The Editing for Indie Writers series continues…

Chapter 1: Roadmap from First Draft to Final Product

So you have a manuscript that you want to indie publish, and you have no idea where to start.  You’ve heard all kinds of things about how terrible indie writers are at editing, from how book bloggers refuse to read indie books (because they’re so bad), to how bestseller lists refuse to include ebooks, or only include certain ebooks (because they’re so bad), to how, if indie writers could actually write, they’d get real publishing contracts, but they don’t (because they’re so bad).

Now, grant me a few things here:

  1. Indie writers aren’t professional editors, on the whole.
  2. Indie writers come from all levels of writers, from the beginner to the seasoned pro who chooses to work for themselves.
  3. Most indie writers don’t have a lot of experience in the self-publishing world.

So a lot of indie writers, at all levels of experience, are starting in a new field: self-publishing.  This means they are taking on not just the role of publisher, but all of the sub-roles under that–or hiring out.  On top of that, there are a lot of writers doing this who have no or little experience in the publishing industry, and have no ideas what these roles are, let alone what’s required to do them well.  Does this mean the stories are bad?  No.  But it does mean that the stories may not be presented professionally, even by professional writers.  (Even the big publishers struggle to get ebooks right–it’s new to everyone.)

I’m not going to deal with covers or other art, marketing, promotions, sales, or formatting (except where it’s relevant for editing).  And I won’t teach you grammar; please refer to your style guide of choice (I will talk about selecting one later).  What I’m going to do is give you a map to follow so that you know:

  • What to look for when you’re editing.
  • How to identify where you have more to learn and some places to start learning it.
  • When to stop editing.
  • Whether to hire someone or not–and whether you’re getting your money’s worth.

I will assume that you have a completed first draft of your manuscript.  However, that brings up a question: how do you know if you have a completed first draft?

The essence of a complete draft is that it tells a complete story.

Not a complete draft:

  • Does not have an identifiable beginning, middle, and end that describe a problem (beginning), enumerate the steps taken to try to solve the problem (middle), and definitetively solve the problem, for better or worse (end).  That is, if you can’t describe your plot as, “So-and-so tries to do X, which ends in success (or failure),” then you do not have a complete draft.
  • Has spots where you noted, “Come back and write this later” or similar.
  • Has spots where you changed your mind about something midway through the book and haven’t fixed in the beginning yet.
  • Has elements that you make excuses for when describing the book to other people, e.g., “The main character’s in construction, only I think he should really be in sales, but I haven’t changed that yet.”
  • Has elements that need more research, e.g., details in a historical novel that you threw in because you were in a white heat to get the words down but are not sure of.  (You might choose to keep these, but at least know the facts!)

A complete draft:

  • Has elements you’re not sure about.
  • Has typos.
  • Isn’t set in stone.

I would never advise sending a completed first draft to anyone as-is, whether it’s to your friends, your early readers, to an agent or editor, or to put it up on your blog or other public area; I just said that a completed first draft has typos, didn’t I?

Here are the phases of a writing project, from an editing point of view:

  • Uncompleted draft.
  • Completed first draft.
  • Cleaned-up first draft.  (This is the draft you send to first readers; it’s complete and has typos removed.)
  • Revision(s).  (This is where you incorporate feedback or changes.)
  • Final draft.  (This is the draft where you are satisfied with the story itself, and where you can send it to friends, agents, or editors, in the appropriate format.)
  • (Agents or editors may ask for additional revisions; this may be called “developmental editing.”)
  • Copy editing.  (This is the editing pass(es) that checks for consistency, completeness, style, logic, grammar, punctuation, etc., and can include several back-and-forths with the writer.)
  • Formatting.  (This is the pass where the book is laid out, or the manuscript is put in the correct format for submission; it may be done earlier but must be done by this point.)
  • Proofreading.  (This is the pass where the book is checked for style, logic, grammar, punctuation, and formatting.  Some people do this after the proofs are produced; I try to do it both before and after.)
  • Galleys/proofs.  (Initial copies of the book are produced and may be sent out as Advanced Reader Copies).
  • Another proofreading pass.
  • Final product.

This is essentially the same process, no matter how you choose to proceed with making your work available publicly:

  • To share work with first readers (usually other writers or people who know something about the writing process), provide them at least a cleaned-up first draft.
  • To share work with agents, editors, and friends, provide them with at least a final draft (in an appropriate format, such as standard manuscript format).
  • To share work informally on your blog, provide at least a final draft (unless you specify that it’s an earlier draft, as in this work, which is a cleaned-up first draft–but never provide less than a cleaned-up draft of the material you are publishing, even if you password protect it).
  • To share work via a publisher other than yourself, work with the publisher to ensure that a true final product is provided.
  • To share work via self-publishing, never provide less than a true final product.

Whether or not you hire an editor, you should be familiar with these phases and how to do them, at least in theory.  Many people claim to be editors; however, they may not be very good, or they may do more or less than they need to do in order to get your book in shape.    For example, you might think you’re hiring someone to do every editing phase, but the person you’re hiring might think you’re only asking for proofreading–or you might be hiring a proofreader who thinks you’re hiring someone to do developmental editing.

If you are hiring an editor, you may want to provide them with checklists showing exactly what you expect them to do–then, when you get the edits back, use the same checklist to make sure that they did what you paid them for.