The day you’ve either longed for or dreaded has finally arrived.
You check your email and see a message from your editor with the subject: Edits Complete.
Your heart skips at least a beat as you scramble to save your edited manuscript to your computer. Then you open that just-received document, hoping to see the few things you missed so you can finally get to the next step of your publishing journey.
Except your expected quota of errors for your entire manuscript is already exceeded within the first five pages.
The longer you keep scrolling through your marked-up manuscript, the farther your jaw drops. Before even reaching the end, you close the document, slap your hand on your desk, curse your dog and swear that “this writing thing” is a frivolous waste of time.
Ten minutes later, you’re back at your desk, looking through your edits.
An optimistic thought passes through your mind: I can handle this. In fact, most of these edits seem pretty helpful. Guess I just need to dig into my manuscript. Again.
Receiving edits, especially for a first-timer suffering, er, undergoing their first edit, can be a reality shock. Many authors believe that writing “The End” is the end. Truth be told, that’s just the beginning of the writing phase of creating a book. The editing phase could take just as long.
And don’t even get me started on how long the marketing phase takes.
To help you make the most of your time during that last mile of the editing phase, consider these seven tips on what to do after your edit.
1. Don’t freak out
Although your manuscript may be swimming in a sea of red, you won’t drown in it if you refuse to freak out. To keep your head above water, take a deep breath.
Realize that even good, experienced writers may receive hundreds of edits within a book.
Understand that this is part of the process. Consider a heavy edit as your rite of passage into the family of authors. This is how you grow as a writer.
2. Review every edit
Go through each edit one-by-one, accepting and rejecting as you see fit. However, be sure you know why you’re confirming or denying each edit. (For a primer on how to use Microsoft Word’s collaborative editing feature, read “How to Use Track Changes to Collaborate on Edits With Ease.”)
If you wind up denying a majority of your edits, you need to let your editor know that. Either you hired a bad editor — it can happen — or your knowledge of grammar or publishing standards isn’t what you think it is.
A major pain point for editors is having their names attached to books that are ultimately published with errors that the editor initially corrected. If you find yourself rejecting a majority of changes, talk to your editor about it. Either let them rectify the situation or humble your writer’s ego to learn why their edits are correct.
3. Ask questions where appropriate
If you’re deeply unsure about an edit and you’ve attempted to research the question at hand, email a short question to your editor about their change. If you disagree with their edit, have a legitimate argument for your disagreement.
Unless you’re discussing dialogue or poetry, “It just sounds right” is rarely a legitimate argument with an editor.
4. Return your accepted edits to your editor
Because their professional integrity is also on the line when your book will be released to the public, your editor may want to review the final product before it’s released.
Some editors may stipulate in their contracts that you return all accepted edits to them for final approval. Some editors may not.
However, consider it a point of professional pride to send your accepted edits back to your editor for their final approval. They will appreciate your thoroughness and thoughtfulness.
5. Save copies in multiple areas
In “How to Prevent Every Writer’s Worst Nightmare: Losing Your Work,” I discussed a four-step plan to back up your writing.
Nowhere is this more important than when you have a finalized, fully edited manuscript residing on your computer.
Considering how much time and expense you’ve put into creating that manuscript, you don’t want to lose it. Save it to your hard drive, an external storage device and a cloud service, and then email it to a trusted friend.
6. Hire a formatter and a proofreader
While formatting tools have a come a long way even in recent years — consider my Vellum review — I still recommend hiring a professional book designer to format your interior for both print and digital versions of your book.
When you hire a true pro, your book’s interior will show it.
To ensure that you’re putting your book’s best face forward, hire a proofreader too. Contrary to popular belief, an editor is not your last line of defense against bad book reviews citing “bad editing.”
While an editor will certainly be responsible for catching a majority of errors, a proofreader is necessary to catch errors introduced after the edit. For instance, you may have inadvertently rejected an edit on a typo. Or the formatter may have unintentionally inserted a hyphen. Or ebook conversion software may have changed your curly quotation marks to straight quotation marks.
Because errors may worm themselves into your book after the initial edit is complete, a proofreader proofs the final formatted version of a manuscript to ensure every line is ready for publication. Traditional publishers employ this last step; so should self-publishers.
Once you’ve meticulously worked your way through your edits, your editor has signed off on the final product, and your manuscript is being vetted by your publishing company or being formatted and proofed by freelancers, take a moment to relish your victory.
You’ve endured the rite of passage every author must face. You’ve walked through your personal red sea. You’ve nearly arrived on the opposite shore, the Promised Land of “published author.”
And you have at least a few months, and maybe even a year or more, before you have to — get to — do it all over again.