What Makes a Book? (Pt. 2 – Edits)

As I mentioned in the previous post, edits are an important, nay critical piece of the process. I can’t tell you how often I have heard people complain about a story they were reading that was riddled with errors and how they simply couldn’t finish it. I’ve also heard many complaints about books that don’t have enough cohesion or are missing a critical piece.

These complaints are both examples of poor/insufficient/non-existent editing.

“But wait!” you say. “Edits were not the first part of the your previous article. What about finding a publisher or the contract piece?”

To that, all I can say is, there are tons of publishers and articles on how to query them. I know I can’t really add anything to that particular conversation. Regarding contracts, I’m not a contract expert. When you get to that part of the process, you are best to engage someone who is.

So, back to edits.

As I said in the previous post, there are two main types of edits you need to be concerned with. The first that I will talk about is developmental editing.

Developmental Edits

Developmental edits focus on ensuring your story addresses all the main beats, maintains continuity, has a good beginning, middle and ending, and does not contain any unnecessary information (for example, extra characters or plot points). If you consider all the elements I’ve just mentioned, you should realize just how big and important an element this is.

To give a personal example, my first published book, Mik Murdoch, Boy Superhero, needed about a third of the book removed and replaced with new material. This was because of a number of issues, but most importantly, the third cut (and it was throughout the book, not in a single place) contained information that slowed the pace of the book without really adding any value to the reader.

All I can say is, it was my first book. I was more verbose back then than I needed to be. I think I’ve managed to curb that impulse since.

Oddly, the third that I added was because of exactly the opposite problem. I had large chunks of the book where I glossed over sections. In other words, a lot of things happened off-camera. That was often because those section were harder to write and I got lazy. Once I put the right amount of detail in, the book read much better.

I also mentioned unnecessary characters and/or plot elements. You might be wondering what that’s about. Aren’t all characters important?

In a word, no. Characters should have roles to play. If all your character does is show up once to utter a single line to show an aspect of your main character, maybe that character isn’t so necessary. Maybe that single utterance can be done by someone more important to the story. Characters that show up a single time sometimes leave the reader wondering when they will appear again.

The same is true of plot points. Too few might make the story overly simplistic (and boring). Too many might make your story convoluted and confusing. The question in the later case is, does this plot point really add anything to the overall story? Does it actually develop the character or does it only add more words? Your developmental editor will help you out.

Line Edits

Some of us love grammar and spelling. Others see it as a nuisance. Whichever camp you fall in (or somewhere in between), grammar and spelling are still important. A failure to address them will result in an error-filled manuscript that will pull readers out of the story. That is bad because, not only will the reader lose faith in your work, they will likely never come back once that trust is lost.

But, doesn’t the developmental editor catch all those for you?

Not necessarily because they require different focus. Development of story is a more macro-focus of everything while line edits require the micro-view of each sentence.

The line editor will look at how your sentences are structured, whether you are using the right version of words and how your punctuation goes. The editor should also tell you if you overuse a phrase or word in your writing. That is a pet peeve of mine. If I read a word being used (no, I don’t mean ‘the’) in a paragraph, I really don’t want to see it again in that paragraph or even for the next several.

That editor should also tell you if you are using/overusing cliche’s. Many publishers will tell you to pull every cliched phrase out that they find.

You might think this is the easier of the two types of edits. Trust me, it isn’t. A good line editor will be able to ask you what Style guide your publisher is using and edit with that in mind. They have to know when a title or name is capitalized or how to use an ellipse versus a hyphen. Is it a colon, semi-colon, comma or nothing at all. There are lots of rules to consider to do it right.

Closing Thoughts

One thing I have not talked about that is important is the order of edits. Always development first then line. Why? Well, why would you waste your time fixing a sentence that might ultimately be cut from your manuscript?

In both cases, it pays to not rush your editor. Editors are people too and, when pushed, can make mistakes. You don’t want that since you are paying for results in one way or another. You should also expect more than a single iteration since you might miss something or misunderstand what is being asked of you.

Finally, when you find an editor you work well with, don’t let that person go. Not every editor is a fit for you. You might have to ask for sample edits from several editors before you are able to find one you connect with. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t think we will work well together.” The relationship is two-way and if it isn’t working for you, it probably isn’t for the editor either.

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