Revision

Yay! Your book is finished! You’ve got a beginning, a middle and an end… the next step is rushing it off to the editor, right?  Then you can get it published.

Hold your horses. Your first draft is far from being ready for an editor. Prepping it takes more than running it through spell check. Now it’s time to revise.

Revision is the act of rewriting. You want to tighten those rough spots, make sure all your plot points are in place, and your characters are fully fleshed. Is your ending satisfying or is it too easy? Did the story gods drop down and wave their magic wand to make sure everything worked out the way you wanted? If so, your characters need to work harder, and so do you.

You may need to make several passes through your book to catch as many issues as you can. No one writes perfectly in their rough draft… no one. Revisions may make minor changes like character names or places that sound too much alike to full blown reworkings of the plot. If you’re not sure what needs to be rewritten, have someone you trust read it. By trust, I mean someone you trust to be honest, not someone who will just tell you it’s wonderful. Is it important to explain why your main character ran away from home? If it leaves a hole in the story if you leave it out, find a way to include it so it fits in naturally.

Do you have big paragraphs stuffed full of exposition? Find a way to make it interesting and break it up a bit. Can we get that important information without dumping it in? Maybe you can work in some of it in a conversation, or in a letter addressed to the character in question. However you do it, it needs to flow.

After revision 3, 6, or 10, you may be ready to do a final clean up. This is where you make sure you dotted your i’s and crossed your t’s. Are all your punctuation marks in the right place? Spelling has been checked? After you’ve done all of this, then it’s time to contact an editor. You’ll get more for your editing dollar if all the mess has been cleared up first. The remaining issues can then be addressed without digging for them under the slag that should have been taken care of first. Don’t be afraid of revising.

 

Before You Send it to the Editor

You’ve finished your masterpiece and now you’re ready to send it out to the first editor you can find, right? Wrong. There is still a lot you can do to make sure your manuscript is ready for the editor. By following these suggestions, you’ll get the most for your editing buck.

Rewrite

Did I just say rewrite? Yes, I did. No book is ready for publication as a first draft. First drafts are just that…the first version of the manuscript. This is where you maniacally put all your words down in a flurry, just trying to get your story told. First drafts are known by many different names. Rough draft, shitty draft, and crap are just a few I’ve run across. First drafts are first drafts for a reason: they give the author the chance to just get everything down on paper (or the computer). Now is when you revise, refine, and rewrite.

Get rid of excess words. Look at the scenes–are they really working? Maybe it would work better if this happened instead of that. Did you forget any crucial parts of the story? Do the words flow? Can you say this sentence better? You get the idea. Sharpen your story to a fine point. It is impossible to get all the details in place correctly with a dull point, to borrow a drawing analogy.

Structure Analysis

Now that you’ve identified any gaping holes in the hull of your story, check your structure. It doesn’t matter if you outline your story or write it on the fly…you still need a structure. Structure is the skeleton that supports your story. Can you build a house without a framework? No. And you can’t write a story without a structure. Sure, it’s possible that the structure automatically flows from you as you write. But it’s still important to check that everything is in it’s place.

Readers expect stories to move and develop in a certain way. Structure helps you do just that. If you find holes, fill them in now.

Self-Edit

If you’re not sure how to do this, there are lots of books on the market on self-editing. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print springs to mind, or Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. These are skills every writer should work on. Editors, agents and small presses really appreciate receiving a manuscript that has been cleaned up to the best of the writer’s ability.

I’ve heard the analogy that errors on the page is like handing it to someone with snot smeared on it. While it isn’t my favorite image, it holds true. Writers should learn their craft, and this includes the mundane tasks. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are still important. Yes, the editor will fix any you missed, but if you’re working to eliminate them before you send it to the editor, you’ve got more eyes looking for errors. Believe me, the more eyes you have looking for errors, the better.

Get Opinions

Don’t be afraid to let others read your book. If you know a few people who read a lot, use them as beta readers. Ask for their feedback. What is working, what isn’t? Ask them about your characterization, plot, and flow. Incorporate their suggestions.

What this means is you need to get a bit of a thick skin. Not every critic will phrase their suggestions nicely. Write down the suggestions and think about them. Look at your manuscript… are they right? Is your main character shallow and two dimensional? Is there a major plot point missing that leaves readers lost and confused? Could you clarify the link between this action and that reaction? Be open-minded and honest with yourself.

At the same time, if most of your readers say a certain point is fine and only one is insisting that certain point is stupid, think about it long enough to consider who is right. If you need to go with the consensus, fine. Don’t let one person bring you down. No book will be the perfect read for everyone.

Now that you’ve got your manuscript polished as much as you can, it is time to send it to your editor. They will hone that shine until you need sunglasses to read your book.