZE: Is our spelling different?
*NZE: Burned vs Burnt
*NZE: Using Maori words in English text
*NZE: -ise vs -ize endings
*NZE: Single or double quote marks
*NZE: Punctuation inside or outside quotation marks?
*5 things to tell your editor
*Types of editing
*How to fix common formatting errors in Word
*How to use basic Word Styles
*How to use Tracked Changes in Word
*Me, Myself and I