The final edit. Why stress?
TRACEE: This is KillerNashville weekend and I’m thrilled to be here! I was looking through the schedule and thinking about the different panels (and doing a bit of prep for the ones I’m on) and it occurred to me that getting a book ready to submit will be a big theme for many people here. Some are planning to submit to an agent, others are submitting final manuscripts to their editor. I wanted to turn this question over to you all. What is your tidbit of advice for the final edit? Some authors have a list of words they check for overuse (often highly personal as we are all idiosyncratic in our word usage). Others do an ‘ly’ check, or read the verbs (are they the strongest possible). What is your advice to writers for a final check beyond looking for typos; one meant to raise the bar overall? PAULA: I do what my editor tells me to do: Make sure that I’m breaking all the chapters at a compelling point, and if not, fix it. This often means adding chapters. As Hallie Ephron would advise: Make every chapter end with a hook, and the succeeding chapter grab that hook and run with it. MICHELE: The check for too many overused or unnecessary words for me comes way before the final edit. So does the read-it-aloud to myself and anyone else who can bear hearing my story one time. (Bless you, beta readers!) My last edit is with a printed version in a binder (to mimic a real book), sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee or a glass of lemonade, reading it as if I were reading it for the first time. I do this without a pen because what I am doing is hoping is that it reads like the book I wanted to write and that I can now finally let it go off to the readers I hope will enjoy it. In a way, I am saying goodbye to my book, but it’s a happy farewell. Almost like sending your child off to college. TRACEE: Michele, I agree with you…. when I hear people say they are checking for specific worlds at the last minute I think…. and then you’ll replace it with another overused one? On the other hand, many successful authors do this, so it must work for them! I recently changed a minor name very last minute for reasons related to the actual name, and substituted a name too close to it (and used often in the same scene.) Fixed one problem and created another. My editor caught it and we changed it again in copy edits, which I just received. I hope the fix worked! ALEXIA The final edit before sending your manuscript to an agent or editor when you’re trying to sell it? Don’t overthink it. Yes, do the check for overused words (I was surprised by the number of times I used the word “smiled” (or some variant of). Double, triple, quadruple check for typos and grammatical errors that will make your manuscript seem unprofessional. (Hint: get someone to do this for you. You never spot all your own mistakes.) Then tell yourself it’s done and hit send or drop it in the mail or whatever. If you keep fussing over it, you’ll never get it “out there” where someone can discover your literary genius. For me, personally, my final edits before publication: I send it to my mother. Seriously. Proofreading is her hobby. She’s eagle-eyed and ruthless. She even spots those stupid apostrophes next to quotation marks the word processing program insists on turning the wrong way. She’s so into it, she asks me when I’m going to send her the manuscript to proof. (Not yet, Mom, I’ve still got three rounds of edits to go.) She may be willing to freelance. Let me know, I may be able to get you a rate. ROBIN: Alexia, Your mom sounds great. I may need her services…. There are a few checks I make. First, I check for tension and pacing. Does the first page compel the reader to turn to the second page? And the page after that? And the page after that? I’m on the lookout for anything that stops the action, passive sentences and unrealistic or unbelievable contrivances. In the final edit, because I include heavy doses of technology, I do a “plain English” test – have I simplified the language enough to get the idea across without sounding like a textbook? And does the reader really have to know *how* something works for my fictional hackers to be imperiled and sympathetic? Spoiler alert: the answer is usually “no.” 🙂 MICHELE: Alexia, Your mom and my oldest daughter, Julie, ought to start Eagle Eye Editors. “Brutal editing for those we love.” TRACEE: My husband’s former administrative assistant has an eagle eye for so many problems that I have her read for me. Let me add another “Bless the Beta readers”. Especially those with eagle eyes. CATE: I’m pretty good about not using too many adverbs–thank you Stephen King for that lesson–but I do a check for “just” and “But” and “shook” or “shaking” and “grimaced.” I need to force myself not to use head shakes and twisted mouths as easy shorthands for displeasure. SUSAN: I like to make up a chart of each chapter’s opening lines, final lines, and number of pages. It gives me a sense of the flow. Of course, by the final edit I would hope I’d have a reasonably good idea of the flow, but this is my final sign-off. Sometimes I’ll break a chapter in half. But mainly I just like to try and get a sense of the whole thing. Have fun in Killer Nashville, and belated happy birthday, Tracee! TRACEE: Thanks and it was such an amazing eclipse / birthday experience! ALISON: I just received my first notes from my editor for Blood Atonement (my first book). No wisdom here, but thank you all for the great advice! TRACEE: Thanks everyone for these hints and words of wisdom. I’d love to hear what others do to get their final manuscript in shape.