Andrea Lechner-Becker writes about the task that faces writers AFTER they think they've finished the book.
The Rewrite - Why Didn't Anyone Tell Me About the Rewrite?
Done. It's a word that many authors ascribe to completing their manuscript, When he or she types "The End" that's what's happened, the manuscript is complete. Allow me to share how I found that's just when things get started.
I "finished" my debut novel, Sixty Days Left, at the end of last year. I quit my lucrative job as a marketing executive to publish and promote my book full-time. Before I began promoting, I decided to have a professional edit it. My newbie nature assumed the editor would fine-tune the grammar and give me some light feedback. What I received back for my $1,000 was a fifteen page editorial letter and over a thousand comments ranging from, "What's the point of this?" to dots between my ams and pms.
I spent all of February retooling, AKA rewriting, large swathes of the book, carving out 30,000 words from my 90,000 word manuscript and adding in 7,000. These edits ranged from completely removing characters to tightening up verbs.
As I reviewed other self-published author's works after this experience, it became obvious that these authors had not yet invested in a professional editor. The result? It harmed the overall quality of their book. So, some free advice. Here are the things to address in a first draft:
1. Boring verbs. Search your manuscript for "was", then systematically destroy as many as you can. "He was walking..." So, "He walked..." This activity will also challenge you to say things in a more interesting way, which leads me to...
2. Show don't tell. It's not a fresh mantra, but certainly a challenging one to maintain through tens of thousands of words. While you're in changing "was walking" to "walked" think about whether he just walked, or did he stride? This happened in my book with looking and smiling. During long dialogue scene, my characters looked and smiled at each other a lot, this bothered my editor. It challenged me to build more depth to characters as I thought about just how they would search a room with their eyes or crinkle their nose during a half-smile.
3. Ask yourself, "Does it matter?" Be aggressive with this question. This character has a dog with floppy ears. Why does the reader care? That paragraph where you explain North 77th Street for almost an entire page. Why does the reader care? Would the story survive without that "thing"? If yes, then remove it. Do it with characters, do it with details, do it with words. If you can say something with less words, it should likely be said that way. Don't waste your reader's energy.
Now then, once you've done these things, pay someone to edit your work. I understand the starving nature of many self-published authors, but during the next phase of publishing, you'll be asking a lot of people to invest their time in reading your stuff. If you aren't willing to invest in yourself, why should they invest in you? There is simply no substitute for a great editor, who you can trust to make your book far better than you can do alone.
As Pulitzer Prize winning author James A. Michener said, "I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter."
Contributed by Andrea Lechner-Becker