4.4 LINE EDITING
In this section you will learn:
- What to do after a redraft.
- Beta readers.
- Scene-by-scene work.
Congratulations! You’ve completed your first self-edit! I bet you’re totally exhausted. By this point, you may be feeling totally drained of creative energy. You may have no idea whether you’ve improved the manuscript or not – you’re too close to it now, it’s difficult to find a sense of perspective. And that’s why it’s at this point that I recommend introducing a beta reader.
EXERCISE 1: FINDING A BETA READER – AND TOP TIPS!
If you’re part of a writing group, fantastic – you already have people with whom you are comfortable sharing your work and that’s a great start. However, try to pick one person with whom to share this particular version of your story. Ideally, this would be someone you trust to be honest, and someone who will have a completely fresh pair of eyes – they don’t know the story and they haven’t read previous versions of it before. You want a fresh and focussed opinion!
Top tips for beta readers
– Be clear about what you want from the read. You DON’T want a proofreader – so tell them to ignore any small typos or spelling mistakes. You DON’T even want a line-by-line editor, per se – although it’s helpful if they point out any large passages of writing that aren’t working for them. You DO want to know if your structural edit is working – you want to know what they enjoyed about the book and what struck them as not working so well.
– It’s difficult, but try not to warn them of what to expect, of the work you’ve done or what you’re hoping they’ll say – you want as honest an opinion as possible!
– Being a good reader is harder than it sounds, but swapping and sharing stories is one of the most fulfilling and rewarding parts of writing a book. If you have the opportunity to return the favour, do it!
– Set a date to meet up and discuss your book(s). Setting a date avoids that tricky business of waiting anxiously for feedback while not knowing exactly when it will arrive – and meeting in person for feedback is so much more fun and productive, allowing you to talk things through and possibly come up with solutions together.
EXERCISE 2: LINE-EDITING AND COPY-EDITING
You’ve had your feedback from your beta-reader – this might be a point at which you want to dive back into the structural edit with this new perspective. But if all is well, the next stage is to have a final read-through to smooth out the writing and pick up on any obvious errors. You may have some helpful general notes from your beta reader on this, too.
I do recommend printing out your manuscript again (sorry, trees…) for this stage. Marking up on paper seems to make me, personally, a lot more accurate. I spot so much more than I do on screen. The types of things I look for at line edit stage include…
– flabby bits of prose that just aren’t very well-written – can anything be sharpened?
– lack of balance between narrative, action and dialogue – are there whole pages of scene-setting? Or long sections of just dialogue, without enough visualisation?
– flowery description or unnecessary repetition
In my opinion, most writers worry too much about grammar and spelling. It’s important to present your work as professionally as possible, so obviously don’t purposefully ignore anything you spot. However all editors and agents understand that mistakes are made, that you’re not working with professional editors to make your text perfect, and if there’s a typo on the first page, it’s unlikely they’ll hold it against you if they’re enjoying the story.
Congratulations! Here’s a recap of what you’ve done:
- Establishing distance from your work and producing copy
- Character-based structural edits
- ‘Story beats’ in structural edits
- Line edits, beta readers and copy-edits
Now’s the time to dig out that copy from the first session and take a look at how it matches up to your current story. Does it need revising? Do you think you have achieved your aims for the book? Take some time before you start going out on submission to make sure you have an up-to-date synopsis, some great sales copy, and – of course – an amazing cover letter too.
If you don’t think it’s quite there, that’s totally OK. Remember, you’re not trying to perfect your book – you’re trying to do what you can without outside professional help. You’ve got to leave something for your agent and editor to do, after all! What you’re trying to showcase, to the best of your ability, is potential – the potential of your story and of you as a writer.
Self-editing a book is really hard, but I hope you’ve found that it’s added to your depth of understanding of your work and of yourself as a writer. Perhaps you’ve noticed a few things that you could take forward as you plan your next project – most of these exercises adapt well to the plotting and planning stage, too.
Well done – and good luck for whatever comes next!
Kesia Lupo studied History at Oxford University and Creative Writing at Bath Spa. She lives in Bristol with her husband and works as a children’s book editor, writing in the mornings before work.
She is a Senior Editor at Chicken House publishers.