Editing your novel - five top tips
1. Read it like a reader.
You’re wearing a different hat when you read over your draft novel. Like your characters, you have to switch viewpoint. It’s no longer your baby. As a reader, you are free to like some bits and dislike others. If you can look at the thing from this angle, you’ll notice the flaws at once. But you’ll also notice the parts that work.
A reader doesn’t watch out for anything specific. You don’t find her thinking, “Hmm, this author isn’t too hot on pacing.” If the story sags, the reader just skips to get to the good bit.
So don’t read with a list of craft points in your head. Just read in the expectation of enjoyment, like you would with someone else’s novel.
2. Read it in as few sittings as possible.
Make time for a nice long wallow in your own book. The faster you read it, the more you’ll recognise problems. Sketchy reading means you aren’t carrying all the strands of the story in your head and you’ll miss things. Make like it’s unputdownable, and take the same breaks you’d take as a reader - to eat, drink or sleep.
And you know what? Maybe it will turn out to be unputdownable. And if it turns out to be a wallbanger, at least you’ll be wise to that!
3. Make brief notes.
As you go, you’ll need a pad and pen. Jot down the page number and the briefest possible comment. Examples: pg 42 - don’t head-hop to Alex. pg 65 - why hasn’t he noticed her mussed hair? pg 82 - para on why Gail furious - confusing, rephrase. Ch 5 - boring and saggy.
If you try and write too much, you’ll pull yourself out of the story and lose freshness as well as continuity.
4. Write yourself a critique.
Once you’ve finished the reading, write down your first impressions about what’s good and what needs changing. Put in any ideas you have for improvement. This is just a bulk up for your page numbered notes and gives an overall view of the text. You’re not trying to write an assessment report.
Trust yourself on this one. You’re writing for readers and you’re a reader. Your snap judgement is likely to be correct.
5. Tackle easy changes first.
Now you’re wearing your editor’s hat. It’s daunting to try and fix major changes. Let it simmer for a few days first. Then fix a few easy things as a warm-up. Once you start making changes, you’ll be into the rewriting process and it won’t feel so tough. If you can’t work out how to change something, leave it and do a different part of the book. Editing is like working a patchwork quilt: you build it up in small sections. So it doesn’t matter where you start.
Once you start, though, keep going. You don’t want to lose the benefit of your overall reader viewpoint.
Let’s get editing critiques under the author’s control
I’ve launched an assessment and mentoring critique service to help unpublished novelists achieve publication standard. My main criteria are for authors to have choices about how much guidance they need, to make the service affordable and to be available for discussion afterwards.
Whether you want a read and general assessment of where you’re going and what needs looking at, or an in-depth critique with chapter and verse, you decide. You can try me out with a chapter or two to find out how much help I’m likely to be. And I’ll accept staggered payments to make bigger commitments more affordable.
If you want mentoring help through the writing process, that’s available too, and you can opt out at any point. I’ll encourage you to write to deadlines you can work with and unstick you if you get stuck.
You choose. Email me for more info on firstname.lastname@example.org and there’s a blog coming shortly.
As for my credentials, I’ve just changed genre from historical romance (18 published titles with Harlequin Mills and Boon) to historical crime. I wrote, edited and polished the first book in just over four months and landed an agent in six weeks - watch this space. I’ve had a lite lit novel in the Booker list, and I’ve read and critiqued for the NWS, run numerous workshops and seminars, and I’m a long time drama teacher.
My unpublished novels amount to millions of words - I’ve learned the hard way. But you don’t have to.