This is a 3 part editing series that will cover the Big Picture Edits, Paragraph and Sentence Level Edits, and Proofreading.
Part 1: Big Picture Edits
Editing your story shouldn’t feel like an impossible task. All you need is to have a strategy in place, and you can be confident with your red pen and delete button when it comes time to edit your story. And – bonus, it will improve your writing! No matter what the scope of your project is; a picture book, a story book, chapter book or a novel, at some point you will have to edit your story yourself. Even if you plan on hiring a professional editor, they won’t do everything for you. They will return your manuscript completely marked up, with tons of changes to be made. And while it is great for you to have all your commas in the right place and make sure you don’t mix up too and to, you may be wasting your time editing spelling, grammar and punctuation if you end up omitting the entire paragraph. First you must edit your story structure and make your big picture changes.
When I tell any writer or author that editing is my favorite part of writing process, I usually get one of two responses. The first is total confusion. “Why would anyone like editing!?” And the second is total shock or disbelief. “You’re crazy lady!” But let me officially confirm, the tedious, repetitive, overwhelming task of editing is the best part for me. The first draft is complete and the process of really developing your story begins. I am not naïve; I know the editing process is a common struggle for writers. Even as a seasoned editor, I have outsourced and hired an amazing editor for both of my books. I believe sometimes all you need is a second pair of eyes on your work to make it the best it can be. When we hired our editor for Champ and Nessie, I was looking for a developmental and proofread edit. For Sandy the Cat, our new picture book series, I needed a simpler copy edit/proofread. There are several different layers of editing, and knowing what you need and when you need it is half the struggle.
Typically, a manuscript will travel through the realm of a few levels of editing before it’s ready for the reader. If you’re a self-publishing author, you’ve likely either read or been told that you need to hire an editor. But a professional edit costs money, and while self-publishing experts will preach that it’s money well spent, not every author has the funds. With that being said, you don’t need to hire an editor for each kind of editing. Ultimately, what your book needs depends on your strengths as a writer. If you’re brilliant at outlining a book in a clear and logical way, or if you’re a master at crafting the perfect plot or story arc, you won’t necessarily need a big-picture edit. But if you struggle with explaining yourself clearly, or crafting realistic dialogue, your editor might recommend a paragraph-level edit. At the very least, every manuscript will benefit from a sentence-level proofread. If your editing budget is limited, you can be strategic about the services you select. Regardless of what your manuscript needs, working with an editor will help you grow as a writer — particularly if you approach the process with a willingness to embrace your writing weaknesses, and we all have them.
So…you’ve written your book. What now?
If you are anything like me, your first draft is a mess. The creative juice was flowing, your first couple of pages are pretty cohesive, but somewhere in the middle, you have a plot twist that doesn’t tie into the story, or a plot hole that needs to be reimagined. The climax isn’t long enough, or lasts too long. Your closing has no oomph. Maybe like me, you are writing a series and the final pages don’t carry your story into the next book.
The “Big Picture Edit”, known as the Editorial Assessment, is extremely important. You will read the book and note any big-picture issues. I find the best way to do this is to track your changes and leave yourself a full reader’s report on the manuscript, detailing any areas that are not working and that will need a big revision before you can do a more detailed edit. When you are doing your initial read through, think big. Are you planning to create any major plot reworking or additions to your story? As part of your initial read through, include suggestions on how to fix any problems that may appear in the manuscript. Make detailed notes so you can go back, page by page, to evaluate revisions. This is the most important step. Make sure you have addressed any major issues that would require a rewrite before going line by line to look at the words. It can be challenging to do a full line edit on sections of story where a major revision is needed. Big picture editing can be very extensive if you need to address a book’s structure after it has been completely written. The easiest way to address big-picture items is to get help structuring your book before you write it. You can do this by plotting your story. I created a story board layout template to help plot your story.
Pro Tip: If you know your budget will allow hiring an editor, hire one first! If you like the structure/layout/storyboard of your book before you write it, send your editor a detailed outline, or a detailed page plot summary to see if he or she can spot any potential holes before you begin. Note: This is not my process, but I know many writers who seek editorial assessment before they do a first draft. If you’ve written your book, but you’d like feedback on your structure, you can still send it to an editor. But keep in mind that your editor will need to read an entire book instead of a brief plot summary, and this extra time will be reflected in the cost.
Editing Part 2 coming next week! In the meantime, you can check out some other writing help topics below!