Editing: First Draft to Final Product

All's_well_that_inks_well by Chris Wightman

Photo: “All’s Well that Inks Well” by Chris Wightman

I’m often asked about the process of taking a book from a first draft to a published novel. In a previous post I talked about my drafting process, how I go from concept to manuscript, particularly when writing mysteries. This time I thought I’d talk about the editing process for traditionally published novels. Every writer, every publishing house, and every individual editor will likely have a slightly different editing process, so the following is based on my own experiences and might not be the same for everyone.

Once I have a complete first draft I like to dive right into the first round of editing. Since I don’t like to stop and go back while I’m drafting (so I don’t lose my momentum) I instead make notes along the way of things that need to be changed or added as a result of the new pages I’ve written each day. So my first round of editing involves incorporating those changes and then reading through the entire manuscript and filling in plot holes and changing whatever else needs to be changed. Typically, I’ll go straight from the first round of editing to the second, maybe with a few days in between.

After I’ve gone through two rounds of editing, I like to put the manuscript aside and let it rest, preferably for at least three weeks. Putting the manuscript aside for a while allows me to go back to it with fresh eyes, and I tend to see things that I would have missed without that time away. The break also gives me a chance to send the manuscript to one or more critique partners so I can incorporate their feedback during the next round of editing.

Depending on my schedule, I’ll turn the manuscript in to my editor after three or four rounds of editing. The next stages really depend on the preferred process of the editor. However, so far in my own experience the manuscript has either gone through one or two rounds of editing with my editor before being sent to copyediting.

My editor goes through the manuscript and uses track changes to address things in the document, and I usually get some notes by email as well. Generally, the first round focuses on bigger issues, like the plot. Then my editor goes through it again and either approves it to go to copyediting or does line edits, focusing on more detailed things like repetitive use of certain words, trimming sentences that aren’t necessary, and addressing any sentences or paragraphs that might be awkward or unclear. Sometimes I’ve had these line edits combined with the big picture edits for one round of editing before copyediting, but it depends on the editor and the state of the manuscript.

From there, the manuscript goes to a copyeditor, who focuses on the technical details, like getting the manuscript to conform to the Chicago Manual of Style, or whichever style they use. In my experience, any changes that are made are done with track changes so I can see what has been done. After copyediting, I get the chance to review the changes. So far this has always been the last chance for me to make any changes, but sometimes authors get to review a proof, at which point they can make some limited changes.

Before turning in the manuscript for the final time, I get my Kindle to read the entire document to me with text-to-speech. I can’t stress how important this step is to me. I like to feel that I’ve done everything I can to make my book as clean as possible. Even after going through professional editors, there are always a few typos and other issues that remain. Writers and editors are human, after all, and it’s easy to miss a few typos, especially tiny ones like a missing “a” or “as” here and there.

Since my Kindle doesn’t have a human brain, it doesn’t read what it knows should be written, but what is actually written. Every time I’ve gone through this step with a manuscript I’ve found at least a few little typos that otherwise would have made it into the published book. The text-to-speech round can be tedious and it takes a lot of hours, but it’s a step I hope my schedule never forces me to skip.

Once I’ve turned in the manuscript for the final time, it’s out of my hands, and I can work on other projects while looking forward to the publication date! This is where I am with both Deadly Overtures (releases in June) and The Crêpes of Wrath (releases in September). 🙂

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