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Editing Workshop Part 1: Do I Really Need an Edit?

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EditingPhotoYou’ve probably heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November, but did you know March is National Novel Editing Month (NaNoEdMo)? In honor of this, I’d like to make editing the primary focus of my blogging this month. Here, I’ll start with some ideas on how to determine if you need an edit. Then for the next step, check out my article on the NaNoEdMo blog: Editing Your First Draft: Where to Start?

How to Gauge If Your Novel Needs An(other) Edit

So you’ve finished your novel. Adrenaline rush! Your mom loves it. Your friends love it. Your dog loves it. But are you really done?

That depends on a lot of factors. If this is your first or second draft, more than likely you aren’t quite there yet. But how do you know for sure? And what if you’ve been through several rounds of editing already?

Ask yourself these four questions to gauge whether you need to go back to the editing trenches:

  • What is your critique group NOT saying? They may not have told you in so many words to go back and edit. But if they’re not raving about how hooked they were by your characters and plot, chances are, agents and editors won’t be either. Ask your readers for a specific list of things they think you should focus on in your next edit. If you think their criticism has substance, take it to heart and get back to work.
  • Is it really, really long? In other words, if you drop your manuscript, will it break all the bones in your foot? In some genres, it’s acceptable to go well over 100,000 words; regardless, this is also a potential red flag. If often indicates problems on either the macro level (scenes that don’t drive the plot forward, excessive back story, too much detail in the wrong places), the micro level (wordy, awkward sentences), or both. Read this article about hitting the word count sweet spot for advice on how to fix this.
  • Do people stumble when they read it aloud? This is one way to determine if your manuscript needs line editing (as opposed to developmental, or big-picture story editing). Have a few of your beta readers tackle a passage out loud. If they stumble over phrases or look confused, you probably have some convoluted sentences that need pruning. Good prose doesn’t always have to sound like poetry, but if it doesn’t flow smoothly, it still needs work.
  • Are agents asking for pages, then giving you the cold shoulder? If you’ve started the submission process and you’re getting a good response to your query letter (i.e. agents are requesting a partial or full), congratulations! That’s proof you have a winning story concept. But if you’re getting rejection letters or not hearing back from agents at all, chances are your writing didn’t “wow” them as much as the premise did. Don’t give up—work on strengthening your craft so that in the next draft your writing will stand up to your amazing idea.

Check back for more editing tips and resources throughout the month. Best of luck with that red ink! : )