You want to be a ‘paperback writer’ - then get Editing

Sharing things that help you get published

My Hen Party worklist gradually being ticked off

Over the years I've wasted time editing many stories that fell into the graveyard of the publishers world, but last year one got through the inbox.

It’s the acceptance of this story that has made me realise the importance of editing, not only for the appearance and readability of the story but because you might get through the inbox too.

I’ve just finished my umpeenth edit for my publisher of my debut novel The Hen Party — cue music and I promise this is how you’ll feel when you’ve finished your final edit …

Right now after the multitude of edits that I have slogged through since I finished writing the story I feel absolutely sure that Bern [my main character] must be a living, breathing person. Can you hear her? …she’s over there cussin’ in the corner.

Piers Blofeld, literary agent has made an excellent video which is really worth watching — ‘Why Literary Agents Reject Your Manuscript’

He takes us through the quick-fire methods he uses to trawl through submitted manuscripts. It doesn’t take much to be thrown aside, so it’s vital to get everything right — from title, to pitch, to opening lines and not forgetting vital editing errors.

I edited the hard way simply because I didn’t know any other way so I just did what I thought best, but I promise you this is not the best way to do it. It’s taken me years to get it right so I thought I’d share with you some of the things I’ve learned and it might help you avoid them.

I can almost hear you telling me that self-editing destroys your creativity. I know, I know — all we writers really want to do is actually write (we’re all the same) and all this editing business takes up valuable writing time, but unless you’ve the money to pay someone to edit your work then I’m sorry it’s a necessity. However should you wish to find out more about paying someone to proofread your work then check out Julia proofreader’s web article which will point out some of the pitfalls to avoid.

Would a book full of grammatical errors, spelling mistakes or confusing plot lines hold your interest? Probably not. I once read the first few chapters of an e-book where the main character seemed to change appearance after the first two chapters and the plot had so many holes it resembled a colander. I can’t believe that book had one edit let alone half a dozen.

Okay, here’s my CHECKLIST

1. Proof reading. Let’s start with the big one. We tend to read our work as we think it should be, which means we misread our own spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes as well as typo errors. This is before you consider possible problems with sentence structure, context, and overall readability.

One of my edits is always oral. I read it aloud. With a novel this does take several days (and gives me a dry throat!) but it’s worth it. It’s amazing the mistakes I can pick up this way, plus if I hesitate or stumble over a phrase it’s obvious that it’s awkward and it’s best to rewrite.

I find after three or four edits I’m getting somewhere near the place I want my novel to be, mind you I’m often sick and tired of it by this point and need a break from it before continuing.

2. Troublesome words. All writers have specific words and phrases that cause them problems. Is it their or there, farther or further, affect or effect etc. To help you consider your troubling words Mignon Fogarty has written a good book which includes this area ‘Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing.’ She gives very straightforward explanations and the little cartoons help you remember in an amusing way.

3. Spelling. How good is yours? I know you can use the computer’s spell check and it’s not perfect by a long way, but that squiggly line underneath an incorrect word needs your attention. Better yours than the publisher who will consider you slapdash and throw your work into the slush pile.

4. Punctuation. It wasn’t until my editor gave me advice that I realised the modern rules of punctuation. Mainly it’s one space after almost all punctuation including the full-stop. I always left two spaces after the full-stop but if you, like me, have got it all wrong and if you use Word software it’s easy to fix. Search and Replace will quickly put you right. Type two spaces in the ‘Search’ box > One space in the ‘Replace’ box > Press Replace All and that’s it. Job done.

5. Repetition. Do you have a favourite word that you repeat over and over without realising? If you suspect that you might overuse a certain word then once more Search and Replace will highlight it for you. Just type the word that you have suspicious about in the ‘Search’ box. You can follow each time that it has been used. My favourite word is ‘wow’ but being aware of it makes me limit its use as I write nowadays.

6. Line Spacing between paragraphs, font style and size. I’ve noticed that this is required to be a little different from one publisher to another when you are submitting your work in the hope of being accepted for publication. It’s usually double or line and a half, Arial or Times New Roman font at 12 point is the norm, but it’s best to carefully read the rules of entry and submit in whatever format is required. Later if you get through the ‘inbox’ my experience has been that your MS returns to single line spacing.

7. Indentation. The first paragraph of any chapter, after the subheading or following a numbered list is normally not indented. The first line of other paragraphs usually are.

Again in word this is easy providing you haven't pressed the tab key to indent paragraphs in the first place. Highlight all text (hold down control key and tap A) > Format > Paragraph > under indentation and by the word ‘left’ type 5 (or if your publisher wants 3 then type 3). Then under special click on ‘first line’ from the drop down menu.

8. Over editing. Set aside some time to go through this list with your manuscript, but be careful about over-editing. You may start seeing unnecessary changes — you carefully created your story in the first place and tweaking is fine, but be careful of attempting an unnecessary rewrite.

Be an excellent rewriter

Pulitzer Prize–winning author James A. Michener famously said, “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” I understand where he’s coming from, my edited work is far more polished than its original MS. The plot is usually sharper and the construction better.

Some people like to make their edits daily (I’m one of these) either editing soon after writing or first thing the next day. Others write the whole book before settling down to the first edit. No one way is correct, it’s what suits you.

To give your story the best chance of being published means not just spending time writing but also months and months editing it. Yes, this is a tedious, tiring process, but it works. If you write/rewrite your book four times, chances are very good that when you are eventually finished it will be a finely-crafted work of art … or at least undoubtedly something much better than when you started.

Let’s end on a musical note … — a very famous musical note to put you in the mood before you get out the MS and start editing, so “Dear Sir or Madam, Will you read my book? It took me years to write, will you take a look? It’s a thousand pages, give or take a few, I’ll be writing more in a week or two …

“Paperback writer” The Beatles (1966)


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