When I wrote for traditional publishers, I had deadlines in order to comply with their production schedules. As an indie author, I try to do the same thing, although I do relax it a little...let's face it, the sky isn't going to fall if I don't have it done by X date when I'm my own publisher, but trying to adhere with a schedule helps keep me on track.
After I finish the basics of the story, I print it out and the "fun" starts (yes, I'm being sarcastic). By "fun," I mean doing pre-editor self-edits, which is more than just searching for typos. It's revising and polishing the story, which includes:
- Eliminating any conflicting information, you know, when the heroine first has short hair and then long or when the hero first drives an SUV and later has a motorcycle.
- Adding in physical characteristics of the major characters so the readers can visualize them as they read.
- Making sure the story flows smoothly.
- Looking for any unexplained or out-of-character actions on the part of my characters. Readers should have a good understanding of what the characters' motivations are.
- Inserting a sense of setting. For sections beginning with a conversation, readers have to know where it's taking place...on the phone, at someone's house, at a restaurant, in a car, etc.
- Making sure character movements are smooth and natural. Ever read a book where the character is in one room and then mysteriously changes location to another room, in the same scene? I find myself still thinking about a scene I just edited, which was particularly tricky. The heroine wasn't fond of the hero, whom she regarded as insensitive because of the way they butted heads at their first two encounters (other than an annoying, continuous observation of how handsome he is) and then he does her a huge favor, at which time she started looking at him through new eyes. To thank him, she invites him to join her and her son for dinner at their home (because the hero is a police detective, she feels confident he's not a serial killer). It occurred to me that I didn't include enough about his appearance. As a detective, he would be wearing a suit and tie. I had him removing his coat while the heroine excuses herself to change clothes, but what about his suit jacket? What about the holster he undoubtedly carries? I'll be going back and showing him removing both when he offers to assist the heroine with food preparation, and while I'm at it I'll have him loosen his tie and unbutton his collar, because those are both natural actions for a man to take.
- Inserting all five senses. There's more to telling a story than visualizing it. Sounds, smells, textures, and tastes make the story come alive and should be mentioned.
- Eliminate the nonsensical. I usually do this when I'm outlining the story (you can't have a secret baby story set in a small town where no one suspects, even the baby daddy's own mother), but sometimes thing slip through that need complete rewriting.
- Timelines. I feel cheated whenever I read a book in which a timeline error renders the entire story impossible, or leads me down the wrong path if it's a mystery or suspense. I recently finished a novel in which friends of the heroine who are a few years her senior were in eighth grade in 2004. There's no way she, two or three years younger, could possibly be 29 years old in 2014, or that her friends could be in their early 30s in 2014. Remarkably, I seem to be the only one out of hundreds of reviewers who noticed this.
- Filling in the information I glossed over with a note to myself (which usually requires research I didn't want to stop writing to do).
- Word repetition. It's amazing how many times I can use a single word within the same sentence.
- Making sure loose ends are tied. All questions should be answered by the end of the book.
I call these "ruthless red pen edits," because I use a red pen to mark the manuscript and also add extra pages when necessary (I'm cheap, so I print on both sides of the paper, and since I format for eBook rather than traditional manuscript style, there's not a lot of extra space on the page). When I do all this, I guarantee that I'm submitting my best work to my editor, which in turn makes her job easier (and her fee less, since many editors charge based on the amount of work a manuscript needs)...but it's tedious work and often slow going. Nor will the manuscript be in perfect shape; my editor will still find plenty of things that need fixing (albeit small items like using the wrong character name--a particular weakness of mine that I can never seem to catch every time--or the wrong word or repairing my punctuation, not major plot holes). This is not being obsessive; these are the necessary steps to produce a book. Writing isn't always fun.
What do you do when you finish a manuscript? Do you do self-edits, do a quick read-through, or just submit it directly to your editor?