Line Editing Timeline

I finished line editing my novel last night. Well. I finished marking up the printed version with pink ink last night. Grafting all the changes into a digital copy had to wait for another time.

And I may decide to run through the ending again. Unless I mis-marked my start time, I worked through the ending at literally twice my average speed to that point, which tells me I was probably not as critical as I could have been on those last 30 pages. At least a couple had no marks at all. Is my first go really the best those pages could be? Maybe. Or maybe I just got so caught up in the story that I forgot to analyze the words during the climax and denouement.

I wrote my start and stop times on the pages so I would be able to keep track of how long the process took, in the sense of how long it would take me if I were an editor and not an author who had to go back and make decisions on whether to accept the suggested changes. I am glad I did, because this process did not take me nearly as long as I expected, nor as long as I would have estimated, looking back on the process, if I had not been keeping such a strict record of work times. Nor as long as industry professionals have tried to insist to me that it does.

I did 11 editing sessions, five of them a full hour. Several of the other six were just little 15-minute stretches at lunch or before work. My total was 8 hours. Eight hours for 50,000 words. Really it was 7.5 hours for 53,383 words, but the others are such nice round numbers, don’t you think? Plus this gives me a half-hour of flex time to go back over the ending without having to redo this post.

I am embarrassed to admit I missed three–not one, not two, but THREE–typos that my mom had caught on her beta read, that I had overlooked every time I read the piece, even on my phone as a Kindle book, even on paper, that I found after I finished my work last night because that was when I remembered that I had not yet looked at her minutiae, only the big-picture stuff we discussed via email. So that is how I know that I missed them. All three were the same type of error, too: a missing word. Blech. This means when I think I’m done, that I’ll have to scour the file again at least once more. I cannot abide mistakes. Three in one novel is too many, if I am the one with her name on the cover and the editing credit in the afterward.

I don’t know how obsessively I’ll be able to track the changes I make when I integrate the edits. I am curious how many words I remove, how many words I replace, how many new words I add, and how many punctuation constructions I alter. I am curious what the total difference is between performing a line edit versus not: 3%? 10%? I would like to catalog the changes that closely. But I know myself, and typing these corrections into my document seems like the sort of task I can easily get wrapped up in and forget to make notes about…so we’ll see how the stat’s taking goes.

For now, it’s enough that I have a baseline. I can average 15 pages per hour of my semi-finished prose in my editing layout (which averages 500 words per page, or double the going per-page word estimate). This is almost in line with what I guessed editorial speed to be way back when, when I calculated from my perspective the staff time involved in creating an ebook at a publishing house. I concede that my editing timeline then was a bit brisk; it’s three times reading speed to edit, not double, at least the first pass. I doubt the second or third pass require double, however, so I think my total time was pretty spot-on…IF you assume the editors they hire work as quickly as my overeducated ass.

If they can’t, then this is just more proof that a publisher is not adding a value to the process.

***UPDATE: I was definitely coasting on the current of my own words last night. Went over about 5 pages of the end at lunch – found about 5 things I missed yesterday that I want to change today. Looks like I will have to go through the other 25 pages from last night again, too.

A prime example of just how subjective editing is when it gets to the tightening/polishing part. πŸ™‚

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Line Editing Timeline

  1. ABE

    I think you owe your mom flowers.

    I can relate to missing a word. Right after I posted on scene on my blog, I caught a very bad error that none of my beta readers had caught: I had two versions of a very large paragraph in the same scene – obviously because I had been toying with where to put the information.

    If I had run that scene through Autocrit – which I hadn’t because it was before I used AC regularly, and I haven’t gone back to those earlier scenes – it would have pointed out instantly that I had a bunch of words and phrases used twice.

    Fortunately, no one is waiting with bated breath to catch my weekly ‘next polished scene’ post, so I fixed it as soon as I reread the scene as posted, which I usually do.

    You can never have too many error catching routines in place – and I, in a hurry to not miss a self-imposed deadline, or tired, or having a bad brain fog day, missed the one of my routines which would have caught the error.

    I admire – and hope to emulate – not tolerating three typos in a book.

    Thanks for sharing the details of your editing process. Even 8 hours doesn’t seem so bad. What I fear in arranging for commercial editing is numbers far larger than that.

    • My mom is more a chocolate lady, but yes – she definitely gets a thank you gift!

      I have not used autocrit but probably will on anything longer than this. 50k is short enough to catch the echoes by hand (and control F), but it is about my upper limit of story length.

      RE commercial editing – I believe most charge by word/page and not by time, if that makes you feel better. I have a friend who freelances and can slog through a 500-page novel in a week if paid enough. I have no experience with the typical turnaround time, though I think most will give an estimate after they get the piece and have some idea what kind of work it needs.

  2. ABE

    Nope. By the word is as bad as by time.

    I’m coming to the place where if I can’t do it myself (editing), it isn’t going to get done. Which is why my total life’s output won’t be very large. (shrugs)

    Arrogance? Probably. Responsibility for my own work is how I see it. But there is such a temptation to let someone else ‘make it better.’

    I’ve also given up most sugar.

    • I strongly disagree with the notion that taking a great deal of pride in your own work an being able to see when you have done a job well is arrogant. To me you would be arrogant if you thought “there is nothing an editor could teach me or show me or do that i could not do better.” But if you feel tempted still to pay for an editor, obviously that is not what you are thinking. Instead you are running a cost-benefit analysis and concluding that the cost of hiring an editor that might result in a, say, 1% change to your writing, is not a good bargain for you. The benefit does not justify the cost. That is where I am. I know an editor could show me things, but at my level of experience and editorial training there would be very few that I can’t see for myself or have pointed out by beta readers as a problem (even if no solution is offered). But maybe I am just arrogant, too πŸ™‚

      • ABE

        That’s an excellent way to put it: cost benefit analysis. I’ve educated myself to remove the obvious – there are many, many books on editing.

        It’s part and parcel of the desire to have a publisher ‘validate’ your writing by publishing it. Nothing wrong with it – if you also have something they want, and win that lottery. Except for the royalties part, of course.

        There are a lot of alternatives, some of which I have already used, to get feedback from professionals, rather than editing. And many of the people I follow online can only be called that, professionals. We are all brave enough to put samples up – eventually we’ll connect with the people who like what we write. Meanwhile, I like learning – and I like to follow people like you who learn to do it all themselves, because it means I’m not way out in left field by myself. The proof will be in the reading. If not there, I don’t want it.

      • It’s a good team to play for πŸ™‚

        And I tend to take attitude of validation from readers. I don’t want to get it without regard to quality of craft from a writing perspective, but having a bunch of people read one of my books and like it enough to buy more is much more important to me than the subjective opinion of one person, or a handful of people, who have made a career out of guessing what will strike a cultural chord in the reading public.

        I am curious to see where I come down on things like hiring an editor or a cover designer if and when I am making enough money off my writing to reinvest anything but time and effort into it. I have this feeling I will continue to do most of it myself, simply because, as I have stated before, if I don’t have a job the realistic case is that I put 20-30 hours of writing time in per week which still leaves me 20 hours (on a 40-50 hour work week) for “publishing” functions. Even if my 4-5 hours of writing per day gets me a novel a month, I will still have a lot of time left for publishing that one novel per month. But I’m not there yet and I sort of think it will be impossible for me to predict because if I get there, my life won’t be what it is today if I were there today.

  3. ABE

    I think there is a flattening off of the editing curve – after a while you learn to self-edit all the problem areas AS you write.

    When I first started running things through Autocrit, just as an example, it would point out lots of things I needed to think about, and sometimes change. Now it takes a few passes, a few decisions, and I’m good with the editing. My biggest problem? A tendency to repeat words and phrases within a scene. With them clearly pointed out, I can change the wording in them as a set, decide which to change slightly, which to eliminate, and which to leave.

    Each scene is getting earlier to polish, because I have systematized everything as I go.

    I like learning how better than letting some editor point things out to me.

    You will do fine.

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