The Crime Readers' Association

Crime Writing Tips: Editing

26th August 2013 by in

A quotation from George Orwell is probably the best place to start when we are thinking about editing:’If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.’

Remember that writing for a reader is a very different exercise to writing for yourself. Try and read your work as though you are seeing it for the first time. Judge it by high standards. Other people will. Criticism may be irritating or even painful. Sometimes it is no more than pointless carping. But at best, criticism can be very helpful.

One of the benefits of having a publisher is that they provide you with a professional editor. If you are seeking a publishing deal, you may decide to pay a professional editor to read your work. If you are writing crime, you can submit your manuscript to the CWA for an expert assessment.

For those of you who have not been through the process of being professionally edited, here is an overview. There are two stages in the process.

First comes the Content Edit where you will be given suggestions relating to the balance of your narrative. There might be general comments about realism, pace or the balance of action and description.

The Line Edit, which is much more straightforward, offers specific comments about your writing. Queries over consistency with verb tenses, or range of vocabulary, might be raised.

Before you are ready to submit your manuscript to an agent or publisher, or even to an editor, you should do as much work on the manuscript as you can, to make it as strong as possible.

Here are a few points to look out for when you are self-editing.

1. Watch out for ‘favourite’ words you tend to overuse. We all do it. Churchill instructed his editors to look out for the word ‘vast’ and change it.

2. Think about your sentences and try to vary the openings and the structures. This will give your writing more variety.

3.With direct speech only use ‘he said’ and so on where necessary.

When it’s obvious which character is speaking, there is no need to spell it out for your reader. It becomes repetitive.

4. Reread your writing to ‘hear’ if it flows smoothly. Find somewhere private and read it aloud.

5. Show your work to a circle of readers whose judgement you trust. Choose your readers with care.

Keep rereading and revising your writing until you cannot improve it any more. At that point you are ready to send it to an editor, submit it for an assessment, and, eventually, submit it to agents and publishers. It is a long process, but it is worth bearing in mind another Golden Rule. ‘You only have one chance to make a first impression.’

Leigh Russell writes the popular Geraldine Steel crime series. Her debut, Cut Short, was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey New Blood Dagger Award in 2010 and her titles regularly appear in bestseller lists on amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstones, iTunes and kindle, selling well over 100,000 books to date. She teaches creative writing for The Society of Authors and The Writers Lab.

The Crime Writers Association Manuscript Assessment Service is open to all aspiring crime writers.

Go back to Blog

Join the CRA

Joining the CRA is FREE. There are no lengthy forms to fill out and we need nothing but your email. You will receive a regular newsletter but no spam.