You’ve had a request for your complete manuscript from an agent or editor. Suddenly your mouth goes dry. Your knees are shaky. Is your manuscript REALLY ready for prime time?
Let’s say you’re a DIY person, and you publish yourself through Amazon or Smashwords, or some other self publishing organ. Will your readers toss your book in disgust because it’s so amateurishly edited?
Maybe you’re hyper-anal or compulsive, and you don’t know when to stop the editing process. When, exactly, is enough enough?
To my mind there’s no “exactly” possible; it’s my contention that there’s never been a perfect novel or non-fiction book written. Still, don’t use that as an excuse to take a lazy approach to editing.
Some newbie writers don’t much care for the editing process; it’s not where the creative process is, they will tell you. And some high-dollar writers feel this way, too. But editing can be very creative, very enjoyable. Here are some hints at where good editing lies:
- Spelling – you may not be a good speller, but at least some of your readers, or editors/agents will be. Use your dictionary. Plain and simple.
- Punctuation – Too many commas, too few punctuation marks otherwise. It’s normal to insert commas wherever your thought process stops and starts, but will the reader need them, or will they get in the way? Make sure you punctuate so that your written intent is clear to the reader. You don’t want him or her to have to keep re-reading a passage to gain its meaning. Also, word processing software isn’t always of help with punctuation. If you leave a period out or fail to close quotes, for instance, your software may not catch it. And these things will be glaring to the reader.
Okay, those are the easy ones. Now here’s where editing can get really creative. The central thing to remember here is: Will your reader enjoy reading your book, essay, or short story? Remember, you’re writing for your reader, not you. So when you have a good draft – or you think you’ve edited enough, set the manuscript aside until you can look at it as a reader, not its author. Then consider these things:
- Have you varied your sentence structure? Don’t keep writing long, complicated sentences just because you’re confident that you can punctuate them properly. Or only write pages and pages of eight word sentences.
- Are dialogue tags, i.e., the “he said” “she said” tags doing their job in making clear who is speaking? Don’t get overly creative with these. Sometimes you can make these perform multiple purposes, but strive to keep the reader’s attention on what’s between the quote marks (if you use them).
- Are you sure of what you’re trying to say in your piece, whether book-length or flash fiction? If not, take a break and write down what the theme of your piece is meant to be. Summarize your manuscript in a single paragraph. Then you’ll more nearly know how the manuscript should be structured,whether or not it will work for the reader.
- Is your voice consistent? Or after reading chapter 1 and chapter 12, do they seem to have been written by different people?
- Does your narrative appeal to the senses? All of them? But if it’s an abstract, informational essay, for instance, you may not want to heavy up on the piece’s atmosphere.
- Do your scenes “pop” with energy, emotion, intimacy? Are your characters vividly portrayed in ways in which the reader can know them and perhaps identify with them?
- Does your writing alternate action and energy with a release of such tension?
- Let’s say your manuscript is 300 pages in length. You’ve worked hard on the first 30 pages, because you want to hook your reader. Read the piece’s middle three chapters. Are these three as enthralling as those first 30 pages? Quite often, even with seasoned writers, a long manuscript’s middle section drags, as if it’s there for nothing more than filler. I call such ho-hum middle sections the Kansas and Iowa of a manuscript, i.e., the energy of the work has stalled here. (Apologies to Midwesterners)
Okay. There are other things to consider, too, but these may be unique to your manuscript. If you have given the above considerations your best shot, your editing is probably sufficient. HOWEVER: any publisher, agent, or editor may want to change your manuscript, to lop out portions, or to heavy up on others. GIVE THESE CAREFUL CONSIDERATION. More than likely, their suggestions will improve your manuscript in some way. But if you feel very strongly about your manuscript segments or its totality, defend your point of view. The person requesting changes may very well back down in the face of a good argument.
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