get the most out of novel editing

So you’ve decided to self-publish your novel, and you want to hire an editor to help

After all, being an independent author doesn’t mean doing everything yourself. You’ve looked around, and you’ve decided on the editor you want to hire to copy-edit your manuscript.

But wait! Are you sure your manuscript is ready for editing …?

If it’s not, it will be like hiring an interior designer to decorate your house before all the rooms have been built and the plumbing and wiring have been laid. If you find that there are issues with your story that need addressing (an under-developed premise, a saggy middle, major plot holes), any copy-editing that’s been done on your manuscript will go to waste – and will have to be done again.

Worst case scenario? You’ll pay for copy-editing on a story that’s not ready for publication, the effects of which will be reflected in your reviews and sales figures. *Cue ominous music*

So, how can you be sure you’re ready for novel editing? Follow these steps and you’ll be just fine:

1. Revise with the big-picture in mind

Hemmingway once famously said: ‘The only kind of writing is rewriting.’ I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that a first draft is not a finished manuscript. Before your book is anywhere near ready to be read by other people, it’s likely you’ll need to revise and redraft it several times. It’s a useful exercise to break your story down into scene summaries so you can see the bones of your narrative. From there, you can assess the narrative arc, character development and whether there are any holes in the plot. Restructure and rewrite as needed.

2. Get feedback on your story

You might think that your manuscript needs copy-editing before anyone reads it. Not true. Before you think about addressing sentence-level issues, you need to make sure your story is solid. Once you’ve redrafted your novel until you’re happy with what you’ve got, it’s time to get some reader feedback. Ask people you trust (who read a lot of books in the genre in which you’re writing) for feedback. These people are your beta readers. Don’t ask friends and family – they like you too much to give it to you straight, trust me. You could also consider hiring an editor to conduct a manuscript critique – the ultimate way to get professional, impartial feedback. Your readers might raise issues that you weren’t even aware of. Consider their feedback, and redraft again as necessary.

3. Self-edit with a fine-tooth comb

Now you’re ready to start getting into the nitty-gritty. Your story is finally as solid as Captain America’s biceps. It’s time to look closely at every sentence and every word of your manuscript. Fix the spelling and grammar, scrutinise every line of description (could you cut this phrase and replace with a single word?) and assess the structure of your sentences (would it create more impact to end on this clause?).

But wait, isn’t this the editor’s job? It sure is. But consider this. If you’ve already self-edited your manuscript to the best of your ability, your editor will need to be less invasive with their edits. This might mean you save money because the editor has less work to do, allowing them to focus specifically on the things you haven’t been trained to notice. Or it might mean your editor is able to focus their attention on really fine-tuning your words (rather than getting bogged down in sloppy spelling errors and buried by avalanches of rogue commas) … But wait! There’s one last thing you should do before sending your manuscript to be edited.

4. Clean up your manuscript file

Wouldn’t you rather be paying your editor to sort out grammar and punctuation issues instead of fixing erratic paragraph formatting? Make sure your manuscript file is clean and well-presented. That means no crazy styles randomly applied to the text, no hidden tables, no double-spaces after full stops and, FOR THE LOVE OF CHOCOLATE, no spaces used to indent paragraphs or create paragraph breaks. Just a lovely file with double-spaced, 12-point type in an easy-to-read font. Remember, this isn’t the time to be designing your book – that comes later. Let the editor work their magic on your words first. Not only will you have a happy editor, but you’ll have a happy bank account, too, since it takes time to clean up a messy file – and we all know that time is money.

My last and final tip is this: before agreeing to work with an editor, make sure you know exactly what you want from them and that they’re clear on this, too. There are lots of different types of novel editing services available from a wide variety of editors. What one person considers a copy-edit, another might consider a proofread or a line edit. So look carefully at the service descriptions on your editor’s website, and make sure you have a frank and honest discussion about what you want to achieve by hiring someone to work on your book.

Now you have a manuscript that’s ready to be handed to a copy-editor. By following the steps above, you’ll find you get the most value from your editor – and a better novel at the end of the process. Nice!

sophie-playle-novel-editingWritten by Sophie Playle


Sophie Playle runs Liminal Pages, where she provides editorial services and runs online courses to help writers improve their craft. If you found this post useful, consider downloading her free guide ‘Self-Editing Your Novel’ for a more detailed description on how you can edit your own manuscript. 

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