Dee recently made a post about self-editing based on a “guide” I sent her, so she could do a first round of edits on her book before I started my own rounds of editing. It’s something a few of the editors at Samhain use with brand new authors. I thought it would be interesting (for who, I don’t know but humor me) to explain more about it and how it came to existance.
The guide came about after an IM conversation I had with another editor, Sasha Knight. I was rather bemoaning the fact that I felt as though I was correcting the same common errors or writing…ticks? I felt that in addition to big content edits, I was pointing out a number of things that authors could better learn not to do, not just have me correct them out each time we did a book together. Things that they could look for in their own manuscripts and edit out, if they just knew to look for them. It wasn’t to say that I didn’t want to do my job (far from it as my authors will tell you, lol) but that I felt the process could work more efficiently if the manuscripts had another go through by the author, once they were contracted but before I edited them.
It was at that point that the idea of creating a self-editing guide was born. We brainstormed some of the common and more basic things we saw in the manuscripts we were editing that we felt authors could look through on their own. I wanted Sasha to write it but she was busy and I was impatient to implement it and see how it would work so I sat down and wrote out a five page guide of some basic (and a few not as basic) things an author could look out for in their writing. I sent it off to Sasha, she added some things and it was ready to see action.
Some of the basic things we point authors to fix (I’m going to speak briefly about each one, because most will get their own post in the future):
1. Basic house style issues such as using a proper em dash (not a hyphen, double hyphen or en dash), using a proper ellipsis and other boring things like this.
2. Wandering body parts. Are his eyes shooting at her? His hands roaming her body? Some people are more literal minded than others, but sometimes the way body parts are described are more reminiscent of a horror novel than a romance.
3. Dangling participles. Does your sentence start with an action attributed to an impossible thing? Lifting his head, the tree looked beautiful in the sunlight.
4. Filler words. We were seeing a lot of authors using words such as: just, so, really, that, very, then, and then in their writing. Words that don’t tell the reader anything and clutter the sentence. It’s easy, though time consuming, for an editor to point them out. It’s better if the author takes a critical look at their manuscript and sees how often they use them. It makes them more conscious of them the next time around.
5. Dialogue tags. Some editors hate dialogue tags. Some authors hate dialogue tags 🙂 To the best of my knowledge, none of the editors at Samhain feel that strongly about them. But we do see many authors using the same dialogue tag repeatedly, not using action tags effectively, and needing help streamlining and combining the two. As a for instance, if the dialogue consists of a question, the tag asked can be redundant, since it’s much like punctuation itself. This is a situation where we encourage authors to go for an action tag or a more varied dialogue tag, to give the reader more information.
7. Redundant actions, repeated words and other things to tighten writing.
Now, here’s where I tell a not-so-secret about this guide. It’s not meant to be the final word or on writing or editing or present itself as the final authority on the subject. We don’t expect the authors to self-edit their books or to make big, sweeping changes that will enable us to have to do no work at all, but this is a way of making them even more aware of some of the things they do in writing that just aren’t good 😉 Each author goes through this guide and finds something different than the next author, a different bad writing habit, so to speak. Some authors go through it and find nothing (and then get surprised in edits when we do :evilha:) We’re still going to do full edits on the book. Rounds of edits with lots of red ink. :muahaha: but getting the author learning to be introspective about how they write is worth the time we took to put the guide together and worth the time the author takes to use it.
Coming up next: dangling participles. I know you can hardly wait :fire: