Book Editing Simplified: A Step-by-Step Guide for Authors

Book Editing Simplified A Step-by-Step Guide for Authors

Every great author knows that to capture readers’ attention, they must excel at telling stories, creating realistic characters, and keeping readers interested from the start. However, a perfect draft needs more work, which requires writers to be skilled in book editing.
Whether you’re self-publishing or aiming for traditional publishers, editing your manuscript should be your first step after writing it. No book hits the shelves as a first draft.
Every hit book has been polished and refined many times over. When you ask readers to spend their time reading your book, you owe them a smooth, captivating read without any plot holes that could break the spell.
Your writing must be clear, direct, and to the point; otherwise, the publishers might not be interested in the final draft. Simply put, no matter how well you have written a book, editing it is the key to getting it published, and this guide is exactly what you need to get there.

Understanding the Fundamentals of Book Editing

When you first write down your story, it’s all about pouring your ideas onto the page without holding back. This stage is full of creativity and imagination. However, once you’ve got your first draft, the next step is editing, which is quite a different task.
Editing is more like solving a puzzle or untangling a knot. It requires you to look closely at what you’ve written, identify what needs improvement, and make those changes. It’s a careful process of refinement and adjustment to make your story the best it can be.
Here are some tips to help you get into the editing mindset:

Pause Before You Start Editing.

It’s wise to take a break after you finish your draft. If you jump straight into editing, you might miss things because you’re too familiar with the text.
By setting your manuscript aside for a few days or even weeks, you give yourself the chance to revisit it with a different perspective. You’ll be able to read it objectively, almost as if you’re seeing it for the first time, which is invaluable for spotting areas that need work.

Tackle Edits in Phases

Consider how an artist approaches a blank canvas. They wait to brush out the details immediately but start with broad strokes to outline the major components of their painting.
Editing your book should follow a similar approach. You should stay calm, as trying to perfect every sentence in your first pass would not go well. Instead, go through your manuscript many times. Each time, you focus on structure, character development, dialogue, etc.
This step-by-step method allows you to feel safe. It ensures you pay attention to everything vital that you might need later.

Be Prepared to Make Hard Choices

One of the trickiest parts of editing is realizing that you might need to cut out sections you love because they don’t contribute to the story’s overall effectiveness.
Remember, just because a particular passage doesn’t fit the story doesn’t mean it has to be excluded. You can save those snippets for potential use in other areas.
Plus, the ability to create something extraordinary once means you can do it again. Trust in your creative process and be open to making difficult decisions to improve your manuscript.

Fixing Points That Build Your Book

When you start editing your book, the first thing to look at is the parts that play a more prominent role in your story. Along with many other things, the important ones to fix first are the “Plot,” “Structure,” and “Characters.”

These parts are the foundation of your book. If they’re strong, the rest of the outline will be strong, too. Here’s how to check for any fixing in these areas:

The plot is all the things that happen in your story, one after another. It’s like a path your characters walk on from the start of the book to the end. You want to make sure this path is exciting and makes sense.

Ask yourself these questions to ensure you are on the right track:

  • Is the unfolding of events engaging and realistic?
  • Do the events logically progress, akin to a series of dominoes toppling one after another?
  • By the story’s conclusion, are all mysteries resolved or critical questions answered to satisfy the reader?
  • Do any twists or shifts in the narrative add excitement and integrate seamlessly?
  • Does the narrative align with the genre of the book, such as mystery or romance?
  • Most importantly, does the story conclude with a compelling cliffhanger?

Tip: Create a plot timeline. Draw a simple line on a piece of paper or a digital tool, and mark the significant events of your story along it. This helps you see the sequence of events clearly and check if the story builds tension and excitement towards the climax. It’s a quick way to spot any parts where the plot might drag or rush, making it easier to adjust the pacing of your story.

Your story needs a good structure- how it is built or put together. Even though stories can be very different, most have a pattern that helps readers understand and enjoy them.

Consider whether your story has a clear beginning, middle, and end. For example, you could have a story where

A shy librarian discovers a magical book that could save her town from disaster, but she must overcome her fears to unlock its powers.

This sentence gives you a simple way to see your story’s structure: who it is about, their challenge, and what they need to do.

The Characters

The people in your story, or characters, are critical. They’re like friends to your readers. You want your characters to be interesting, have problems they need to solve, and change in some way by the end of the story.

Think about these things for your characters:

  • Do your main characters feel like real people with their likes, dislikes, and dreams?
  • Do they make choices and take actions that make sense for who they are?
  • How do the other characters in the story help or challenge your main characters?

Tip: Make a character chart that lists their traits, goals, fears, and relationships at the start and end of your story. This helps you track their development and ensure they undergo meaningful changes

Giving Your Story Depth and Meaning

Once you’ve made sure your story makes sense on a basic level, it’s time to add depth and meaning. This means focusing on your characters’ challenges and the big ideas or messages you want to share through your story.

Challenges in Your Story

Every good story needs challenges or conflicts. These are the problems or obstacles that your characters have to overcome. As your story moves forward, these challenges should get extensive and rigid. This makes your story more exciting and keeps readers wanting to know what happens next.
For example, if your story is about a detective, the clues might get more challenging, or the bad guys might get closer to getting away.
When editing, look at how the challenges in your story grow and build up to the big ending. This buildup ensures your story feels like moving forward and makes the ending more powerful.

The Big Ideas in Your Story

Although you might not think about it when you start writing, your story usually has some big ideas or themes. These are the more profound messages or truths you share through your story.

For instance, if your story is about someone afraid of getting older, you might include a character who’s a plastic surgeon or describe things in a way that reminds readers of time passing. These details help highlight your story’s big ideas.

When editing, ask yourself these questions to make sure your story’s challenges and big ideas are clear:

  • Do the challenges in the story help show the big ideas I want to discuss?
  • Is the main challenge exciting and easy to understand? Will it be solved by the end of the story?
  • Do the challenges get bigger and more intense as the story continues?
  • What big questions does my story ask, and are they answered by the end?
  • What essential decisions or sacrifices do my characters have to make?

Focusing on these questions can ensure your story has a strong foundation and is interesting to read. Now that you’ve set up the significant parts of your story, you can start looking at the more minor details to make your story even better.

Planning on Edit Your Book?

Perform A Scene-By-Scene Edit

Editing your book scene by scene is crucial. This is where you ensure every part of your story adds something unique and keeps readers interested. Even if you’ve already made some changes, now is the time to focus on making each scene the best it can be. Let’s break this down into three main areas:

Editing Scenes & Chapters.

After you’ve worked on the big picture of your story, looking at each scene and chapter should feel more straightforward. Pay close attention to critical moments like the start of your story, major turning points, and the climax.

You aim to make these parts flow smoothly into each other and grab your readers’ attention. Here’s what to double-check in scenes and chapters:

  • Does the start of your story pull readers in? Is it the best place to start?
  • Does every scene have an apparent reason for being in the story?
  • Do the scenes move at a good pace, fast or slow?
  • Is it clear when and where each scene happens?
  • Could some scenes begin at a more exciting point?
  • Is it done cleverly if you hint at future events (foreshadowing)?
  • Do your scenes and chapters transition from one to the next?

Fine-tuning your scenes might mean making significant changes, like rearranging or cutting some out. Getting the pace right is essential so readers stay hooked but are transparent.

Editing Dialogues

Dialogue is critical to making your characters and story come alive. It should sound natural and serve a purpose, like moving the plot forward or revealing something about a character.

Look for these points when editing dialogues:

  • Does the dialogue in each scene do something important, like sharing information or speeding up the story?
  • Who’s speaking based on how they talk?
  • Do the words your characters use fit the time and place of your story?
  • Is there a good mix of dialogue and action or thoughts?

Sometimes, dialogue can be tricky to get right. Ask someone else to read your story can help.

Editing Prose and Perspective

How you tell your story, including whose viewpoint you use, really affects how readers experience it. This part of editing makes sure your writing style matches the story you’re telling.

Ensure these points are there when editing prose and perspective:

  • Is the narrator’s voice consistent throughout the story?
  • If you switch between characters’ viewpoints, is it clear when this happens?
  • Does the way you write matches the character whose perspective you’re using?
  • Is every sentence important to the story, without extra fluff?
  • Do you show what’s happening through action and dialogue instead of telling the reader?

By reaching this stage, you’ve fixed most of these issues. But it’s still worth checking to ensure your story is as clear and engaging as possible.

Final Touches: Clearing Up Sentence-Level Errors

You’ve made significant progress, but one more crucial step is the copy edit. This stage concerns details, grammar, punctuation, and word choice. Copy editing might seem straightforward because it involves fixing clear-cut errors, but it’s essential to making your manuscript polished and professional.

Here are five fresh tips for effective copy editing:

  1. Simplify Complex Sentences

Break down long, complicated sentences into shorter, clearer ones. This makes your writing more accessible and easier to understand.

  • Before: Despite the rain pouring down with no sign of stopping, Leonard decided to continue his journey, undeterred by the possibility of getting soaked.
  • After: It was pouring rain, but Leonard decided to keep going. He didn’t mind getting soaked.
  • Use Specific, Concrete Nouns

Replace general nouns with specific ones to give your writing more impact and create vivid images in the reader’s mind.

  • Before: The dog ran across the field.
  • After The golden retriever sprinted across the sunlit meadow.
  • Vary Sentence Structure

Mix up the length and structure of your sentences to keep your writing dynamic and engaging. A variety of sentence structures prevents your writing from becoming monotonous.

  • Use a combination of short, punchy sentences and longer, more descriptive ones.
  • Eliminate Redundancies.

Remove words or phrases that repeat the same idea. Redundancies can weigh down your writing and dilute your message.

  • Before: She nodded her head in agreement.
  • After: She nodded in agreement.
  • Ensure Consistent Tense and Perspective

Remember to maintain a consistent tense and narrative perspective throughout your manuscript. Consistent tense and perspective can make readers understand.

  • Check that you’re not accidentally switching from past to present tense without an apparent reason.
  • Ensure you keep the narrative perspective the same (e.g., from first-person to third-person).

After refining your manuscript through copy editing, your writing will be more precise, engaging, and ready to impress readers. Remember, the goal of copy editing is not just to correct errors but to enhance the readability and quality of your writing.

  • Seeking Feedback: Beta Readers and Professional Editors

With your manuscript polished through self-editing, it’s time to seek external feedback. Sharing your work with beta readers and possibly hiring a professional editor can provide valuable insights and improve your book.

Beta readers can offer a fresh perspective, while professional editors bring expertise in refining your manuscript for publication.

Whether aiming for self-publishing or traditional publishing, this feedback is crucial for ensuring your book’s success.

Embrace each editing stage as an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer. Your dedication to refining your work will pay off, making your book the best.

Planning on edit your book?

Hancock Publishers can help with outline, writing, editing, design and publishing!

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