I just got off the phone with one of my Bring Your Book to Life students, who’d asked, “How many times should I edit my manuscript?”
Often, people think an edit or two will do it. The problem is, you can’t look at all editing issues at once. You often need to read the manuscript looking at one or two particular issues and then go through another time for another issue. Here are some editing tips: 10 ways to focus as you go through each iteration of editing:
1. For example, you might do a first edit for how the material is organized. Ask yourself:
– Does the order make sense?
– Is the information clear?
– Do I need to elaborate anywhere?
– Is some of the material too detailed or too technical for most of my readers? Or is it not technical enough in places?
– Should I move things around?
2. Next, you may want to read for tone, stories and interest level:
– Are there places I can make it more interesting?
– Are there stories that would illustrate my points?
– Is the tone consistent and does it work for my audience?3. Next, you may read for passive verbs and see where you can change them to more active verbs. Verbs give your writing energy. They shape your writing and make it compelling (or not).
4. Another read may be about “show vs. tell.”
– Where do I tell readers something without illustrating it?
– How can I make this information come to life with specific–even quirky–details?
– Are there places where statistics or research can back up what I am saying?
5. Another edit may be for concise writing:
– Are there extra words I can delete: words like “so” and “well” at the beginning of a sentence and words like “really,” “very,” “so” and “that” throughout the manuscript.
– Can I say things in fewer words?
– Does the writing get awkward, clunky or unclear anywhere?
– Do I have any run-on or overly complex sentences?
7. and 8. You may want to do several edits “in your head” and then read aloud for further editing. You’ll notice different things when you read aloud. You can also have someone read aloud to you for another perspective.
9. It’s always important to have readers from your target audience read and give you feedback. Make sure you give them questions, like, “What do you want more of,” and, “Where do you get bored,” or, “Where did I lose you,” so they know specifically what to look for.
10. I always recommend hiring a professional editor to polish your work. They will catch things you cannot. I have hired editors for my work, because it’s easier to edit someone else’s work than one’s own.
Here, we have a minimum of 10 edits. The editing work you do will improve your writing dramatically–and can be the difference between a book your readers recommend to others and one that sits on the shelf.
You may want to bookmark this post and come back to it when you need to edit. Or print a copy and post it on your bulletin board or fridge.
I’d love to hear from readers about some of the iterations you go through when editing–I’m sure I left out a few things. How do you edit your work and how many times? (Feel free to ask questions, too, of course).