…Pay someone to do it.

Seriously — the first few reviews are in for The Golden Crystal and most of the issues people have with the novel is the “lack of editing.”

Here’s the truth, though: the book was edited.

Most of the issues that people are referring to are probably things that crept into the final draft after my editor had worked through it. I — proving my deep, deep intelligence — thought I’d just “tweak” a few things, here and there.

Bad move, Nick.

If these final tweaks that ended up causing minor spelling and grammar issues were the difference between a four- and a five-star rating, or a three- and a four-star rating, I wish I could take them back. 

I wish I could undo those last-minute “fixes,” but I can’t. I have to live with the reviews. Oh well — at least they’re honest!

Learn from my mistakes

Editing a novel, or any lengthy work, is a huge undertaking. It’s also usually expensive — for good reason. Editors work hard to remove the crap that we authors try to sneak by, and they work even harder to chop away at our babies in a nice enough way that we won’t be offended.

Most self-published authors cringe at the thought of shelling out the next years’ worth of projected earnings for a decent editor, so the whole process becomes a “do-whatever-I-can-on-my-own” project. While I always advocate having a professional do the editing, I understand that it’s just not a viable option for many writers.

For that reason, I wrote this post.

I made many mistakes when writing and editing The Golden Crystal, but you don’t have to make the same ones. The following tips are culled from my own experience, so enjoy!

1. Rewrite

The simplest of all editing tactics is to rewrite your work, then rewrite it again.

It’s a hard thing to do, but having a practice of rewriting forces your reading brain to judge and critique your writing brain. These aren’t the same brains, so this is a big deal.

Whether it’s rewriting what you wrote from the previous day or rewriting each draft as you finish them, the point is to rework through all of the “puzzle pieces” you initially (thought) you put together. Basically, think through each component of your finished book, and focus on revising and improving the previous work.

2. Read books on writing craft

One of the most important things you can do for your writing career is read through books on the subject of writing. It’s humbling, eye-opening, and it will immediately improve your own writing.

My list of favorites includes (but changes often):

These books can take your writing to the next level, almost as soon as you start reading them. Seriously — give them a shot!

3. Self-edit well

Ok, this is it: the meat of this post. If you’ve skimmed through the first half of the article, start reading now.

Self-editing is tricky, and for obvious reasons:

  1. It’s extremely difficult to read through your own work objectively
  2. It’s hard to second-guess yourself (after all, you’re the one who wrote it)
  3. It’s impossible to catch everything yourself

For these reasons, most writers I’ve spoken with still advocate hiring a professional — or sending their work out to a critique group to give them the “gist” of what they need to fix.

If you still need to self-edit, there are, luckily, some tactics you can employ during your read-throughs to hopefully catch most of the glaring mistakes:

First, check for typos

This is obvious, but it’s not always intuitive. Use your writing program (I use and highly recommend Scrivener) to check for the most obvious of these errors, like misspelled words and major grammatical issues.

Then start scrutinizing the harder-to-find typos:

Misspelled character names.

I had a few of these, mainly because I decided to change one character’s name from Jenkins to Jensen during the writing process. I found these mistakes by simply searching for “Jenkins” and making the switch.

More difficult things to catch will be misspelled (but correctly-named) characters, like when I found an instance of Violcek instead of Vilocek. The best way to handle these errors is to set up something like Scrivener’s built-in “auto-complete” feature. I can literally type v-i-l and the program finishes it to Vilocek (I just have to press the spacebar to finish the word).

Look for redundancies and overused words/phrases. 

My biggest culprits in The Golden Crystal were “began to,” “started to,” and too many adverbs. Instead of running, jumping, and walking away, my characters suffered from “starting to run,” “beginning to jump,” and “starting to walk away.” It’s clunky and doesn’t actually make sense most of the time, so cut this stuff out.

Look for instances of the word “that.” 

You’d be surprised that many times in your writing, there is a truth that you don’t need that many “thats.” That fact that I just stated is true.

Do a search for the word in your entire novel (Scrivener, again, is really good at this) and go through them each. You can’t just get rid of all of them, but you can often replace them with a better (more descriptive, or snappy) word.

Cut sections that assume your reader is an idiot. 

I had numerous chapters in my first draft that were solely there to explain some historic fact or give a tie-in description between two scenes. These moments dragged on, but the worst part was that they made my reader feel dumb.

If people want more information about a (non-crucial) element of your book, they’ll Google it.

Remove “Tom Swifties.” 

Actually, remove pretty much any dialogue tag other than “said,” “asked,” or the occasional “shouted” or “yelled.” I’ll catch some flak for this, so instead of taking my word for it, crack open a popular book in your genre (I used Jurassic Park for verification).

Bulky dialogue tags slow down the reader and make for clunky conversations.

And in case you didn’t know, a “Tom Swifty,” which comes from the Tom Swift series of sci-fi/adventure books, is a dialogue tag that references (in a clever way) the actual dialogue. Behold:

“That volcano is about to erupt,” Tom said explosively.

Boom. Done.

4. Find beta readers

When you get close to being done, send your book to anyone who might provide an honest critique. Your mom, spouse, and cat don’t count.

These readers will tell you honestly whether or not the book is good as a whole, if there are major plot discrepancies, and if your characters seem flat and cardboard-like.

Most importantly, they’ll be the first advocates for the finished product and will end up being your front-line “sales” team.

Rinse and repeat. 

These editing strategies only scratch the surface. If you really want to produce the absolute best product, hire a professional. Get creative — you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on a “big name” editor. You can look for aspiring editors who are looking to build their portfolios, high school or college students, and friends and family who might give you a deal.

Remember, one of the most important aspects of great fiction editing is simply finding someone to read your work objectively — something impossible for us to do on our own.

Do you have any ideas about editing? Have you had any experiences with an editor, or self-editing? Share in the comments!