Revision & Self-Editing: The Two Most Important Tools in Your Writer’s Toolbox
“Put down everything that comes into your head and then you’re a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff’s worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.” ~ Colette
Self-editing is probably the hardest task a writer must undertake, but it’s the most important tool in your writer’s toolbox. Why? Not because it can take a mediocre work to greatness, not because it can make your piece perfect—because it takes your work to final.
I know writers who never finish a manuscript because they think it will never be good enough. They look at authors they admire and think: Why can’t I write like that? What they don’t realize is that their favorite author did not start out writing that way. Like most of us, she probably started out somewhat decent, logged a lot of words under her belt, sent her work out into the world for feedback, received a few knocks on the chin, and learned the fine art of revision and self-editing. She also understood that her manuscript didn’t have to be perfect; it just needed to be professional.
Having a step-by-step method for editing your manuscript can help alleviate those feelings of self-doubt and perfectionism. If you are committed to finishing those drafts that are languishing on your computer, this issue is for you! Whether you need help editing an article, novel, or revising an over-edited Frankenmonstered manuscript, we have a solution that you can put to use today. Bookmark or print out the advice that is useful to you and be proud that you are on the path to completion.
Don’t let that unfinished project drain your creative energy. You can take your manuscript to final. You really can. And when you do, it’s time to celebrate!
A big, warm thank you goes to our freelancers and staff members:
We welcome back freelancer Jill Pertler and thank her for her article, Life as an Editing Warrior: Revising and Slashing to Win the Battle. As the author of a weekly syndicated column, Jill developed a step-by-step approach over the years to quickly and efficiently edit her articles. “Warrior Editing” is a rock-solid method and very similar to what I’ve used for freelance articles or blog posts that have no editor on the receiving side. (But if you do, they will be impressed!) She also shares a list of helpful online resources—both free and for a fee—which she personally uses to polish her prose. By following her defined rules, editing becomes a well-honed process that will elevate your piece to a new level and turn you into an editing warrior.
Many writers understand what it takes to edit an article or blog post, but get overwhelmed when it comes to editing a novel. Where do you start? What steps should you take? Fear not, grasshopper! We welcome back freelancer Devon Ellington and thank her for introducing us to The Layered Edit. Devon teaches this layered editing process in her classes, and it’s helped her students, who tend to have a high rate of publication. I love her multi-colored draft exercise, and her character and scene purpose sheets are fantastic! She even shares an example of a scene purpose sheet from a chapter in her novel.
So what happens when you do everything you’re supposed to do, edit your manuscript, seek feedback from your critique group, and faithfully apply every suggestion you’ve received to your work in progress? It should be perfect, right? But sadly, it’s not. Instead, it’s a schizophrenic manuscript that could use the help of a Thorazine-Haldol cocktail. We welcome back freelancer Kathy Higgs-Coulthard and thank her for exploring this all too familiar scenario in her article, Help! I've Frankenmonstered My Manuscript! What to Do When Your Revision Techniques Need Revising. When Kathy described how she saved her drafts as draft 1, draft 2, etc., on her hard drive . . . Ugh! I could totally relate. I did the same thing with my first novel and couldn’t find a thing when I went back in to work on it recently.
I had even written the whole thing in first person and then third person. What a mess! If this has happened to you, you’re going to love this article. Kathy flies to New York in search of answers and consults with Kate Sullivan, editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers. She also chats with authors Jody Lamb and Barbara Shoup, who share their best advice. Finally, she attends a storyboarding workshop led by author Cathy Day who shares a fantastic technique that Kathy found to be the right prescription for her Franken-novel.
After you’ve got a solid manuscript in place, you’re going to want to run it by your trusted beta readers. If you’re saying, “Beta-huh?” then check out this revealing discussion. We welcome back freelancer Tiffany Jansen and thank her for her article, Shedding Light on the Role of the Beta Reader. Tiffany interviews four bestselling authors—Jody Hedlund, Stephen Leather, Joanna Penn, and Chuck Sambuchino—who chat about everything from the role of a beta reader to how many you should have to what to give them in return for their services. This is a lively, inspiring discussion!
So you completed your manuscript—whether it’s an article, story, or essay—sent it off to your target editor, and months later, it comes back as a rejection. Do you toss it aside because the idea is no longer fresh and work on something new? Admit it, you probably have a few drafts piling up, don’t you? WOW! team member Sue Bradford Edwards has several creative, inspiring ideas to get your existing pieces back out into circulation with her article, Revision, Rework, Rewrite: How to Get Your Work Back Out When Your Target Editor Says No. These are really smart ideas; and when I read this I thought: Why didn’t I think of that? I need to try this! One of the ideas involves distilling the idea of your piece—whether fiction or nonfiction—into a summary that you can use as a sales tool. Not to miss!
Not all of us have a cadre of beta readers at arm’s length waiting for our manuscripts; some of us need the advice of a freelance book editor or an acquiring editor. We welcome freelancer Elizabeth Maria Naranjo to the WOW! family, and thank her for tackling this month’s 20 Questions column, which is actually, 10 Questions Answered by 2 Editors: Revising Your Manuscript Before You Submit. Elizabeth interviews Kelly Lynne from Book Editing Associates and Annette Rogers from Poisoned Pen Press, who chat about everything from writing in a particular genre to how a writer knows when it’s time to stop revising and submit. There are some fantastic pearls of wisdom in this interview that you won’t want to miss. Plus, if you are writing a mystery, you will want to read what Annette looks for when evaluating Poisoned Pen Press’s manuscripts!
Okay, maybe you’ve always had a natural flair for editing. Your family makes fun of you when you find typos in the newspaper, or your friends ask you to proofread their work. Have you ever considered editing for pay? In this month’s freelancer’s corner column, Stairway to Heaven: The Three Steps to Starting Your Freelance Editing Business, Allena Tapia—who owns her own successful freelance editing business—shows you how to get started!
Have you ever had your query accepted, only to have the project killed when you turn in the article? Maybe the editor says that it’s not what she expected, and you’re shocked! What happened? What went wrong? We welcome freelancer Noelle Sterne to the WOW! family and thank her for heading up this month’s How2 column with her article, How to Match Your Query to Your Manuscript. Although freelancers seldom like to admit it, I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me on the editor’s side. I receive a query that sounds wonderful, and I give the writer the go-ahead to write the piece; but when it comes back, I’m disappointed by what was written. Even though I tried to give clear, specific guidelines and checked out the writer’s clips for style,
maybe she veered from the subject matter or wrote in an inappropriate tone for our publication or submitted a piece that didn’t provide enough takeaway. If you’re lucky, the editor will work with you to make the piece publishable. If it’s clearly not going to work, you may get a kill fee. Thankfully, we’ve only had to do this a couple times in six years. But you don’t want this to happen to you! It ruins the relationship between you and the editor if the manuscript is that far off from the query. So, how do you avoid this? Noelle Sterne shows you how—along with advice from expert freelancers Jenna Glatzer, Michelle Ruberg, and Erika Dreifus, and writer/editor/publisher Moira Allen. She also breaks down a query she wrote for The Writer magazine and shows us why it was successful.
And last, but not least, I’d like to thank WOW’s editor, Margo L. Dill, for a fantastic editing job! Even with the topic of editing, you’d be surprised by how much red pen she wielded to make this issue polished. If you are looking for a freelance editor, I highly recommend Margo and her Editor 911 Services. She’s such a smart, proficient editor who goes above and beyond, and is a joy to work with.