In the past post I mentioned the four basic tiers that I think make up publishing. I should have added a caveat: Those are the four things you need to be a publisher. But there is a difference between a publisher and a good publisher. A good publisher needs one more thing: A manic drive to put out the absolute best product that they can.
Nowhere does it become more apparent whether or not you have this last bit than in the formatting and packaging of your product. This is the drudgery. This is where most people quit. This is the literary equivalent of the trenches of war, and you, fair publisher, are the one catching grenades. It's so big that I'll have to tackle it over a couple of posts.
Let's start with editing. Every time you edit a manuscript it gets better. Most people realize this as a sage bit of wisdom, but in reality it is a terrible curse. Think about it: the book you are going to publish could be better. It could always be better. For perfectionists (and a good publisher has at least a bit of perfectionist in them) this is terrible. You might as well give us a gun right now, to end it all. We have to fight the battle of knowing when to stop revising, because at some point you just hit an infinite loop and end up a crazy person editing the same manuscript for ten years, surrounded by twenty or so cats in a tiny apartment, eating Ramen noodles for every meal.
But in the self-pub world, knowing when to stop editing is not nearly as big of a problem as it should be. For most people it's getting them to start editing. I'm just going to throw this out there: You must have a professional, impartial second party edit your manuscript. Self-editing isn't going to cut it. You'd be amazed at how many times, in my own work, I miss the most ridiculous things. Things like capitalization and the correct use of their, there, or they're. These aren't tough things; this is JV squad stuff that I totally blow by multiple times. And I was a copy-editor. There is an inverse equation well known amongst copy-editors that says the more times you edit a thing, the blinder you become to glaring mistakes. It's called the "you're fired" equation and we try to avoid it at all costs by recruiting a fresh set of eyes.
I am a big fan of professional freelance editing services. There are a few out there that are really good. Places like edit911.com that employ only doctors of English or MFAs in writing who do this stuff for a living. I will warn you, though, that it ain't cheap. A professional edit of a full length manuscript can run in the thousands of dollars, and I know the vast majority of indie-publishers and writers can't afford that.
At the very least you should have someone you don't know edit your work before you self-pub or submit to a publisher. I may be in the minority here, but I am of the opinion that it's extremely unlikely, and maybe even impossible, to get an honest review from a friend. This is because friends like you. They've probably seen how long you've worked on your manuscript and no matter how many times you tell them to give it to you straight, some part of them will hold back. Unless your friends are jerks. In which case you’re in luck on the editing front, but may have other problems.
The bottom line is if your friends are normal, nice people, you're either going to have to pay a pro or find someone who hates you to edit your work, otherwise it won't reach its full potential. This goes for both line editing and content editing, although with content editing you need to be your toughest critic, because ultimately you have the final say.
Everybody has their own tips and tricks when it comes to editing for content, in which the editor looks for flow and checks the plot line and character development. I've only ever found one tip that consistently works for me: In every paragraph you write you should be asking yourself: "How does this move the story forward?"
If the answer is "It doesn't" then axe it.
I can't tell you how many thousands of words I've cut because I adhered to this rule, and in every case it worked out for the better. Paragraphs that don't move the story forward in some way, either through relevant character development, or by progressing action towards a major plot point, are nothing but fat. I say relevant character development because this is where I've found most people trip up. If you're writing a crime caper, we probably do need to know the root of your character's fear of guns. We most likely don't need to know how your character came to name their cat Bumbleshanks. Unless Bumbleshanks is the killer. But I digress.
One final thought: Hemingway once wrote, “Write drunk; edit sober.” But that’s because Hemingway didn’t have Microsoft Word. I’m no expert on Hemingway, but knowing what I know of him, if he had the capability to save an early version of his work on a hard drive, he’d have said, “Write drunk; edit drunk.”
One of the best editing sessions I ever had, I sat down with a bottle of bourbon and my delete key. When I woke up in the morning I’d ripped 250 pages from an extremely overweight novel. It was a great move.
I’m just sayin’.