Edit My Novel: The Final Polishing of Your Manuscript

Feb 09, 2020
editing a novel


How to get your entire novel manuscript that final professional polish submission?

It's a two-stage process.

First, DIY. You grow as an author by being able to edit your own novel through numerous passes, and our Editing courses will help you eliminate a few drafts. We'll show you how to do it, giving you a method to last you a lifetime. (Our 'reversible' course is quite a cool way to plan a novel too!)

Second, Professional Help. When you've done multiple successive drafts and cracked story and character development to the satisfaction of any reader, you'll want to dot some i's and cross some t's and you may wisely feel you need another pair of eyes on your full manuscript and some final proofreading beyond the tools we recommend at The Novelry, you'll need some human help which can take into account your creative treatment's quirks and ploys.

1. DIY.

You need to be very hard on your work, and push it through as many drafts as required. As writers, we are always changing. Writing a novel over many years proves problematic to the integrity of the story, and when we outgrow the original idea, we layer up with themes and contrivances to cover up the fact that the original circus has left town. It makes for a baggy old bastard of a manuscript this is a long way from a publishable novel. Get a grip! Get back to the story and what readers want and get a single-minded focus. what's the imperative driving force? Everything else is subsidiary so relegate it.

You see, we are always finding ourselves, how we write and what we want to write about and how we want to write it. TS Eliot complimented Virginia Woolf's third novel - Jacob's Room - which was published the year he published The Waste Land, saying that he had found herself as a writer, found her voice.

Who you are as a writer is much about what you won't do and what you leave out, I have found. If you want to know who you are, as a writer, if you want to find yourself, the best way to do that is to disappear from your work. Eschew the interpretation and commentary, and simply say what you see. Proceed visually as if it's a movie, only show us beguiling dissonant bizarre things and thus we will know you and the characters of concern to us, but what they look at, by what stops them in their tracks.

What you show us, as with a visual artist, tells us what we need to know. You can tell a story, you know, by proceeding from one visual to another and I urge you to try it, even if only at the opening of your book.

I see a lot of novels-in-waiting, and while I am encouraging and constructive at first draft, I am rather fierce when we get to the edit. We must have standards. Our standards define us as professionals. Never let work go out half-cock. 

The problem I see far too frequently is the overwrought opening with 'gut-wrenching', 'heartbreaking' descriptors in your opening paragraph. It's lacking in creative decorum. We do not open correspondence or communication in our lives this way. You're imposing on the reader, presuming on their interest before you have established a pleasing credibility.

I show my writers the opening to Colm Toibin's novel Brooklyn to give them the drift, fast.

Have some decorum. Show us what you the author, or your main character sees. Seeing is empathy; the doorway to sympathy.

I suggest writers delete purple passages, overwrought and dripping with mawkish emotion in those opening scenes. Often they've been supersized with an extra-large side of clichés or conventions. These things hang together like knock-kneed kids in the playground. We can't all be poetic and original all the time; happily we don't have to be. If you can't find a witty way of putting it, then delete it, or pare it back to a passing sight, a glimpse.

Why do we do this writing? Not because we're stupid. We do it because we're overindulgent parents to our prose. Make sure you give yourself the four weeks mandatory reading period we impose at The Novelry between finishing that first draft, and going back to the work as a reader. You need to regroup and cut to the chase of story, then apply the dose of salts we call the Editing Course after which you float that first chapter past your fellow writers and hope they'll be kind enough to kick it ever-so-gently. 

Don't share your work with anyone at first draft. Learn to develop and edit your work. These are vital skills for an author. Become your own editor, know what's good the old-fashioned way - by comparison.

Well, comparison might be 'the thief of joy', but I'd suggest you reserve the joy to the creative phase of the indulgent first draft and get dour for draft two. The technique I used with my first novel was to compare each page, randomly-chosen, with a page from a favourite novel, randomly-chosen and to see where and how and why I fell short. Our Editing course trains you to be tough, save money and save face.

But after many drafts, you may want to structured feedback, a human response and a machine-like clean.

2. A Professional Polish.

One of Oscar Wilde's stories was that his hostess in a country house having asked him at dinner how he had spent the day he had answered: “I have been correcting the proofs of my poems. In the morning, after hard work, I took a comma out of one sentence.” “And in the afternoon?” “In the afternoon, I put it back again.” (Robert Sherard - Life of Oscar Wilde.)

When you've exhausted yourself - using all the tools we recommend at The Novelry - you may consider professional editorial services on your entire manuscript. Do not do this too soon. Apply the Oscar Test!

Be careful.

Look at the business models of the different providers, they speak volumes. Pricing is all much the same from £750 to £1250 for a full novel manuscript, but these animals are not equal.

Some consultancies require a commission on your work if it's good and they'll even offer to find you an agent. Ouch. Their commission plus the literary agency commission could cost you a full quarter of your advance. Check the small print.

There are sites which act as hubs for freelance editors. Think of these as a street market, in which many independent traders offer their services through the site. You can shop for the prettiest colours and buy from the better trader, but never forget it's that traders wares you're buying - which is to say that the website has offered them a market pitch but isn't too fussed if the product is substandard. After all, the merchant goes out of business, or desists or disappears and others replace them.

There are providers which offer branded services and preserve the anonymity of their editors. This is a good thing. 

Take for example a service like Scribendi, in which you don't know the name of the trader, but are provided with their branded product which meets their product standards. This is what John Lewis is to the street market. The service has to meet the brand's standards for the business to survive. Reviews will be public and in the brand's names whereas, with the street market model, the reviews are given to individuals and not public. In almost any service you purchase, look for a brand that stands as a seal of standards. Human beings are highly variable and if you go free-range, the reviews shown at their site are naturally hand-picked. You might not get on with that person, or your work might not suit them.

Look for companies with public reviews on trusted platforms like Trustpilot. Scribendi is rated 'excellent' on 84 public reviews. If you look at the street market as a platform you'll find very few reviews and those will be poor. 

So, which branded provider to choose? You can get free samples of the type of editorial development comments you'll get at their websites. A road test of Papertrue eliminated the service quickly in our single sample run as the editor's comments were misspelt. However, Papertrue gets great reviews on Trustpilot and might be better suited to other genres, and non-fiction. Let us know what you think!

Scribendi. A read of a 70k manuscript at Scribendi cost just over £1000, and was well worth every penny. I ran my novel through their service.

First, there was a highly sophisticated and detailed report on the storyline itself, and this was accompanied by forensic comments on the text. The editor read the manuscript twice; 'once for an overall understanding of the story, and again as a close reading, wherein I made revisions when necessary.' The story overview gave a fascinating analysis of my writing habits and tendencies. The editor examined the development of the main characters and spotted a hole. (One key character disappears and she pointed out it would be satisfying for readers to have him referenced again and to know what happened to him.)

The attention to detail was highly professional with very careful grammar and punctuation work. It was obvious from the notes the editor took pride in her work and went well above-and-beyond. She'd researched place names and people and checked the references were accurate in terms of locations and distances and timing. Wow.

Give the editor a good brief and explain your intentions and treatment. My editor understood the notes I gave her and made erudite and useful suggestions to improve readability that fit with the tone of voice and dialects used and the style I use.

But most important to me, at this point of a novel's journey when the writer is flagging, my editor gave her human response to the story too, with notes where she'd laughed and cried, and - ahem - to paraphrase Eric Morecambe - all the right notes in all the right places. Though I don't know her, I felt we became friends and in the notes, she let me know which parts had struck her according to her own life experience. I paid for this service, but I feel indebted to the invisible editor for seeing my novel as a living thing.

My road test proved Scribendi to be a five-star service. Highly recommended at draft ten and beyond ;-)  By the way, the editor's code for the fabulous editor I used is EM1606. You can get 5% off your order with this discount code for Scribendi at checkout THENOVELRY5.

Now, one last word of advice. Don't use a service for your Query Package, neither Scribendi nor any other. It's important to convey your personality, a flavour of the novel, and your intentions as an author and no one can put this better than you. Keep it modest and light and brief. We show you how to build the blocks of your novel in our online novel writing courses and how to convey your personality in the Editing course and give you a winning sample (based on one of our member's success stories.) The Novelry's members are very good at sharing. Our logo is the octopus, one collective bulging brain and many tentacles writing. Experience, and joy.

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