Editing a Novel: The Final Polishing of Your Manuscript

Feb 09, 2020
editing a novel


How to edit a novel?

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. 

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. Our Editorial Department at The Novelry are seasoned publishing professionals from the 'Big Five' publishers. They know what publishers are seeking. Join us, and benefit from the best expertise on your novel-in-waiting.

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.

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. If you look at the 'street market' model as a platform you'll find very few reviews and those will be poor. 

So, which branded provider to choose?

Look for a detailed report on the storyline itself, accompanied by forensic comments on the text. The editor will read the manuscript twice; once for an overall understanding of the story, and again as a close reading to make revisions when necessary. The story overview will give you a fascinating analysis of your writing habits and tendencies. The editor will examine the development of the main characters and spot any holes.

Make sure you choose a service that allows you to brief the editor. Take the opportunity to explain your intentions and treatment. Explain the tone of voice and dialects used and the style you prefer, your 'branding'.

But most important to me, at this point of a novel's journey when the writer is flagging, is your editors; human response to the story with notes where they have laughed and cried... You'll pay for this service, but feel indebted to the editor for seeing your novel as a living thing.

The Ultimate Manuscript Assessment.

We offer the Ultimate Manuscript Assessment at The Novelry. Why is it 'ultimate'? We go above and beyond, providing you with all of the above, a line-edited manuscript, a report for structural development, but what's more you'll have a bestselling or award-winning author provide a 'director's cut' of your first chapter which will prove illuminating. What's more, if it's not ready, we'll show you as editors and authors exactly how to fix it, creatively, and if it is ready, we'll submit on your behalf to our literary agency partners. It's an all-round big win, and a big step forwards for you on your path to literary glory, and getting published.

Happy writing!



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