As a published author, I cannot say enough about the need to edit – multiple iterations of editing –any manuscript before it is published. And I also cannot say this strongly enough: the worst person to edit a manuscript is the person who wrote the manuscript! Authors are simply not objective enough to edit their own content ruthlessly, and our minds see what we intended to say, rather than what we actual wrote/typed on the page.
It typically takes me two years to complete a manuscript: 23 months of research, story development, outlining, and drafting the manuscript in my head, and one month to actually type the manuscript on my computer. Most people only see the last month and think that I crank out manuscripts wicked-fast. That’s not true, but I do type quickly once I get going.
I personally use a multi-layer approach to manuscript editing. As I complete a chapter, I have three members of my editorial team perform a grammar and line edit. That way, once I’m finished with the first draft, I’m also finished with the second draft. Then the manuscript goes into the content/continuity edit phase, where the story is mercilessly picked apart to determine if: the story is interesting, the story as written is entertaining, the pacing is appropriate, the characters and dialogue are believable, and all parts of the story agree with each other. This last part is key, because as I change one part of the manuscript, I have to remember to change the other parts that reference or build on the part that I just changed. I have had to change entire opening scenes before – including ones that I built the entire story around – because while I loved the scene, it really just didn’t work. I would not have realized that on my own; it took an editor to make me see it and force me to rethink major parts of my story’s plot.
Once the content/continuity edit phase is complete, I put the manuscript aside for a month or so. Then it goes into final edit, which looks for grammar issues created by applying the various edits (there always are some), and takes one more look at content and continuity. Only after that edit is finished do I submit the manuscript to my publisher.
However, that’s not the end. Sometimes, my publisher will suggest changes to strengthen the story or remove extraneous/inappropriate material, which then have to be applied to the manuscript. And once those changes are applied, my publisher sends the manuscript to at least two proofreaders, who look for any remaining typos or issues. Now, you’d think that all typos would have been caught by this point, right? Wrong. Editors and authors are only human, and things get missed. My newest novel, “The Legacy of Shadows,” just came back from the first proofreader, who found 65 typos. Sixty-five! And I’m grateful for every one she found. There’s nothing worse than a typo that takes someone out of the story, ruining the experience of the reader.
When it comes to editing, there are no shortcuts. It is a long, sometimes tedious, often expensive process, but without it, a great story will be lost amidst lousy writing. And with three million new titles published every year, no author can afford to allow lousy writing to be published. Do yourself and your readers a favor: have your manuscript professionally edited – multiple times – before it is published. If a quality story is what you’re trying to produce, you really have no choice.