Editing: A Massive Underestimation

When I wrote and released Into the Badlands I thought I’d done a pretty damn good job with it. I read through it several times, ran it through a spell-checker one final time, then published. It actually started selling a few copies even. Then one day on a whim I paged through the book and read a few paragraphs.

I found an error. Then I found another error. Then another one. And another.

I was completely flabbergasted. How could there be so many errors? I spell-checked it. I read and re-read it multiple times. Yet there the errors were, like a black eye.

Immediately I stopped all the other work I was doing and went back to editing the manuscript again. This time, however, I had another plan.

I read through it again, fixing any errors I found along the way. Then I again ran it through the spell-checker that ships with LibreOffice. LibreOffice doesn’t have a grammar checker, but there’s a wonderful plugin that will add grammar checking via After The Deadline.

After the Deadline found all sorts of grammar errors and areas for improvement. Just running it through their software alone helped the manuscript tremendously.

But I didn’t stop there. I then ran the manuscript through Microsoft Word. Word has both a spelling and grammar checker built-in. It found things that LibreOffice and ATD didn’t find.

After that I took it a step further. I then ran the manuscript through Apple’s Pages (the word processor that ships with iWork). Pages has both spelling and grammar checking built-in. Wouldn’t you know, it found things none of the others did.

All three grammar checkers were good at finding duplicate words, homonym misusage, duplicate punctuation, and missing punctuation, to name a few.

I noticed that ATD was good about identifying passive voice. Microsoft Word seemed to excel at finding missing semi-colons, bad comma usage, and sentence fragments. Pages suggested replacing archaic words and expressions, along with suggesting simpler replacements for overly complex sentences.

It was like having three different editors editing my manuscript, all with different styles.

After all this I then re-read the book again, correcting any leftover errors I could find.

So while I can’t guarantee it’s absolutely perfect, it’s a damn sight better than it was when I released it.

Lessons Learned

So what did I learn from all this? Well, for starters, never trivialize the gargantuan task of editing. No wonder editors charge $700 or more to edit a novel. It’s absolutely tedious work. If I start selling a ton of books, then maybe I’ll farm the work out. Until then, I’ll be doing my “triple edit” on the final manuscript before it ever enters the public eye. It’s embarrassing to know there are copies of my book floating around out there with errors, but when you’re learning in public sometimes that’s the way things go.

I also made another mistake. I let the beta readers finish my book and then, without their feedback, I tacked on a cliffhanger ending. I was certain it would work, so I moved forward.

Turned out a lot of people didn’t like it. Once I thought about it, I didn’t either.

I made the tough decision to remove the “tacked on” ending, restoring the original ending that resonated with the beta readers. Again, there are around 120 copies of the old version of the book out there, casualties of my novice mistakes.

(A note to any readers out there: if you picked up a copy of the book and want to make sure you have the latest version, there’s an identification number just after the copyright information. The latest version is 2011.ITB.1.13. [Any version labeled “Second Edition” has been professionally edited. This is the version you want.] I think this can be done through Amazon, B&N, etc.; if not, contact me.)

Hopefully this story of missteps will help to keep you from making some of the same mistakes I made. It’s hard to resist not uploading the book the minute it’s finished, but it’s well worth it to first do your due diligence and run it through as many spelling/grammar checkers as you can (and by an editor if you can afford one) Also read it again, and again, and again until you’ve caught everything you can. I’ve read mine five times so far.

One of the biggest complaints people have about self-published books is the lack of editing. Don’t provide any more fuel to that fire. If your book is well-edited it’ll be taken more seriously.

It’s your reputation, after all.

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4 thoughts on “Editing: A Massive Underestimation

  1. Ermilia November 22, 2011 / 8:41 pm

    That’s some great advice. I think I will try that triple edit approach. I also can understand why editors charge so much It’s so tedious. The difference it makes is so tremendous that it adds such a shine to your novel. Me and my coauthor Elia have sent it to the editors because we didn’t trust ourselves (turns out, we shouldn’t have. There were plenty of errors!). That triple check sounds great for those who can’t afford an editor at the moment.

    Live an learn! The importance of editing: is a very important lesson to keep in the publishing world.

    – Ermisenda

  2. Margaret May 24, 2012 / 11:13 am

    How interesting that each checker seemed to have its own “hang-ups”. I have not considered using multiple sources, but it looks like it is worth it.j

    • Brian May 24, 2012 / 1:39 pm

      I think each one has their own “strengths”, or maybe “focus” is a better word. It’s mostly on the grammar side, since there tends to be more gray area there (in terms of word selection, phrasing and stuff like that). That said, I don’t feel that even the cumulative spelling & grammar checker passes are a substitute for an editor. Rather, it helps improve the manuscript before you send it to the editor. Another upside is that I’m making most of these “corrections” as I write now, having learned better form and applying it from the get go. It saves me some work down the road, doing it right the first time and all.

      Brian

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