How I Write: Step 9 – The Final Revision

We’re in the home stretch now! Your editor has just sent back the polished manuscript. It would be nice to say “you’re done” and move on to the next step. Unfortunately, unless you’re a far better author than I am or you have a rigidly authoritarian editor, chances are you’ve got some stuff to look over. Here’s the process I go through. It’s worth pointing out at this point that this is likely to be a subjective process, as different editors will provide subtly different manuscripts. I’ll try to be as general as I can.

The Hardware

You probably won’t need much in the way of hardware for this one. Keyboard, mouse, monitor. I genuinely hope you haven’t received your revised manuscript as a physically marked up printout. If you did… you’ve got loads of typing ahead of you.

The Software

Most often, you’ll get the manuscript back in the same format you presented it. In my case, that’ll be DOC or DOCX. As before, I’ve made do with LibreOffice or OpenOffice in the past. These days I have a subscription to Office 365, so I’ve got the current version of Word. It’s not a bad idea to consider this if you’re going to be doing a lot of writing. In all honesty, though, even an old copy of Word will do just fine.

The Content

This is a rare situation where you are the one receiving content. You’ll have a manuscript from the editor with every change and correction they made.  Make a copy of this manuscript and call it your final draft. The first thing you’ll want to do, if it hasn’t been done already, is go to the review menu/panel and turn OFF track changes and turn ON show markup.

Depending on how typo-ridden and grammatically questionable your story is, you’ll see loads of red corrections pop up. You can use the review menu to step through these and manually accept or reject them. If it’s the first time you’ve worked with a given editor, it may be worth taking the corrections in this way. I warn you, though. Doing so will leave you at the brink of madness from the tedium. My preferred method is as follows.

When you turned on show all markup, a little side column may have popped open beside your main text. This is the comment section. I know, I know, the internet has rendered the term “comment section” a synonym for “hate-filled criticism pit.” In this case, it is where your editor has indicated things that cannot be simply corrected. If you’re lucky, some will be remarks commending a particularly good turn of phrase or plot element. More common will be a note about a grammatical issue that is a matter of taste, and thus is left for you to correct or leave alone. When I have an inconsistent characterization or bit of broken continuity, my editor marks it with a comment. Really, just about anything that requires thought gets a comment. I’ve had to fill in dialogue tags, clarify ambiguous action, you name it.

Before I do anything else, I go through and address every comment. Some particularly trying ones may require you to talk to your editor again to work out how to move forward. Eventually, though, you’ll get to the end of the comments. At this point, I usually feel safe going back to the review panel and just marking “Accept all changes.” Why? Because anything that wasn’t raw grammatical correction has been dealt with by the comments, so the rest is predominantly stuff I got objectively wrong.

The one exception to this is if my editor provided a style sheet. (Some of my editors have done this, others haven’t.) If you’re not familiar, the style sheet is a list of quirks unique to your setting. Any made up words will be listed and defined in the style sheet. Characters’ names will be recorded here. Colloquialisms and vocal ticks are listed. And sometimes, some deeper, more widespread issues for reconsideration will be listed here too. Make sure you look at any notes on the style sheet before you officially consider your manuscript to be done.

In most cases, if you’ve done your due diligence elsewhere, if you’ve reached this stage, congratulations, you’ve got yourself an almost final draft. Sometimes, though, the comments from the editor will have revealed something that requires a sweeping addition/correction to the story. If you end up adding/changing more than a page or so of text, I would highly recommend seeing if the editor can look at the affected section of the story a second time. With nearly 100% frequency, if I add a paragraph post-edit, that paragraph will end up with a typo in every sentence.

A few things before I call this part done. Remember that this is your story. Your editor is going to provide some excellent advice on how to smooth out the rough spots, and might even offer some top-notch suggestions on changes and improvements. You can ignore these suggestions if you like. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate just why you feel a certain turn of phrase or character choice needs to be the way you envisioned it, but you know the story you were trying to tell. It is very rare that I find myself second guessing my editor, but if you find yourself wishing you didn’t have to do something or missing a line you really liked, go with your gut! And if afterward readers say that was a mistake, then you know your editor’s got a pretty good eye.

There you have it! You’ve got your finished book. If you were the traditional publishing type, this is the version of your story that you’ll have the most luck shopping around to agents and publishers. If you’re self-publishing… I’m afraid there are a few more steps you’ll need to consider. But we’ll get to those when we get to those.

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