Michael Crichton once said of revising, “Books aren’t written. They’re re-written.” As any of us who have slogged through draft after draft knows, he’s entirely on the mark, and it’s what you do during the rounds of revisions that make your book closer to finally being finished.
Editors at traditional houses work extensively with writers on everything from a book’s plot and character to title and cover design. After a book is acquired, the author will receive an extensive, pages-long editorial letter that is not for the faint of heart. It outlines a number of changes that will need to be made, thus kicking off a long revision period that ultimately ends with publishing as much as 18 months later.
As an author using an open-publishing platform, you have more flexibility in accepting or rejecting where you want the story and characters to go, and you don’t have to wait nearly two years to hold a copy of your book in your hands. However, don’t rush to publication. You should expect to spend at least a few months working on a revision of your book. The last thing you want is to put out an error-riddled book where plot lines and characters disintegrate.
So, to help you bring out the best in your book, follow these tips to make the most of your editorial process:
- Figure out which format best suits you for editing. For some, it’s a computer. For others, it’s a hard copy. Try reading through 10 pages both ways and decide which you prefer. If you work on a hard copy, consider a colored pen system, with notes in specific inks to denote changes in plot, certain characters, and even setting.
- Take a few weeks off between revisions. You’ll be surprised what you notice when you’ve not been poring over your story day in and day out. In between those weeks, keep thinking, and carry a small notebook around with you to jot down ideas that come to mind.
- Save each draft as a new file. I’ve read many interviews with writers who have said they ended up going back to parts of an earlier draft and mixing it up with a later revision; so don’t throw out what you started with.
- Show your manuscript to a trusted group of readers. This may not necessarily be your best friend or partner. Sometimes those closest to you are the people you should avoid — too many hurt feelings, etc. So, instead, choose three to four people whose opinions you trust. Don’t be hurt if they say no. Reading and critiquing a book isn’t something everyone feels comfortable doing, or has the time for. Once you’ve finished a revision, show another group — or the same readers, if they’re willing — the next draft, too.
- Ask questions. Don’t understand what one of your readers meant? Ask him/her. Trust me, coming out with, “What exactly did you mean when you said…?” will save you much fretting if you just find out sooner rather than later.
- If you can’t afford to pay for Lulu’s Copy Edit Service, you should make sure that at least one of your readers knows the rules of grammar.
- Reward your readers. They’re taking their time to read through your work, so thank them with a dinner out, a homemade batch of cookies, or a coffee house gift card!
The cover, title, and the book description should not be overlooked. They’re the first impression you’re giving a potential reader, so make sure to get feedback on all three facets of your book, too.
Now you tell us, Lulu writers, what does your editorial process look like?