How to self-edit your book (writing tips for indie authors)

No self-published author should publish their work without paying a professional to edit it first. But what if you don’t have the money to pay for an editor? Or what if you want to keep your costs down by doing as much editing on your own as you can?

Before you spend money on an editor, work your way through this 25-point checklist. Because the better you can make your novel on your own, the better your editor can help you make it together. Think of it like football: Get the ball as far down the field as you can, then pass the ball to your editor. Together you can go for goal.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #1

Does the world need this book? If so, why?

Every year, millions of books get published. Most get ignored. Ask yourself: Why does the world need your book?

This is not an argument to self-censor. Rather to think about what you’re publishing and why. Talking to hear the sound of your own voice may be amusing, but does little to attract an audience. Talking, writing, speaking—it’s all about the audience, not about you.

Sharpening your focus at this stage will make self-editing much easier. Because if you don’t know what you have to say or why you’re saying it, then how can you sharpen your prose to achieve those goals?

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #2:

How’s Your Hook?

Readers have short attention spans these days, and an ocean of ebooks to choose from. You need a strong hook in your opening pages to persuade readers to cross your palm with silver.

Pretend that you’re a reader, and ask yourself: Why should I care? Why should I invest my money—not to mention my time, which is even more valuable—in reading your novel? I could be watching Game of Thrones. Are you telling me your novel is more entertaining? Make me care!

And hooking the reader doesn’t end after the first five pages. There is no point at which you can relax and rest on your laurels (either within the pages of a book or during a literary career). Every word sells the next. Every sentence sells the next. Every paragraph sells the next. Every chapter sells the next. Every book sells the next.

Because as a reader? I owe you exactly squat. Zilch. Make me care. Make your writing so irresistible that I can’t help but want to read on.

That’s how you write a book. That’s how you build a career.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #3:

Who’s Your Hero?

Reading a novel means donning an avatar’s skin. When we enter the pages of your book, we become, in our imaginations, at least, your hero. And we’re not going to be very comfortable if your hero is a jerk.

Your hero needs to be someone we can relate to, who we can understand. We don’t necessarily have to like him, but we have to care. This doesn’t mean your hero should be a goodie two-shoes, because that’s equally irritating. Instead, write flawed heroes and complex villains. Hannibal Lector may be a cannibal, but boy can he keep me turning the pages!

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #4:

What Does Your Hero Want?

A novel is just this: Who is your hero? What does he want? What’s stopping him from getting it?

Character is just another word for what the hero wants. Give us a sympathetic hero with a goal we can relate to, and the strength of will to pursue that goal at all costs, and you’ve got the makings of a great story.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #5

Who’s Your Villain?

You needn’t go all Hollywood here, but your hero needs obstacles. If your hero wants a ham sandwich, and all he has to do is go to the fridge and make one, that’s not a very exciting story, now is it?

Note that by “villain” we mean the opposing force working to prevent the hero from achieving his goal. The villain and hero are sometimes the same character—for instance, a story of an alcoholic or drug addict fighting to get the monkey off his back. Or it could be nature—sailors fighting to stay afloat during a hurricane.

If you go with a human villain, be sure to give the character a touch of goodness. Evil is not cartoonish, but rather a misguided attempt to do good. Melodrama went out of fashion when the last vaudeville hall closed its doors.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #6

Structure, Structure, Structure

The human brain digests story in a certain form, and stories that do not satisfy that form will drive your audience away.

To wit: Stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end; thesis, antithesis, synthesis; boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl; Act One, Act Two, Act Three.

There are many books on structure out there, and varying theories about the precise form story structure should take. But you must have the basics down, or your novel will not be successful.

For further reading on structure, you may like to read Three Uses of the Knifeby David Mamet and Save the Cat! by Blake Snyder. These are just my personal favorites, there are hundreds more out there.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #7

Yes. No. But wait!

Good stories must have suspense. When we go to a ball game, we don’t want to watch our team trounce the opposing side, run up the score, and then go home. How boring would that be?

We want to see our hero struggle, to succeed, to fail, the end goal always in doubt. We want to watch the ball game come down to a nail-biting, edge-of-our-seat, who-is-going-to-win, oh-my-God-can-he-do-it thriller.

Not that your book has to be a thriller. It could be a story about cats. But if the cats were sympathetic, wanted something we could relate to, and faced sufficiently interesting opposing forces, then the yes-no-but wait! formula works just as well.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #8

Chapter Breaks

Knowing where to begin and end your chapters is an art. Every chapter should begin with a hook. Every chapter should end with a cliffhanger.

Some of you at this point are probably thinking, “But I’m not writing a thriller! This doesn’t apply to me!”

Um, actually, yes it does. If you want people to read your work, you have to make them want to read your work. Readers owe you nothing.

Do I need to repeat that? Readers owe you nothing. Your job as an author is to make them care. My job as an editor is to help you make them care.

End of story.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #9

Whose Head Are We In?

A common mistake some authors make, especially those that come to fiction from the theater or film, is omitting internal monologue. The strength of the novel is that we spend the book inside people’s heads. We don’t just watch the action. We are inside of the action.

Fiction is a window into someone else’s soul. A good author gives the reader an intimate personal experience not possible in any other medium. This experience can be deep or shallow, depending on the needs of the genre. But it must be there. A dry account of some events that happened may make a fine biography or history, but the goal of fiction is to connect with your readers at a subconscious level.

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #10

Head-Hopping

Have you ever seen prose that looks like this?

“Oh my goodness, what a giant turtle!” exclaimed Martha.  I do so love turtles,she thought. They remind me of my dead grandmother.

Jake harrumphed. Can we go home soon? I’m sick of the beach. And none of the girls are wearing bikinis.

Do you see the problem here? We’re jumping from Martha’s head into Jake’s head from one paragraph to the next. This jars us out of the story. If your story requires you to use multiple POVs (Points of View), then the easiest thing to do is to separate POVs into separate chapters. A more advanced technique is to separate POVs using section breaks:

[… several pages of Martha POV …]

“Oh my goodness, what a giant turtle!” exclaimed Martha.  I do so love turtles,she thought. They remind me of my dead grandmother.

Jake harrumphed. Can we go home soon? I’m sick of the beach. And none of the girls are wearing bikinis.

[… several pages of Jake POV …]

 

SELF-EDITING TIP #11

Dialogue

Authors with experience in theater or film tend to write better dialogue. Why? Because acting and writing dialogue are one and the same craft.

What do I mean by that?

Well, why do characters speak? They speak because they want something from someone else. Remember our definition of a story: Who is our hero and what does he want? And what’s stopping him from getting it?

The conflict in a scene could be a sword fight. Or it could be two people fencing with words. Think of writing dialogue as though it were a fight sequence: parry, thrust, advance, retreat, attack. This will give strength and verve to your dialogue, and make your characters pop off the page.

If dialogue is a struggle for you, consider taking an acting class or two. This will dramatically improve your dialogue-writing skills.

Source:

http://www.creativindie.com/how-to-self-edit-your-novel-25-post-nanowrimo-tips-for-indie-authors/

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