If you are a new author, you may consider ‘edit’ and ‘proofread’ to be interchangeable terms. They are not! Though there may be some overlap, in principle and action they are very different processes. For more information on proofreading see ‘Proofreading Your Own Work’.
In editing the intention is to ensure the resulting publication is cohesive; consistent; relevant; correct. These principles apply to all publications whether technical, factual or fictional. Please note: the term ‘publication’ is being used to refer to all types of printed material; a book; an article; a social media post; etc. whether physical or digital.
What components comprise the editing process?
The editor will be considering:
- Cohesiveness – How well the story, information etc. holds together.
- Organisation – The flow and interaction between different parts.
- Chronology – Timelines, where appropriate and relevant.
- Consistency – In style, presentation, language, format.
- Possible modifications – Condensing, language, sharping scenes and/or action.
Overall they will be considering the plot development and flow and looking to correct/omit inconsistencies.
Editing is a far from easy undertaking and it is undoubtedly preferable to engage the services of a professional. However, they are expensive. That is not to say they do not earn their money. In most cases I believe they do. Nevertheless, a majority of independent (indie), self-publishing authors do not have the resources to meet such an expenditure. So, what are they to do?
As already stated, editing is no easy undertaking. And to edit your own work is doubly difficult. Nonetheless, most will have no option but to take the task upon themselves. Prior to commencing the process, it would help if there has been some proofreading: see ‘Proofreading Your Own Work’. This would help do away with the distraction of minor mistakes and errors. The editor needs to concentrate on the more detailed important aspects of the work.
Editing, of necessity, is a slow paced task. Unless you have an unusually perceptive eye and analytical mind, to simply rush through the text will not help. Many will tell you, when it comes to our own work, our brains have a habit of seeing what they think should be on the page i.e. the same error or misjudgement will consistently be seen as correct. To try and overcome this, as far as is possible, it will help if there has been a short break between completion of the writing and commencing the editing process. With books in particular, our minds, during the writing process, are constantly immersed in the subject detail and consequently, will continue to comprehend it in the same way unless there has been a break. Stepping away, even for a short time, allows the mind to clear.
The following is a suggested process:
- Save a copy of the original manuscript in a separate file. Besides acting as a back-up it will also act as a referral document for when you make changes. It sometimes helps to be able to refer back to your original wording.
- Read through the whole manuscript without interruption. Annotate where you find inconsistency, inaccuracy or anything else you consider may require amendment.
- Go back through the manuscript and make such alterations as you consider relevant.
- Read through the amended manuscript. You will inevitably find other elements you consider may require alteration.
- Make the further alterations.
- Now read chapters/sections out of order. E.g. read chapter 4 followed by 10 followed by 1 etc. This will help identify where there may be plot/scene errors. Is something happening where it should not be? Does the timeline follow? And so on.
- Rewrite; reorder; alter as you see fit. To rewrite and reorder can be frustrating but must be undertaken if you want your book, article or whatever to be the best it can be.
- Repeat the above processes several times.
To assist with all the rereads it will help, as with proofreading, if you use different fonts, styles, sizes, formats etc. for each read.
Editing your own work can be an endless task. It can certainly feel like it. Perseverance and patience are essential attributes for authors: writing, of any sort, is not the quick fast occupation many would like it to be. Well, not if the best possible product is to be produced.
Naturally, it would help if you can get others to read through your edited manuscript; it is a fact we are unable to spot all our own errors. Friends, colleagues, relatives, may be asked but ensure they are someone you trust to be honest. Many people find it difficult to be critical when it comes to someone they are connected with.
As said, editing is a slow process and it is easy to become impatient. After all the hours, days, months even possibly years, of preparation you want to see your work in print; physical and/or digital. However, if you really want the best you can possibly achieve, editing as well as proofreading must be undertaken.
For those who really have no one else to call upon, it can be unnerving to publish a manuscript they and only they have read through. They have to accept some minor errors and anomalies may remain, even after four or five reads. Most will agree it is possible to go on ad infinitum however, if the product is to see the light of day, a line has to be drawn somewhere. The author must make themselves stop and go ahead with publication.
One consolation, if you can call it that, is some ‘professionally’ published works still contain errors. Self-publishers also have the advantage of most self-publishing platforms providing the facility to update their work at any stage. Therefore, if an error or two are discovered after publication, it is not the end of the world. Of course amended editions should not be frequently or regularly published. The author’s reputation may be damaged if they are. If an amended edition is really required it should be held back until there is reasonable certainty most of the errors have been spotted, and corrected.
- When commencing your project accept you will have to be patient with yourself.
- Determine to persevere no matter what.
- Control impatience. Though in a hurry to see the end product, you should not jump the gun.
- Accept the need to proofread and edit several times.
- Accept, on your own, you will not spot all errors and anomalies.
Overall, following the above processes will usually result in a reasonably good quality end product.