Tuesday, February 4, 2014

How to Write a Book: Part 5


If you've been following along with this series of articles, then by the time you get to this part you should have a manuscript that you've taken from idea to outline, you've written it and you've edited it yourself a few times. If you haven't, here are the first four parts for you to go back and read:


Back already? Alright, so you've got your manuscript written in a format you're happy with and you've edited it multiple times. Time to go ahead and get that baby printed up and start your assault on the Best Seller's list, right? Not quite...there are still several things to think about and several more steps you'll need to take before your book is ready for public consumption. If you thought editing was exciting, just wait until you see what Part 5 is all about!

GET ANOTHER PERSON TO EDIT YOUR BOOK

That's right, Part 5 is as unsexy and unglamorous a part of the process as Part 4, or maybe worse depending on your perspective. But I will tell you something from personal experience: it's one of the best and most important parts of the entire process. Let me relate it to you by sharing a story from the creation of my first book...

When I published my first book in 2009, I was very happy and proud to finally have my book released and in print. However, when I received my author's copy for my personal collection, I was horrified and more than that, REALLY IRRITATED, by all of the errors I kept finding as I read through it! How could this have happened when I had read through my manuscript probably a dozen times and edited it each time? I had read it over and over until I was sick of the whole thing and couldn't find any more errors. Therein lies the problem; remember what I said in Part 4 about taking time in between editing sessions to allow your eyes and mind to rest? I hadn't done that...I was doing two or three, and sometimes even four edits in a day. As you can see, what had happened was that my eyes fatigued and I started to miss things. Funny enough, the other day I was reading something online when I stumbled across this quote from a fellow writer:

"The more I read my manuscript, the more I'm seeing what I meant to write, not what I actually wrote."

To me, that sums it up perfectly: when you read your own writing over and over, eventually your brain fills in the gaps where the mistakes are so you end up reading what you think should be there, but not what is actually there. And that's where the outside pair of eyes comes in. Now, you'll notice in my first book that I do thank a friend of mine for reading my manuscript, and it is true he did a great job. He caught many errors I'd missed and also offered valuable suggestions to change some of the more clunky and disjointed passages. I made all of his changes, and the errors that slipped through aren't his fault in the slightest, but rather mine. What happened was that, after I made his changes, I decided to add more to each section of the book and when I was finished, I went ahead and used the same multiple-edits-in-a-day approach I'd used before without having him read it again. Thus, I ended up missing some things that ended up making it through to the finished version. The book still ended up being great and the goofs don't detract from the enjoyment of it in any way, but they bother me.  For my second book, released in 2012, I learned from my mistakes and used the approach I detailed in Part 4. After I finished writing, I reread and edited the manuscript myself a few times, taking a day or two off in between each session. I then asked my friend from before to edit the manuscript, but this time I also asked another friend to do the same. This time I was using two sets of fresh eyes. What happened was remarkable; not only did they both find errors that I had missed, but they both found different mistakes that the other hadn't. Not only that, but they also made different suggestions and comments on the book, all of which were invaluable. To me, this illustrates the crux of this part of the process.

The heart of Part 5 is to have outside eyes read your manuscript, and to this I add that it's better to have MORE THAN ONE pair of outside eyes do so. The more the merrier, within reason. Obviously, if you have too many people read it, you'll get confused trying to listen to everyone's suggestions and it'll end up muddying the process..the whole "too many cooks spoil the soup" thing. However, asking two or three close friends or family members is a great idea. While there are outside proofreaders who will perform this service (for a fee, of course), I always feel that this is something that can be done just as well for free by someone who is willing to help you out. It also helps to choose people who have some familiarity and interest in what you're writing about, although this isn't an absolute requirement. Mainly, choose people you trust so that any criticisms will be taken at face value; they needn't worry about hurting your feelings...you're a writer, after all!

After you get feedback from your proofreaders, the first thing to do is to fix the obvious spelling and grammatical errors they point out. You'll be shocked at what they find that you've missed! After that, read through their comments and suggestions, all the while being aware that as the author, ultimately the choice of whether or not to incorporate them is entirely up to you. You may agree with some of the changes that are recommended and you may vehemently disagree with others...and that's perfectly fine. The one thing I recommend doing is to discuss the suggestions on which you disagree with whoever suggested them...oftentimes hearing the other person explain their reasoning can give you a better idea of what they meant. After that, implementing them or not is your choice.

Just like most things in life, you can't do it all alone. The editing and revising part of the process is one of the most arduous but important in ensuring that your book is as professional-looking and error-free as you can make it. It's also the best part of the entire endeavor to bring in outside help to offer you a fresh perspective on your work as well as to assist in cleaning up any mistakes. Take your time with this part of book creation, I promise you it's worth it, and keep your eye on the prize...you're getting closer to the end which is to have the best possible book you can!

(Please feel free to share your stories or suggestions on bringing in outside eyes to help with the editing of your writing in the comments section below...all are welcome to discuss here!)

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