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Ready to edit your book? All your questions answered.

Notebook, pink flower, tea

If you dream of seeing your book in print and getting great reviews, you must learn the skill of ruthlessly editing. Whether you’re planning to go down the competitive route of traditional publishing or opting to do it yourself, before you let anyone see your work, you need to make sure it’s the best it can be. In this blog post, I answer the most common questions I get about editing a manuscript.

Q. Why do I need to edit my book? Won’t my publisher do that for me?

To be traditionally published, you first need to be represented by a literary agent. Agents get thousands of manuscripts a week so in order to stand out, your submission needs to be the best it can be. This is especially true for those first few chapters as agents and publishers will often determine the quality of your work in less than five minutes. If you self-publish, those four and five-star reviews will be critical in generating sales and if a reader is distracted by sloppy, unedited work, those reviews are unlikely to happen.

Q. Can I not just pay a professional editor?

Of course! And even after editing your manuscript yourself, it’s worth investing in an editor, especially if you’re planning to self-publish. Good editors are not cheap though so if you want to reduce costs, getting it into the best possible shape will allow your appointed editor to focus on the main issues, rather than spending time on things you could have easily fixed yourself.

Q. When should I edit my book?

In the Kick Start Your Book With Karen digital course, I advise writing a draft first and then editing. That’s not to say you’ll never re-read your work as you write but the focus should be on the writing initially. There are several reasons for this. First, sections of your book are likely to change so it’s a waste of time to edit something that may not even be in the final draft. Secondly, writing and editing use two different parts of the brain so it’s time-consuming to continuously switch between the two skill-sets. Thirdly, editing your first chapter over and over again can be a way of procrastinating and as a new writer, remember your goal is to complete your first draft.

Q. How do I edit my manuscript?

Editing your work can be a lengthy process and you will read your manuscript several times. The process is usually broken down into three parts. The first is the developmental edit (or the big picture edit) where you’re making sure your plot makes sense, the character or characters have clear motivations, and the story develops well according to the type of book or genre your writing. The second step is called the copy edit. This is where you focus on the technical side of your work such as style, spelling, grammar, capitalisation, tense, point of view, inconsistencies, and fact-checking. The last step is the proofread, which is basically a final check to make sure you haven’t missed anything. If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, and in Kick Start Your Book With Karen, I break down each part of the editing process and go through it in more detail. In the meantime, click here to get your FREE self-editing checklist.

Q. How much time should I allow for editing?

This is a difficult one to answer as it depends on the length of your manuscript and how much work it needs but if you’re serious about getting published, then you need to make a commitment to work on it for as long as it takes. I’ve worked on books which took just a couple of weeks and I’ve worked on books that have taken months. Either way, the effort is always worth it.

Q. Will an edit affect my final word count?

Yes, absolutely, and for your first draft, it’s worth aiming for a slightly higher word count because most likely you will lose at least 10% of your writing during the editing process.

Q. What editing tips can you share?

Here are just a few of the lessons I've learnt over the last few years editing my own books:

· After you've finished writing your first draft, take a break from your manuscript before editing. It will help you see your work with a clearer mind.

· For the proofreading edit, print out a hard copy and go through it the old-fashioned way with a red pen.

· Get in the right frame of mind. Rather than seeing editing as a lot of work, reframe it as an important milestone and celebrate the fact that you have completed a first draft of your book. Most writers don’t even get that far.

· Focus on your opening chapters and ask yourself if they pull the reader in. Are they powerful and intriguing enough to keep the reader reading?

· Don’t rely on your word processor for spelling and grammar checks. Do the work and if necessary use online grammar resources to check anything you’re unsure of.

· Repetition and / or lack of clarity are usually the biggest issues – focus on making your work as lean as possible for the best reading experience.


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I'm Karen, a best-selling novelist who left her corporate life to pursue my dream of becoming a writer. Since then, I've written everything from travel articles to web copy before winning a novel writing competition which led to a 3-book deal. 


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