Today I’d like to welcome Fiona Skye to Renee Writes. She’s sharing a post she wrote about self-editing. I hope you find it as informative as I have.
“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of
waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.”
― Patricia Fuller
A not-so-well-kept secret is that I’m also a freelance fiction editor. In the two years that I’ve worked at this job, I’ve edited a score of manuscripts, most of them from brand-new, baby authors. These are usually my favorite clients because they’re starry-eyed and timid and so desperate to learn. They’re like snuggly little puppies and I adore them. But they’re often difficult to work with, too, because their talents are so raw and unrefined and some of them are resistant to change. They’ve picked up certain habits, either through other writing blogs or through MFAs in Creative Writing or through some long-distant memory of high school writing classes, and are unwilling to part with them. These clients make me want to cry, pull my hair out, and scream, “WHY DID YOU HIRE ME IF YOU’RE JUST GOING TO ARGUE OVER EVERY LITTLE CHANGE?!?!” I mean, I am a professional. I have degrees and loads of experience with this stuff. I know what I’m doing, for Heaven’s sake. You hired me for a reason; trust me to do right by you.
But I digress.
I base my fees on a small section of a book, usually 2,500 words from a middle chapter. Why not the first chapter, like most editors and agents request? Because it doesn’t give me an accurate read of a potential client’s work. Most first chapters are polished until they gleam. The rest of the book? Sometimes not so much. When I first started out, I accepted far too many manuscripts with a gorgeous first chapter while the rest of the book was an absolute nightmare, and that made me question my life choices. I ended up charging these authors extra for the added stress. So now, to keep my Zen-like editor’s calm, I take middle chapters so I know what I’m getting into.
How can you make sure that your manuscript doesn’t damage your editor’s calm and save yourself some money at the same time? I’ll let you in on a little secret: Macro edits and Micro edits.
This is big-picture stuff, the sorts of things you should look at during the very first revision of the very first draft. (Oh, by the way, how many drafts should you do before you consider your work complete and ready to publish or start querying? Four: first draft, beta readers draft, professional editor’s draft, and cleanup or proofreader’s draft.) These items require rewrites–sometimes heavy ones, the bane of every author’s existence. Here’s what to look for:
- Attention-grabbing first sentences
- A beginning that starts with the inciting incident–the event or decision that kick-starts your story’s conflict
- A great protagonist–is she introduced quickly enough? Do you establish his point of view immediately? Does the first chapter reveal her goal and motivation?
- Clear stakes that are high enough
- Interesting and likable characters
- Formidable, well-balanced villain who is not a caricature
- Unnecessary characters who are just hanging around, cluttering things up
- Character development in both the villain and the hero
- Interesting, memorable settings and story world
- Infodumps–they’re bad. Remove them.
- Slow pacing, plot holes, and a laser-like focus on the hero’s goal
- Unrealistic or wooden dialogue
- A believable, logical story with enough tension and conflict to keep readers hooked
- A logical story timeline
- All questions and conflicts are solved by the end of the book
These are small, fiddly bits that can wait until the absolute last draft of your book. What to keep in mind:
- Correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation
- Typos that may not be caught by a spell-checker
- Word choices appropriate to story tone and mood, setting and time-period
- Vivid descriptions that involve all five senses
- Crutch words (that, seem, frown, sigh, really, very, etc.)
- Weak and awkward sentences, or confusing and unclear sentences
- Cliches–avoid them like the plague. (See what I did there? ;))
- Varying sentence structure, good rhythm, and appropriately-sized paragraphs for the pacing of the scene
There you have it. Take care of these things before handing your manuscript off to a professional editor and you’ll save money AND become her favorite client in one fell swoop!
Fiona Skye is a fantasy author, currently living in the deserts of Southern Arizona. She shares a home with her husband, two kids, three cats, two rats, a betta fish, and a Border Collie.
Fiona’s passion for storytelling began early in life. She loved playing make-believe and inventing elaborate fantasy worlds to explore. At age twelve, she wrote her first short story, which was based on a song by a 1980s hair band. After giving it to her English teacher for editing and rewrites, she learned to love the entire writing process and has dedicated her life since then to story craft, only to be occasionally distracted by her insatiable love of yarn and crochet, and the dogged pursuit of the perfect plate of cheese enchiladas.
She counts Diana Gabaldon and Jim Butcher as her favorite authors and biggest influences. Joining these two on the list of people she would wait in queue for a week to have a coffee with are Neil Peart, Kevin Hearne, and Brandon Sanderson.