Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Author Jess Haines talks about Editing a Novel Prior to Submission

Hello there! Jess Haines here. I’m the author of the new urban fantasy HUNTED BY THE OTHERS (link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=16761), and its upcoming sequel TAKEN BY THE OTHERS (link: http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/finditem.cfm?itemid=18148) (to be released January 4, 2011 by Kensington). I’d like to take a moment to talk to you about the editing process.

First, I’m going to start with telling you about what my own writing process is like–BEFORE passing my work on to my agent or editor. (If you’re curious what happens once your work gets passed on, in my case, my agent lends me a hand by looking the manuscript over and offering her input on things I can improve. After that’s done, I pass my work on to my editor, who gives me his input on any changes to the storyline that are needed, or scenes that need bulking up or more explanation. This is followed by a round of edits from the copy editor, who tears into it with a red pen marking up spelling and grammar errors. Sound like a lot? It is.)

Remember: even if you have an agent, editor, and a copy editor who are going to help tighten up your novel, that’s no excuse not to do the best job you can on your own. To help you with that, I’m going to give you some tips on what to look for.

Note that the self-editing process is different for everyone, and you shouldn’t take my guidelines as gospel. This is wholly and only for your info.

My writing process generally goes something like this:

1) Write the whole story. No… no. NO! DO NOT go back to edit! BAD AUTHOR! BAD!

2) Okay. First draft is done. Reread.


4) Fix all the #)($ spelling, grammar, continuity errors I can find.

5) Read it again.

6) How the heck did I miss that?!

7) Fixfixfix.

8) Repeat 5-7 about 10 more times.

9) Beta #1 time! (Betas are people who act as a second set of eyes, looking over your work specifically in search of grammar, spelling, and/or continuity errors. I have three. Two for general, “Does this work? Did I miss anything glaringly obvious?” This is their step. Beta #3 is my grammar-nazi. No dangling modifiers for you!)


11) Beta #3′s turn!


13) Usually, at this point, I’m done and ready to pass the buck on to my agent and/or editor.

Now, for what this post is really about! Here are some examples of what I am looking for and what I am fixing AFTER the first draft is written:

– Spelling errors. You need to read your stuff start to finish so you have it all in context, or this won’t work. Microsoft Word (which is the program I use) is notorious for missing things or deciding that you meant Word X when you really meant Word Y and sneakily ninjas Word Y in there when you’re not looking.

– A sub-heading to the above is the search for homophones and other such nonsense (e.g., “night” vs. “knight”; “to” vs. “too” vs. “two”; “your” vs. “you’re” — get the picture?).

– Grammar errors. These can be devious. Personally, I am TERRIBLE at catching some of this stuff on my own, but knowing my weak points helps me spot them. An example? I have a tendency to use “that” instead of “who”—e.g., “the person that spoke” instead of “the person who spoke”—so I know to be on the look-out for this.

– Replacing/rephrasing redundant words/phrases/sentences.

– Removing unnecessary words (overuse of “just,” “almost,” “a little,” “really,” etc).

– Continuity errors. (“Okay. In this paragraph, Dude A shapeshifts and his pants get torn apart.” Continue reading. Three paragraphs later: “Where’d those pants come from?!” Yes, this really happened. Yes, it was removed before the final version made it into the hands of the reading public.)

– Failure to properly express what was going through my head at the time I wrote the sentence(s). Ever do that? You’ve got a fabulous image in your head of how a scene is playing out, and you furiously type it all out–only to reread it later and realize you left out 3/4ths of what should have made it on paper?

– Occasional rewrites of entire scenes. For example, I deleted 5,000 words from novel #3 in the H&W Series because I didn’t like how a scene was coming along. Rewrote it in its entirety. It’s much better now—and I don’t regret losing those words.

– Sometimes I fail to get an idea across, and someone will point it out–for example, in my first book, one of the things my editor wanted me to fix was a “glossing over” of the relationship between Shiarra and her ex-boyfriend. By adding a few paragraphs here and there to beef up the back story, it helped explain some of her actions and thoughts enormously.

What about you? What do you look for when you’re editing your own work?


alanarose said...

Great post and so helpful. It helps to know that I'm editting for some of the right things and shows me what else to look for. Thanks!!!

Jess Haines said...

You're welcome! =)


Historical Writer/Editor said...

Great advice, and funny. Thanks! I look for plot holes among other things and try to make sure the logic is in line.