Delving Into Fiction Part 4: Editing

It’s been quite a while since the last installment of this series, but that’s because I’ve been in the trenches, friends. With what, you ask? Okay, maybe you didn’t ask, but I’m going to tell you either way. I’ve been elbow deep in something that can either be a writer’s best friend or the bane of our existence: editing my novella.

It has been so interesting (and at times stressful) to see how editing Elaine’s Gift has compared and contrasted with my own experience as an editor in a journalistic setting. Now that I’ve handed in my final round of edits and my manuscript is (eek!) off to proof, I wanted to tell you about this crucial part of the publishing process. My goal is let you in on some things I’ve learned and hopefully make it feel a little less daunting for those of you who are either with me in the editing trenches or are working toward it.

But first, I wanted to give a shoutout to Raevyn and Barb (my fantastic new editor!) at Ninestar Press. Being a new author with an anxiety problem, I’m not oblivious to the fact that I’ve been a major pain through all this. The team at NSP has been so kind, helpful and most of all patient with me as I navigate this process for the first time. I’m so grateful.

Now, let’s jump in!

What have I learned?

1. Everyone needs an editor


I cannot stress this enough. In order to present a complete and polished product, it’s essential to have at least one other pair of eyes on your project. It’s been proven that when we edit our own work, we tend to miss a lot. Editors catch things you won’t. That’s not my opinion, it’s just fact. This goes for any kind of writing–blogs, essays, articles, short stories, novels and even technical writing. I did technical writing at a steel factory one summer and even there we had proofreaders and editors.

This is especially important to remember for my self-publishing pals. By no means am I criticizing the decision to self-publish; it’s a perfectly valid route to take. But in my experience as a reader, I always find more mistakes in self-published books than I do in traditionally published works. This is because many self-pub authors edit their own work. But even getting one other pair of eyes to proof your story before it goes up can make all the difference in the world. If you can’t afford a professional editor, I’d recommend having a grammatically-inclined loved one look it over. It’s best to avoid publishing an unedited manuscript.

For example, before I publish a short story on Buy Me A Coffee, I have my partner (who has professional editing training) look it over. My beta reader is also very thoughtful about catching things like typos and grammar. In the case of my novella, I couldn’t believe the number of errors and inconsistencies my editors caught. I was so confident I’d caught everything before submitting my manuscript, but I was wrong.

Tip: Editors sometimes offer to take on pro-bono projects, even if it’s just to proof or copy edit. Myself included, although I won’t take on substantive content editing for free as it’s so time consuming. More on that below. Twitter is a great place to look for free or inexpensive editing help!

2. Don’t take constructive criticism personally


This may seem obvious, but it’s so much harder than it seems. Especially if you’re like me: the kind of person who takes everything personally. Your editor is going to suggest big and small changes to your manuscript, and some of them are going to hurt. Especially when it comes to cutting scenes.

There’s not much else to say about this, other than just remember to keep your eye on the prize. Your editor isn’t trying to make you feel bad, or criticize your abilities as a writer. Like you, they have the best interest of the final product at heart. And if you work together to make it the best it can be, you’ll look back and realize your story is all the better for it.

3. Be patient

This is the part I struggled most with. Poor Raevyn probably groans when she sees my name in her inbox at this point, after all my pestering. I mean it from the bottom of my heart when I say this: don’t be like me. This was an important learning experience that I will take with me going forward.

Editing is a lengthy process, especially if your editor has a full roster of clients. It can sometimes be months before moving onto the next step, and just because you haven’t heard from your editor in a while doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten about you. If they have any questions or concerns about the manuscript, they’ll reach out. Otherwise, sit tight and try your best to be patient. I was privileged to have such an accommodating editing team who were patient and thoughtful when it came to answering my questions.

What are the 3 major steps to editing a manuscript?

A quick disclaimer here–every publisher has a different process, and your experience may differ from mine. However, I’ve learned that when you strip down all the knuts and bolts, most editing can be condensed into 3 major steps: content editing, line editing and copy editing. I work full-time in magazine publishing, and our editing process is essentially a condensed version of what we did for my novella. When I worked in newspaper newsrooms, editing also followed this template (but, understandably, it was even more condensed).

It’s worth noting that content, copy and line editing can be broken down further into smaller steps, depending on the length of your manuscript, the extent of edits needed and the amount of back-and-forth “negotiating” between writer and editor. I’ve been on both sides of the coin, and the process can become drawn out when the writer contests every edit the editor makes.

1. Content Editing


Content editing is the broadest step in the editing process. In j-school we called this “substantive editing.” The editor works with the writer to work out any major inconsistencies, plot holes or mistakes in the actual story. Things like spelling and grammar generally aren’t looked at in this step, unless it’s a glaring error. This step tends to take the longest, because it takes more time and effort to resolve content issues. If you have an awesome editor like I did, though, they may provide suggestions on how the problem can be resolved.

This step also has the most potential to be offended by any constructive criticism your editor may have in terms of story, character, setting or style. This is understandable–after all, this manuscript is your ‘baby.’ But seriously, chill. Your editor has your story’s best interest at heart, I promise. It will all be worth it in the end!

2. Line Editing


Narrowing the focus a bit now, line editing is literally the process of editing the story line by line for things like flow, sentence structure and readability. Editors do look at grammar during this step, but in a broader sense. In fact, line editing can be quite involved. But generally it’s much more painless than content editing.

In journalism, the majority of line editing is focused on making the writing more concise. There is more of an opportunity in novel/novella writing to experiment with style and flair, but if there’s a better way of saying something, your line editor will point it out. They’ll also point out things like inconsistencies in dialogue, especially when it comes to dialect or the way a character speaks. But don’t worry, most editors are trained to do their jobs without compromising the writer’s unique voice.

3. Copy Editing


This is the most narrowly-focused step of the editing process, and it’s also where most mistakes happen. This is when your editor will look at things like spelling, grammar and formatting issues. Copy editing is usually the final step in the editing process, because you don’t want to go back in and make major content edits or additions after the manuscript has been copy edited. Then you’d just have to do it all over again.

I’ll reiterate–I had no idea how many tiny mistakes my manuscript contained until my copy editor got their hands on it. Copy editing is the difference between your manuscript looking polished and professional, and… well… not. Sometimes little things slip through the cracks, but as a reader when I pick up a book and it’s riddled with grammatical errors, typos and spelling mistakes, I’m likely to put it down and never pick it up again. That’s why it’s so important to get a second pair of eyes on your manuscript–they’ll catch things you didn’t, and you’ll be thankful they did.

If you’re an author, blogger or writer of any kind, I hope you found this helpful. Like I mentioned up top, Elaine’s Gift is officially out for proof and we’re in the final stretch before release! There are still a few i’s to dot and t’s to cross, so there will likely be one more installment of this series before we’re ready to publish. Hopefully by that time I’ll have an official release date to share with you all!

Meanwhile, make sure you’re following me on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr to stay in the loop.

Have a great Thursday, friends!

© Victoria St. Michael 2022

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