Tuesday, September 14, 2010

So You’ve Written A Book. Now What? Self Editing

This is the second article in a series of articles written by Jim Magwood, author of So You’ve Written A Book. Now What? and the mystery novel, SANCTION.  (More on Jim below the article.)  As the editor-in-chief of Feathered Quill, I can tell you that Jim's advice is spot on. Editing is the single biggest problem we see with self-published books.  If you're going to spend the money to self-publish, PLEASE edit your book.  Read this column carefully!

Once you get your book into the hands of a publisher, you will get it edited (at least if your choice of publisher offers that function.) However, BEFORE it gets that far, even to ensure it DOES get that far, you must get it edited, and that will usually be done by YOU. You might hire a professional to do a major edit for you before you start sending it out, but even before you do that, you must Self-Edit. So here are the major items to look at to make your manuscript the very best it can be.

First, read all the way through your manuscript as if it was already a book using your red pencils to just make marks reminding you where to come back to. Don’t take the time to make all the corrections at this time; just mark them. Try to read through your book to get the “flow” of the work. Does it read well? Do the sentences make sense? Is it dry, dull and boring? Does a paragraph or chapter start out exciting but end strained and dull? Do you see words and sentences that just don’t make sense?

This first time through is just for you to get the feel of how the story flows and where there are obvious, major errors. What’s the “flow?” Ask yourself, Does the story go where I want it? Does it wander and twist too much? Do the conversations make sense? Are you comfortable reading the story or is it a strain sometimes to follow what’s going on? When you get to the end of the story, do you look back and say, Yes! or do you feel that it just didn’t get there?

If you have any question about how the story flows, read it out loud. We hear much different than we read, so if there are any questions, read it out loud.

Now I’m going to assume you have your work on a computer, not on typewritten or hand-written pages. If not, at all costs get it on a computer so you won’t be afraid to make changes. With a computer, changes are made in a nano-second with backup copies in case you want to go back.

So, how many times have you spell-checked? WITH the grammar checker turned on as well? Probably not enough times, so do it again – and again – and again. All an agent or publisher has to do is see ONE misspelled word and it likely goes into the circular file. That grammar checker may drive you crazy, but it’s there for a purpose, so use it.

And here’s a list to run through that covers further highlights of self-editing.

1.     Is there something in the immediate, opening sentences and paragraphs that reaches out and grabs the reader? It may not set up the full direction of the book, but there needs to be something that shocks or surprises or intrigues the reader.

2.     Who are your characters and how are they developed? Do your main characters quickly take their place in the story? Are they interesting? Does the dialogue flow to where you want it to go and is it natural? (Read it out loud to see if it sounds like a real conversation.)

3.     Does the dialogue between characters make the story flow, or does it become stilted or unnatural? If you have long pages of dialogue, descriptions or technical minutia, your reader may not get past them and into the fun or excitement you’ve created.

4.     Do the relations or situations between the characters work their way through the story and bring out agendas and conflicts or relations that keep the story moving, or do they just get confusing? Yes, you can have confusion and hidden agendas for some time, but eventually they must get resolved or the reader loses interest.

5.     For both characters and action, do you tell about them/it, or do you make it happen? Action scenes can be exciting; talking or thinking about the action can be just words. Action is action. Good writing shows or reveals things, it doesn’t just tell about them.

6.     Does the story describe events so your reader has an attachment to them? Do they “feel” it? Do they end with a mental image of your scenes? Does the story “flow” and hold the reader’s attention?

7.     Again, before you finalize your writing or your thoughts, read your story completely, OUT LOUD. If it doesn’t sound right to you, how is your reader going to feel it? Remember: “The very best we can make it.”

8.     Your ending can be anything you want. But, how many times have you read something where you said, “Okay. Same old ending.” Consider an ending that doesn’t work out just right for the heroes. The hero kisses his sweetie goodbye and steps outside—onto a land mine. End of story with that sentence. Shocking. Leave your reader crying, and screaming, “Nooooo!!!” Your reader may not agree with, or like, your ending, but they need to at least be left saying, “Man what a crazy, scary, weird (choose a word) ending. I want more of this.”

9.     Find a book or an author that has really left you panting for more and copy their work. (No, I didn’t mean copy. I really meant get your story, your ending, your style, to work the same as theirs.) Read and study what the best sellers look like, how they sound and how they’re laid out. After all, they are the best sellers.

Remember, there are some 300,000 titles published each year now. What’s going to make your work rise to the top of that list? “The very best you can make it.”

Next time we’ll look at Book Covers and the Back-matter, plus the actual formatting of your book, all subjects that can make or break your book. So, look for the next edition or head right into the Website and get the mini-book, So You’ve Written A Book. Now What? at http://www.JimMagwood.com/index.php?p=1_20.

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Jim Magwood is the author of the international mystery novel, SANCTION. You can visit him at his site, http://www.jimmagwood.com/. He is also the webmaster of a site dedicated to showcasing authors and their works to readers everywhere at a cost any author can afford. Visit The Author’s Inn at http://www.the-authors-inn.com.


  1. Thanks for the advice - very helpful!

  2. I'm glad you enjoyed it. Publishing today can be a beartrap. I hope you will be writing.

    Regards, Jim