We’ve got an important post here on the GWN blog. Author Terry Shames talks about a great way to edit your novels.
The last time I went through my most recent manuscript, I reported to my editor that I had found 25 last, tiny errors. There was a moment of silence on the other end of the phone, and then, “You mean before you sent it to the copyeditor?” No, after.
“But…” He wanted to know how the copyeditor had missed 25 errors that included missing quotation marks, misspellings, missing words and one quotation mark at the end of a sentence that wasn’t a quote. I hadn’t meant to get the copyeditor in trouble. What I meant was to tell him about a technique I discovered for ferreting out those last, pesky errors.
An experienced writer with many novels under his belt once told me that when my first novel came out, I’d open it and the first page I looked at would contain an error. I couldn’t argue with him because too often these days within a few pages of beginning a novel I run across errors, usually small ones; but sometimes glaring, impossibly bumbling errors that make me want to have a stern talk with whomever was given the task of ridding the manuscript of those glitches.
That’s the problem, though. Even the biggest publishers, and the most meticulous small ones have systematically ditched their editing staffs out of economic necessity. Content editors barely have time to help an author shape the manuscript, and it’s up to a harried copy editor and/ or proofreader to file off the rough edges and make the final product look professional.
That’s why an author is well advised to turn in the most pristine copy she can manage. Easier said than done. By the time you’ve read your 300-page manuscript what seems like 100 times for action or dialogue that doesn’t make sense, timeline errors, name switches; and then gone through it to correct what seems like endless typos, dropped or added punctuation, to have one more go at that paragraph that has never rung true, one more attempt to tweak that imperfect description, you’re sick to death of it. You’ve even read it aloud, and hated the sound of your voice by the time you reach the last chapter.
The mere thought of having to read through it one more time makes you have fantasies of calling the whole publication thing off and running off to join the circus. At that point you are ready to clean out your bank account to pay any amount of money for a professional to hunt down those last errors rather than having to do it yourself.
That’s when you need to read it backwards. Yep. Backwards. I thought I had heard of every trick and then somewhere (I wish I knew where, so I could thank this unsung hero), I read that reading the manuscript backward is like a miracle. You read the last page, and then the page before that, etc., through the whole shebang. Oh, yeah, and you do it out loud.
The first time I did it, I felt like an idiot. I was sure I had caught Every Single Error the last time I went through the manuscript. There couldn’t be anymore. But the article about reading backwards said that I’d be surprised how many errors I caught. So I decided I had nothing to lose. At least I wouldn’t have to read it forwards again. And who knew? I might even catch a couple of things. 100 errors later I was a convert. Not only did I catch a lot of errors, but I caught a couple of places where I used a word too many times in one paragraph, and could take care of that before the public had to see it, too!
Happy editing, everyone!
In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.
Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where here grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America. Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at www.Terryshames.com.
Cindy here again!
Great post, Terry! It’s a great idea to read it backwards! I’ll try that next time I’m revising my story.
July 30, 2013 at 11:15 am
Great post, Terry. As a former magazine editor, I can attest to the problem your friend cited. No matter how careful we were, as soon as the first printed copy landed on my desk, I’d open it and there was an error. Every time. Each year we published a directory made up solely of tables of numbers. We always read every line backwards, out loud, with one person reading aloud and another person tracking the copy. I haven’t done that with regular copy, but based on your recommendation I will. Thanks!
July 30, 2013 at 11:17 am
I can deal with a few typos but one of my pet peeves is inappropriate words (like Okay) in historical fiction/romance as well as factual inaccuracies (e.g. Scotland Yard when it should have been Bow Street). With all the people listed in the acknowledgements, many times including editors, agents, critique partners and beta readers, one of them should have caught these errors!!!!!
I shall step down off the soapbox now.
July 30, 2013 at 11:37 am
Laura, move over a bit so I can join you on the soapbox–or maybe we need a bigger one! Those inappropriate words stop me every time.
Carol, there’s room for you up here, too. I know it’s hard to go over the manuscript one more time, but it’s worth it!
July 30, 2013 at 12:22 pm
Sometimes the presence of those words is so jarring it makes it difficult for me to get back into the story. The use of the word “okay” in the UK prior to 1940 and in the US prior to 1820-ish is soooo not okay (but if a character from the Americas, I’ll cut ’em some slack). What really makes me crazy are errors of historical fact. I actually paid attention in Western Civ and I’ve studied British and European history on my own. So if you’re going to refer to Scotland Yard, then your story has to take place after 1829. But in many cases, these things slip through the cracks or are thought to be in unimportant. To quote Judge Judy: Don’t pee on my leg and tell me it’s raining.
July 30, 2013 at 11:52 am
I’m a nitpicking reader and really appreciate the efforts some authors and publishers, obviously including you, go to so that I don’t have to give up on what could be a truly good story. Thank you 😉
August 11, 2013 at 9:01 am
I’m going to try this with a short story I’m about to publish. Since it is a short, I’ll just switch to reading it backwards one paragraph at a time.
Thanks for the tip.