Editing Novels

A buddy of mine wrote a novel (about 300 pages) and asked me to edit it, so I did. It was frustrating, maddening, whimsical, painstaking and… fun, in spots.

I want to share this maiden voyage with you.

I edited for mainly the following:

  1. Grammar
  2. Punctuation
  3. Spelling
  4. Redundancy (using the same adjective five times on a page is not cool)
  5. Style/flow

My friend first delivered the novel to me in loose-page form: standard printer paper, neither bound nor stapled. I read the entire book once to get a feel for it, to learn the storyline and progression. The second time through, I edited it.

It. Took. Forever!

I had been a copy editor at a student newspaper at Wisconsin, and while that was 15 years ago (shut up, young brats!), I still recall the thrill of the hunt – it’s part of the reason I agreed to edit this giant blob of prose. Well, newspaper articles are anywhere from about half of a standard page to maybe four or five standard pages. Editing three stories in a sitting might equate to about eight or ten actual pages. This thing is 300ish pages long; its sheer mass turned that aforementioned “thrill of the hunt” eagerness to a “snore, I need more coffee” sentiment about twenty pages into an editing session.

At any rate, I left that first copy absolutely covered with red ink.

A couple of weeks passed, at which point my friend decided that he wanted me to go over it again, just to make sure we didn’t miss anything the first time.

So at this point he has a “proof” book in glossy paperback form, which makes it much easier to read.

And as I go through this second edit, I become increasingly annoyed at the fact that many of the mistakes I caught the first time… were not fixed in the file. In other words, I saw many of the same mistakes.

But then my mind began playing tricks on me:

“Are you sure you caught that mistake the first time, Tom?”
“Are you certain that you recommended a different verb?”

So here I was, spending 10-12 more hours on this thing, bombarded by alternating feelings of angst and inadequacy. To make matters worse, he wanted it (the second edit) pronto… so yours truly pulled an all-nighter. I felt I was back in school trying to – in one evening – absorb 12 chapters of previously assigned text (which i hadn’t fully read…) in preparation for a test. That is to say, the second edit felt like those all-night cram sessions in school. And, as previously shown, I was partly losing my mind.

I think I was up till about 5am. I delivered the book to him later that day. Hallelujah! Deadline met, prose cleaned up, story snappy.

This time, I’d better not have missed anything (assuming I actually did the first time…) … and he’d better implement all the recommendations… or at least the grammar/spelling/punctuation tips. It’s his book, and I love him like a brother, but my name is on the first page too!

Despite the setbacks – real and imagined – it was a thoroughly rewarding experience. And… I was paid. That makes me a de facto professional editor. hehe

So keep an eye out for “Island of Ted” on Amazon and maybe other sites.

Also… please use this place to chat about your own editing experiences.

I really enjoyed your story, Tom. Good work. :slight_smile:

Thanks! It was a trip!