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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Widdowson

The Indie Author's Arsenal: Editing

Updated: Jun 26

Red fountain pen editing pages

You’ve spent months, maybe even years, writing your book, and now, finally, you’re finished! Now what? It’s time to publish, right? Wrong. It’s time to edit. Writing a book is like most other large projects—only ten percent of it is doing what it’s actually called—writing a book. The other ninety percent is spent on everything else that’s required to reach the ultimate goal.

Kate Sunburn (not Thomas Edison) said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” This quote is very true for a self-published author. If you have enough funds to hire editors, this percentage may not apply to you. But if, like most of us first-time, self-published authors, you plan to do your own editing, prepare for a marathon! However, if you want your book to be the best it can be, and look to the world like it was professionally published and not just thrown together on your computer and spit out to the world without a care, then get ready to spend many hours editing.

There are several types of editing, but I’m just going to touch on what I did before I published my book. If you want to dive deep into the nitty gritty of the subject, check out this blog, “Types of Editing For Books: What Are They and Which Do You Need?” by Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur.

Of course, you will do some editing along the way. Most writers produce several drafts before they feel the book is done. And in every successive draft, there is editing. Everyone has their own process, but when I wrote my books, I usually went through at least three draft stages before I shared it with an alpha reader for feedback. I asked them to point out any grammar or spelling problems, issues with the timeline, or spots in the book that were confusing to them. I asked them to be both a copy editor and a proofreader—or to do what’s also known as substantive editing.

Before I ask anyone to do this type of editing for me, especially since they are doing it for free, I do everything I can to ensure it’s as clean as possible first. There are a few writing issues and grammatical rules that I know I often struggle with. So I focus on those areas first.

The first challenge is writing numbers. You’re probably wondering why that would be a problem. Here’s the thing, though. There are a lot of different numbers that can be written in a book: height, weight, street and highway numbers, ages, distances, time, ages, etc. etc. I often struggle to remember, for example, is the distance of 137 miles written as the numeral 137, as one-hundred and thirty-seven, or as one hundred and thirty-seven? Should I write 5:30am, or 5:30 a.m., or five-thirty a.m.?

I’m sure there are a lot of resources out there to reference, but whenever I struggle to remember formatting rules associated with writing numbers, I visit the “Writing Numbers in Fiction” website by The Editor’s Blog. I pick one reference and stick with it. That way, I know I’m following the same rules throughout my book.

A few other mistakes I often make are writing lead when I mean led, using too many words when fewer would get the point across just as well, and struggling with when to use lie versus lay. Yes, even after all these years, I still find myself looking up the conjugation and meaning just to be sure I’m right. In fact, every time I’m working on a book, I save this Lay vs Lie chart from Woodward English in the research folder of my Scrivener writing app for easy reference.

Another area where I sometimes make errors, is using hyphens. For example, the term self publishing requires no hyphen. But if you say you are a self-published author, a hyphen is required. She wore a red-green jacket, is correct. However, you would not need a hyphen if you said, She wore a newly torn jacket, because you don’t hyphenate ly words. There are a ton of rules around hyphenations, and I look them up frequently. Check out this blog on “Compound Words”, again from The Editor’s Blog for more info.

Keep in mind that my choices may not be your choices. Some people like to follow the AP Manual (Associated Press) Others may prefer the Chicago Manual of Style, while still others may reference the MLA (Modern Language Association) Handbook. There are differences. For example, I prefer to write the possessive form of proper names that end in an ’s’ by simply adding an apostrophe at the end: Thomas’ not Thomas’s. That preference lines up with the AP Style Manual. The MLA Handbook would have me use the additional ’s’ at the end.

Without getting further into the weeds of my most common writing errors and the grammatical rules of American English, I’ll let you in on a little secret. By the time I finished my second book, MYND Control, I had done so much editing and proofreading that I finally broke down and bought an editing tool to help me. I decided that the money spent would be well worth the time it would save me in the long run. And I can confidently say that I was right! Unless you absolutely cannot afford it, save yourself many hours of tedious editing time and purchase a proof-reading application!

There are many available, and as I mentioned in one of this series’ previous blogs, “Writing Tools”, some applications used for book writing come with built-in spelling and grammar checkers. But these built-in aids are not nearly as robust as what you’ll find in applications created solely for this purpose.

The two most popular and robust are Pro-Writing Aid and Grammarly. Both are great tools with different strengths and weaknesses. I chose Pro-Writing Aid for the simple reason that it interfaces seamlessly with Scrivener.

Whatever guidelines you decide to follow, or editing and proof-reading tools you decide to use, the most important thing you can do is to be consistent. It's critical that the reader understands what you’re saying and is not taken out of the story by clunky grammatical mistakes, spelling errors, or inconsistencies in writing. Unless your reader is a grammar snob (like me), most people don’t care whether you decide to use long-dashes or semicolons, add an additional ’s’ to your possessives, or forget to spell out your numbers less than 100 or write them numerically.

The primary goal of a book should be that the story and characters take readers on a journey—a trip that is so engulfing that they forget about everything else in their life and never want to leave. A well-written book ensures that readers who are living in this wonderful world you’ve created are not jerked out of it by silly errors.

I read a lot, and I find a lot of errors—even in books published by major publishing houses. If you’ve spent hours editing and proof-reading your book, or paid someone else to do it and still find errors once it’s published, don’t stress out too much. We’re all human, and even the pros make mistakes. Do your best to make your book error-free, but don’t let the fear of not being perfect prevent you from reaching your goal. Good advice for a lot of areas in life, don’t you think?

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