Editing, My point of view, Writing

Write the Novel – Second Edit Pass – The Big One

Last week, I wrote about making a first editing pass to format our final manuscript. Now it’s time for the second edit, and it’s a big one.

Our brains process information differently from a page and from a computer screen. This edit is the place that, even if we’ve managed to be paperless so far, we need a written copy for editing. Mistakes we’ve missed on the computer screen are more likely to come to our attention on paper.

For editing, it is really, really helpful to have absolutely everything in one binding.  What I do is build two files. The first file contains the material that will not appear in the book, though it will be submitted to the editor. This file includes

  • Blurb: the book in 100 words.
  • Synopsis: a short summary of the book
  • Style sheet : Editors and typesetters can not read our minds. We must give them a guide book. Style sheets include correct spelling of character and place names, abbreviations, correct spellings of foreign words, places where a different font is used for emphasis, and specialized vocabulary, such as military, legal, or medical terms.
  • Permissions for use: if we’ve had to get permissions to use any material, include a copy of that permission in this file.

The second file is material that will appear in the book.

  • Cover page: Title; author information (and if writing under a pseudonym, that too); contact information; agent and contact information; if we have one.
  • Dedication
  • Acknowledgment: Who contributed to this book?
  • Introduction: Set the context for the book.
  • Manuscript, beginning with Chapter 1, page 1 and going to the end of the story
  • Background information
  • Glossary

Books almost always have a dedication and acknowledgement. Introductions, background information, and glossaries are sometimes included.  These last three are needed if a major plot element is likely to be unfamiliar to our general readers. Suppose we’ve written a book where cactus theft is a major plot device.

Introductions and background information may contain similar material, but with a different focus.

  • An introduction would contain my personal connection to the topic: the shock and sadness I felt when I came out of my house one morning, and realized that my neighbor’s 125-year old Saguaro cactus had been stolen.
  •  The background information would present facts, figures, history, etc. I wanted the reader to know about cactus theft; why it is such an ecological disaster; and what the reader can do to help. By combining this real life information into a background section, we avoid interrupting the story line so that characters can discuss this information for the benefit (or lack of it) for the reader.

Glossaries contain words that might not be familiar to the reader such as Cacti Horticulturist Specialist, Saguaro cactus, and the Cactus and Succulent Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Since I don’t have a high-volume printer, I put my two files on a thumb drive and have my local office supply store print them, and put them together with a coil binder. That way I’m sure no pages will go astray.

I use a black pen and a yellow highlighter. Some writers prefer multiple highlighters to differentiate different kinds of editing. That works as well. With pen and markers nearby, sit down and read the entire book, as we would a book we purchased or checked out of the library.

Marathon reading is not the way to go here. Try to take in no more than 20 to 25 pages in a session. For a 325-page book, this means we’ll need between 13 and 17 sessions. Yes, we can do two or three sessions in one day, but allow at least a couple of hours to pass between each session.

The Heart of this Edit

  • Does the story capture and hold our interest from page 1?
  • Does it flow smoothly?
  • Does tension build?
  • Are there timely and satisfying resolutions to the main plot and all sub-plots?
  • Does the material touch our hearts?
  • Do we find ourselves thinking about what we’ve read?
  • As we go from session to session, do we have to back track to remember what we read previously, or does our place in the story come naturally to us as we resume reading?

As we discover places where the answer to any of those questions is no, resist the urge to stop editing and do a rewrite. The purpose of this edit is to see the story as a whole.

As we read, here are some nitty-gritty details to check.

Chapter beginnings

  • Start by flipping through the pages, looking for the beginning of each chapter.
  • Are all of the chapters there?
  • Are they numbered sequentially, without gaps or duplications?
  • Is there a forced page break at the end of each chapter?
  • Does the Chapter heading start at the same place on the page?
  • Is each first paragraph in a chapter formatted consistently?

Header and footer

Unless my publisher requests something different, I put only the book’s name, right justified, in the same font as the rest of the manuscript, in the header. My reason is that contests will usually disqualify an entry if the writer’s name appears anywhere in the manuscript. By not including my name in the header, I remove the possibility this disqualifier slips in unnoticed. Later, if my publisher wants my name in the header, it’s simple to insert it.

The footer should contain a page number, centred, in the same font as the rest of the manuscript. The cover page isn’t usually numbered, but the rest of the pages are numbered sequentially. As I go through the manuscript, I check that there is a page number on each page. Gremlins happen.


Because we work piecemeal, it’s easy to lose continuity. Blue eyes become green eyes fifty pages later. James is in two places at the same time. Phyllis talks about being in college, and then later says she never went to college. Highlight, write margin notes, and keep going.

Proper names

Highlight the first time a character’s full name appears. Do the same for the first time any proper noun (places, company names, etc.) appears.

Missing research

Note any places we meant to check facts or verify something, and haven’t done that yet.

When we’ve finished the entire manuscript, go back to the computer. Make copies of the two files, and edit on the copies, using the highlighted manuscript as a guide to clean the manuscript.

  • Complete the research and change details if needed.
  • Correct chapter, header, and footer omissions or inconsistencies.
  • Iron out continuity issues.
  • Transfer all of the proper names to the Style Sheet.
  • Grammar check the entire manuscript.
  • Spell check the entire manuscript – twice.

Next week, on Tuesday, December 9th, The Third Editing Pass — our last chance to get rid of book killers. Hope to see you back.