Updated: Feb 27, 2019
Social media writing groups are inundated with posts by excited writers exclaiming that they have written a draft of a novel and are now ready to publish!
What I want to delicately remind these excited writers is that writing a novel draft is only the beginning. It is one of the most important things I try to teach my writing students: just because you have a first draft doesn’t mean you are ready to turn in the final. Now is the time to get your hands dirty--to make a big beautiful mess of your work--and then put the pieces back together in a way that far outshines your first attempt.
Yes, we may write alone. But editing is not something that should be approached as a solo mission. You need to invite your editors to your writing table.
And once you do: welcome to the wide, wonderful world of editing and revision. Expect multiple rounds of revisions. Expect multiple drafts and messy versions of your manuscript. Prepare yourself for feedback from outside readers and editors before spit-shining a final draft.
And then we can talk publishing.
Okay, so let's break this down. You have your first draft: a looming pile of pages or a doc with a staggering word count you can't quite believe all came from you. Congrats! You are in the game--now what? This is the time for the author to read through and edit their novel as best as they can before calling in for back-up (aka professional editors).
Many writers understand the value of beta readers--unbiased folks who can read their novel and tell them if they liked it or not from a reader's perspective, however, it’s important not to confuse beta readers with professional editors. Yes, your mom/husband/roommate/bestie may read your novel and sing its praises, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they know how to articulate the ways in which your novel could be improved (no offense mom/husband/roommate/bestie).
Every writer, even the most professional, highly-acclaimed writer, has editors because we simply can’t see the holes in our sentences or narratives without the help of an outside, professional pair of eyes. Or three.
The next important thing to understand about editors is what kind of editor you need at your stage of revision.
Below are the three stages of editing, when they come into play, and what purpose they serve. It is important to understand that certain editors may specialize in one or more types of editing because they require different skill sets.
1. The Developmental (or Content) Editor:
This editor is the first reader of a manuscript draft once you have taken your edits as far as you can. They have a strong grasp of content and craft. They look at the plot, setting, characterization, and continuity. They point out the holes and ask the right questions to help you elevate your prose to its highest potential. This editor should be someone who specializes in fiction, not just the rules of grammar.
2. The Copyeditor:
This editor is drilling down to perfect the grammar and punctuation on a sentence-by-sentence level. They have a strong knowledge of style guides and an opinion on the oxford comma (I vote yes), but aren't providing any big picture changes that are needed for your novel.
3. The Proofreader:
This editor is your last line of defense before publication time. They are doing a final check to make sure they spot any last minute errors that may have been overlooked or accidentally introduced later in the game by a previous editor or yourself.
We are humans and therefore cannot help but make mistakes. These mistakes or holes are hard to spot on our own, which is why we call in the pros for help (this could be applied to all areas of our lives).
As a writer and editor who specializes in developmental editing, I love diving into the exciting drafts of other writers and swimming up to the surface with all of kinds of questions and suggestions for the author pertaining to characterization, plot, setting, sensory details, dialogue, transitions, etc.
If you’re interested in assistance on this level with your own draft, follow the yellow brick road → here.
Good luck writers!