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An Editing Checklist

Beginning writers tend to underestimate the time and effort required to edit and revise their novels. I know I did. When a writer finishes that first draft, he might think the finish line is within sight. In reality, he isn’t even close to finishing the race. With that in mind, here’s a handy checklist:

  • Write your book. Keep in mind it’s a first draft. You don’t need to strive for perfection. Get the story down.
  • Put it aside for four to six weeks and work on a new project.
  • Do a self-edit and make revisions. Pay attention to inconsistencies in the story, characters. Focus on the theme. How well have you developed the theme? Is it too obvious or does it come out through the story, setting and the characters?
  • Check your revisions. Do a read-through as a reader.
  • Give your work-in-progress to a trusted critic. Your critic should be someone who recognizes quality fiction and can offer an objective, independent critique. Better yet, give it to a couple of critics.
  • Make revisions based on the critiques, but remember, you are the final arbiter. You know your story and your characters better than anyone else. If every critic wants you to change something and it doesn’t feel right to you, the final decision is yours.
  • Hire a professional book editor and a proofreader, if resources allow.
  • Evaluate the recommendations of your editor and revise accordingly.
  • Do a final read-through with a hyper-critical eye.
  • Start on your query letter.

How long does the editing process take? It depends on a number of factors, including the availability and willingness of outside critics to review various drafts. And they must be willing to adhere to some sort of timetable. This is where it gets dicey—asking others to sacrifice their time to serve your interests.

The writer must be willing to invest his own time and resources during the editing process. I did seven line edits of my first novel. Each round of line editing took six to eight hours. It can be exhausting, especially when you’ve edited your book four or five times already. The writer must be willing to put in the effort.

I actually enjoy editing almost as much as writing, but I’m weird that way.

If you don’t have access to a writers’ group or a trusted critic, there are online critique sites. Most require the writer to edit the work of others before the writer is able to submit his own work. If you have the resources, you can take your work directly to a book editor, but make sure you have thoroughly edited it first. Book editors charge by the hour and writers shouldn’t spend their money paying someone else to catch errors they should have caught.

Some writers who have the resources hire both an editor and a proofreader. It’s difficult for an editor to concentrate on story and characters and on proofreading at the same time. It’s a good investment if you can afford it.

With the growing popularity of self-publishing, it’s incumbent on authors to make every effort to make sure their novel is as polished as it can be before publishing it.

What is your editing process? Do you use a book editor? What are the qualities of a good book editor?

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