So you’ve written a novel. You’ve done a couple of drafts, and you feel good enough about it to ask a few people to take a look. Choose carefully; you need constructive feedback, not unconditional love. You won’t get it from the person who’s kept all your precious papers since you were four, and you won’t get it from your soul mate. Your trusted readers are business casual: friendly, but there for a reason.
The first read is mostly for characters and story—the who, what, and why. Your trusted readers tell you what was great about the book and what wasn’t so great. They ask for clarification and comment on that thing that happens in chapter four that maybe could happen sooner, or not at all. You grit your teeth, smile, and revise.
Readers now see how you’ve responded to their suggestions. Some inspired you to go deeper, and others were just silly. Your trusted readers get excited because things are coming together, but whoa, it’s twenty thousand words too long. You need to work on that dialogue because all the characters sound alike. Your readers have scribbled big red arrows in the margins to shift paragraphs around. You sweat out another draft.
Your readers are looking and listening to make sure the story flows well. Now they want to tidy up the finer details. Maybe you’ve killed off the Bob character in this draft, but Bob shows up eating a turkey sandwich fifty pages later, and he’s not a ghost. They change your to you’re and look up who really directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban on IMDb, because it wasn’t David Yates.
Finally, in your freshly revised draft, your trusted readers zero in on whatever typos, misspellings, and finer points of language haven’t already been corrected. Alert readers know that punctuation and formatting should align to a house style—and by “house style,” I don’t mean transitional or midcentury modern. For book publishing, it most likely refers to The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition.
This, in essence, is what happens in book editing, where your trusted readers are developmental editors and copyeditors. These four stages are the levels of editing which might apply to a manuscript at Ooligan Press: developmental editing, heavy copyediting, medium copyediting, or light copyediting. Every manuscript is different, so the amount of editing required will vary with each one.
Occasionally, editors will find an error in continuity. Continuity is the consistent description of anything that’s mentioned more than once, such as hair color (unless it’s supposed to change), left- or right-handedness, or the gender of a family pet. No question, an inconsistent description of little Chompers has to be fixed.
At Ooligan Press, I’m on the team working on The Ocean in My Ears, a debut novel by Meagan Macvie. It’s about a teenage girl who longs to escape from the drudgery of small-town life in Soldotna, Alaska. It’s been wonderful to see this manuscript evolve over the last several months, and—yay!—the editing is done. All that’s left is proofreading, the final phase of weeding out any last typos and small errors in formatting for print or ebook production.
So write your novel, trust your readers, and revise, revise, revise. You can give your mom a copy when it’s published, but until then, your readers—your editors—are your best friends.
The Ocean in My Ears will be published in November. Oh, that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban director? It was Alfonso Cuarón.