Line Editing Statistics (Extrapolation)

I finally started integrating the line edits from my printed copy of the Christmas novel to my digital document. I am about a quarter of the way through, and I am done tracking the statistics. It’s way too time-consuming, and while it would be interesting to me to have an EXACT count of the differences between unedited final draft and my edited final document, I just don’t care enough to keep tracking it…not when I have a solid representative sample from which to draw a few conclusions.

First, the numbers.

Words in unedited sample: 13,193

Words in edited sample: 13,350

Instances of direct replacements (1-1 word changes): 60 (77 words)

Instances of words removed: 42 (108 words)

Instances of words added: 24 (265 words)

As you can see, the most common change was replacing one word with another. Many of these were swapping a pronoun and a character name, but many were also replacing weak/vague verbs (such as speak or say) with more specific verbs.

Removals were more common than additions, but removals tended to be one word (such as an adverb that I decided wasn’t really necessary) while additions tended to be entire sentences, usually of physical description to help “ground” a conversation or internal thought process.

Tracking the changes thus far was definitely worthwhile in order to give me a more clear picture of what I am really doing in a line edit. If I looked only at starting and ending word counts, the picture would be distorted – I would have a change of 1.19%. If, however, I look at the actual number of words changed rather than the net words involved, the rate of change becomes 3.41%. I am not sure I would consider a one percent difference worth my time involvement to execute and then integrate a full line edit; three and a half percent, however, definitely is.

Part of me is a little bit surprised that my rate of change was that low, considering all the pink I feel like was bled onto the pages in edits. But for every page I covered in neon, there is a page that has only one mark on it.

Interesting statistical experiment, one I will likely not repeat until I am much further along in my writing career (maybe around novel 20 it would be fun to do this again and see if I have improved my skills any, or if I am still only a 97%-right-the-first-time writer), but one I am glad I took the time to do now. I feel reassured both that line editing is worth my time to do and also that my writing is pretty solid out of the gate.

Anyone else out there OCD enough to have tracked editing stat’s like this? What was your experience?

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Line Editing Statistics (Extrapolation)

  1. ABE

    Very interesting – obviously you’re a lot further down the path. <4% change sounds similar to the rate of changes we used to have to make in the early days of optical character recognition (OCR). It is enough time to be a serious effort, and you have to pay careful attention. Don't minimize it.

    I assume this was to the almost-last-draft version.

    That's about the rate of changes I make when I decide a piece is perfect, and then submit it to Autocrit – which points out I've used the phrase 'he took her hand' four times in a scene, I go 'grrr,' and I fix it.

    Compared to what I start with – 100% change rate several times. I didn't realize, when I started posting my scene-a-week, that although the story was somehow complete in my mind, the execution had serious flaws in quality.

    Congratulations on getting to this place – that is very close to the end, no?

    • This was what I would consider a final rough draft. It had been to betas and the suggestions from them that I liked had already been integrated into the text. I had read it at least once on my kindle app and corrected the errors I found there. Not what I would consider a perfect version, because I knew it had not been through the line-editing wringer,but the point where I was finished WRITING, if that makes sense to say?

      I agree that <4% is both wonderfully small and also frustratingly tedious. I know at least by the end of the line edits I was not working as carefully and had to go back and re-do it. Sometimes it's harder when you don't have as many obvious problems,..you get complacent. My editing motto is "Constant vigilance" 🙂

      I am not sure I would have the nerve to post a scene-a-week type series on a project that was intended as serious writing. I find many things change after I have written them – sometimes you literally have to write the whole story before you know what the story is, and then decide the best way in which to tell it or you realize that a subplot was totally unnecessary or that the main plot is totally thin…. The other novel I have waiting for my editorial attention has to go through about a quarter of it being re-written before I can even start the editing process. A scene-by-scene on that one, even though i wrote it pretty much in order, would have been embarrassing. So take my statistic with this grain of salt: it is comparing a finished, beta-read, re-written, and editorialized final draft with a line-edited final copy. My first rough draft was 8000 words shorter and had about 10 fewer scenes.

      • ABE

        CONSTANT vigilance: the price of decent drafts – typos are insidious. And I keep seeing typos that never would have happened without autocorrect. I turn those OFF.

        Even if published books by big names. If ANYONE had read the text with attention, or out loud, those typos couldn’t exist – so don’t hold the standard too high.

        I plan on offering acknowledgments in a special section to those who find real typos – and hope that the section is very small.

        I’m having to do complete re-writes of some scenes. I keep hoping I’ll get to a part of the text where I don’t – or that I get a bit faster. After a while, you have most of the ways you’re going to do scenes – each one doesn’t have to be a completely distinct beast, at least not structure-wise – but I haven’t hit that point yet.

        I think I’m okay with the present scene IF I can get my head to function clearly for a few hours. Not even chocolate can help.

        What am I doing posting a novel that way when I can’t count on myself? Dunno. Seemed like a good idea. I got a wonderful beta reader out of the process, though.

  2. ABE

    Even IN, not even IF. Sigh.

    • Constant vigilance IS , indeed, the cost of error-free writing. I think some of the publishers are terrible about letting typos slip through. I always wonder, did they just skip the copy-edit on this one, or was the original draft SO RIDDLED with them that this represents a minuscule amount of errors left?

      I plan with all future publications (this one included) to offer a bounty to the first person who finds a particular typo or formatting error. Hopefully not more than a couple per text! (Actually, hopefully never because that is the standard I would LIKE to hold myself to…but that’s probably a *little* unrealistic, lol). I figure it would be something like a free copy of any of my other books or my next one. No one who didn’t enjoy the book is going to take the time to email about an error for that kind of reward. 🙂

      I used to rewrite scenes a lot more than I do now. I spent a lot of years flailing through 30K-word openings of stories that were, in reality, only partially formed in my head. The turning point for me was a piece of fanfiction (I rewrote the end of a popular-at-the-time series bc I hated the author’s end sooooo much) that was conceived of in about 48 hours from “do i want to do this” to scene by scene outline. That was when I learned outlining helps me. since then I don;t think I’ve had to rewrite more than a scene or two that i either wrote in the wrong POV or realized was the wrong way to go with that scene. Now, some of them that i didn’t like had to get rewritten like 3-4 times, so i guess when i go wrong i REALLY go wrong.

      As to why you’re doing it that way – to challenge yourself. And to explore the best writing process for you in a space of accountability so you stick with it. 🙂

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