But it's absolutely worth it. (Apostrophe! We definitely want the apostrophe here!) Few of us have a team of dedicated volunteer editors and beta-readers, and the professionals get expensive. If you're pursuing traditional publishing, agents and publishers will want to see a polished product before it even reaches their staff editors. If you're indie- or self-publishing, your readers deserve the best writing possible and will vote with their wallets if they don't get it. Either way, you don't want awkward writing to throw the reader out of the story. Immersion is key.
Any literate person can do a line edit. Heck, spell check can do a line edit! You know to look for misspellings and to smooth bad grammar. But what about all those other little mechanics of writing that like to sneak up and brain you from behind?
I've been a generous volunteer editor in addition to editing my own
- The big picture. You need an easy method of manipulating the Big Picture. Some people use note cards, outlines, or synopses; I've been known to cover everything in sticky notes. When you're processing huge amounts of text, you must have a way to go through the entire book in a glance and rearrange sections. It's one of your most helpful evaluation tools.
- Repetition of concepts. Of course we know to look out for repetitious words, but you need to watch for concepts too. More than once I've seen a paragraph like this: "Her golden hair flowed over her shoulder, the color of flax shimmering in sunlight." Her hair doesn't have to be golden and flax. Stick to one metaphor.
- Brevity. Can you say it in fewer words? Do you need that paragraph? What about this entire chapter? Clean up your unnecessary words and descriptions. Trust the reader's imagination to fill in the blanks. It tightens the pacing and improves flow. If your second draft isn't at least 10% shorter than the rough draft, something is wrong-- so when in doubt, cut it out.
- Rhythm. Action scenes need short paragraphs, simple sentences, and colorful words. (No, not the four-letter colorful words.) Save your flowery prose for the slow parts. Your goal should have the readers reading at a pace befitting the mood of the scene. One thing I like to do for funsies is calculate how long it takes the average reader to get through a scene. It gives me an idea of how "long" something might seem to people who don't read freaky fast like me. And, of course, rhythm also applies to varying the length of sentences/paragraphs to enhance flow.
- Word usage. It's pretty obvious when you lean heavily on the same descriptive word within a scene, but what about over the course of the entire manuscript? I like using the Manuscript Analyzer to see which words pop up a lot that shouldn't. For instance, I lean heavily on "just" and relational words like "above" and "below." Cleaning them up improves the flow of the book more than you might think and encourages me to use my full vocabulary.
Editing is a pretty complex process, so I'm sure this list could go on and on. What kind of unusual things do you guys pay attention to while editing?