Put your novel into a free Createspace template, complete with chapters, page numbers, and margins. This will make it look like a “real” book. Think of the most detail-oriented but fair critical reader you’ve ever known personally, and go through your novel sentence by sentence with this critical reader present in your mind.
I Think Of My Editor, Who Is The Most Demanding Reader I’ve Ever Met
Think of how they would react to every word choice and punctuation mark. Do not change subjective elements of your novel; only alter things to satisfy the demands of your rigorous friend.
But Victor, If You Have An Editor, Why Are You Doing So Much Work?!
If this process sounds unbearable to you, you need to start looking for an editor who will do this work for you; the good ones work for free for their friends, at greatly reduced prices for people they know and like, and will rightly charge you more than double your rent if they don’t know you at all.
Looking For An Editor Online Is Like Playing A Lottery Full Of Scamsters
If you’re a person who writes, and you have not yet obtained an agent, a book deal, or a respectable following of readers (don’t despair! These things take time!), you are probably looking at your finished products (stories, novels, essays) through the rose-tinted eyes of a loving and nurturing parent.
Henry Fielding Compares Novels To Children
Children of the brain, he calls them. Try an experiment with me for a moment. Imagine that your latest book is a five- or six-year-old child whom you are about to drop off for the first day of kindergarten (or private school, or neighborhood homeschool co-op).
Is Your Novel Prepared For The Gauntlet Of Public Opinion?
Look at your novel-child. Is it dressed appropriately? (This correlates to the cover design, interior formatting, and sales blurb.) Does it know how to use the bathroom, and have you taught it not to hit or steal? (This correlates to pacing, plot holes, and matters like grammatically-inconsistent style usage.) You may think I am stretching the metaphor too far, but if you examine the public presentation and manners of your writing, you will find a much keener awareness within yourself of what is there and what is lacking.
Victor, My Book Is Not A Kid!
I live next to a little girl who currently attends second grade. She has informed my little boy that she is really fifteen years old, and that she has a thriving rock-selling business that has garnered her gobs of money. These fibs are somewhat charming, but have not alarmed me as a parent. Another boy visits the neighborhood to see his grandparents, and he has proved so destructive and personally malicious that my children are no longer allowed out when he is around (he has a habit of luring younger children out of bounds, and teaching them to throw big rocks).
Where Ya Goin’ With This, Victor?
Let us imagine that our neighborhood boy and girl are novels, complete with their respective behaviors. Now, we will look at how these behaviors may correlate to writing, and how attentive editing, and a mind to the manners of your work, can result in perfectly appropriate prose.
Bad Writing (ill-mannered child):
Drav was the most heroic man in the whole world; in fact, even the monsters in the Wilkren hills feared him. Drav’s name was even a curse word for most of the elvish people, who had learned to hide in their tree homes whenever his shadow darkened the green grass of their province. Drav was taller than a horse, and his pet dragon, Blackwing, ate maidens whenever Drav wasn’t looking. The story of Drav’s greatest exploit starts in a wind-swept plain of the icy mountain, where he had gone to hunt baby ice-birds for their glorious wings. We join him now at the dead of sunset, crouching low over a hillock of snow and ice, glaring with steely nerves at a grouping of the creatures.
Meh Writing (harmless lies):
Drav hoisted his spear over his shoulder, and examined for the fifteenth time the tiny specks in the distance that he was sure were baby ice-birds. They never left their nest this late; he thought they may have been abandoned by their mother. Teeth flashed in his mind. He imagined a snow-tiger mawing hard on the graceful neck, blood staining both snow and feathers. Drav crept forward through the snow. He had promised to himself to obtain at least two fluffy corpses before the night was out, and they will scatter when he flings the weapon. His steps lay behind him, a mosaic pressed into the harsh ground of the unforgiving climate that threatened life here.
Good Writing (well-behaved child):
The ice-birds rolled in the loose snow; their glittering blue feathers sparkled like jeweled robes in the twilight. Drav hung behind a snowbank, his right arm steady and his eyes fixed on the bathing babies. The little ice-birds smashed their extravagant feathers into the powder before flaring their wings to each side, casting snow out in clouds around them.
Drav’s heart had slowed; his arm loosed the spear, which arced through the air and pierced straight through the heart of the largest bird.
As the others tumbled wildly into the air, their plumage throwing flashes of iridescent blue over the snow, Drav stepped over the ridge of snow and drew his throwing knife.
Editing Is Hard Work That You Can Do
Many people regard editing with a superstitious fervor, but it is a matter of manners and public discretion. If you have the sophistication and discernment required to guide a small child into behaving with appropriate decorum in a public place, you have the skills required to edit your novel. If you don’t know any persnickety, but fair, readers, find one and spend time talking over books with them until you can predict their complaints and their reactions. If all of this sounds impossibly difficult, resign yourself to spending a great deal of money. Remember, if you can spend the time and energy writing a wonderful novel, you can also expend the time and energy to learn to shape it into good form.