Friday, August 10, 2012

Guest Barbara McMahon: Self-Editing Made Simple

Today we’re delighted to welcome bestselling, award-winning author Barbara McMahon to Seekerville! She’s written more than 80 novels which have sold more than 16 million copies worldwide in more than fifty countries and in twenty-eight languages!

Barbara is sharing a few tips on how she self-edits her manuscripts, but this is also a perfect opportunity to ask any questions you may have regarding other areas of the writing craft and such an amazing career!
Her August release, “Mirror Image Bride,” is Book #2 in the new 6-book Harlequin Love Inspired "Texas Twins" series, preceded by “Her Surprise Sister” (Marta Perry), and followed by “Carbon Copy Cowboy (Arlene James), “Look-Alike Lawman” (Seeker Glynna Kaye!), “The Soldier’s Newfound Family” (Kathryn Springer, and “Reunited for the Holidays” (Jillian Hart).
And now, here’s Barbara!
One of the important aspects of writing is making sure the manuscript is as clean as possible before submitting it. For me, this translates into editing the manuscript until it shines. My goal is to have as few comments by my editor as possible.
This is my system. It might work for you, it might not. Take what you can use and ignore the rest. First I write the book from beginning to end. I usually have a basic outline, but not too detailed as when I’m writing new ideas pop into mind and that alters the flow of the story. I then jot the ideas down to go back once I’m finished to insert hints to lead up to a change or special scene.
Once the entire manuscript is finished, I begin the edit stage. First of all, I know I use some words to excess–like the word just. I just slip it in characters’ conversation. I use it in the narrative. Most of the time I don’t need it. Recognizing that this is a failing of mine, I do a global search for “just.” At each one I determine if I need it or not. Or could another word substitute. I do this for other words as well that I use to excess.
Then I double check for its versus it’s, and there, their, they’re to make sure I’ve written those correctly. I know the difference, but when typing flat out to get the story down, there’s no telling what these fingers will do.
I read it from the beginning concentrating on the hero. I want him to be strong and dynamic. Yet the first draft will have him smiling at inappropriate times or chuckling. My heroes don’t chuckle. I concentrate on the descriptions both physical and personality wise to make sure he’s consistent throughout.
Same thing with the heroine. By this time I’m starting to skip parts because I’ve been through the manuscript so many times.
If possible (and I try to allow enough time when establishing the due date), I put the whole thing aside for a week or two. I read. I clean my office. I visit with friends. Doing as much as I can that’s as different from writing as I can get.
Another read. This time I read it aloud. When reading silently, I find I “see” what I expect to see, not what’s there or missing. Reading aloud makes sure I hit every word. This is my final pass before sending it in and I want to make sure I catch mistakes before my editor does. I call this my polishing stage. Making sure it’s as clean and complete as I can make it.
Then it’s ready to go.
There are many different ways to self edit. Or even share with a critique group. What works best for you?
If you’d like to be entered in a drawing for a copy of “Mirror Image Bride,” please mention it in the comments section--then watch our Weekend Edition for the winner!
Surprise Family. In tiny Grasslands, Texas, Maddie Wallace has discovered siblings she never knew existed—including a twin sister. When ranch foreman and single father Ty Garland hires her as nanny for the daughter he just discovered, it’s only temporary. The handsome loner thinks she’s just a glamorous city gal in borrowed cowgirl boots. He knows the type. And he expects her to hightail it back to Fort Worth the minute she sorts out her family secrets. But it turns out Maddie has just found where she belongs--in every possible way.
Texas Twins: Two sets of twins, torn apart by family secrets, find their way home.
About Barbara: Known for her heartwarming, emotional stories, Barbara McMahon excels in capturing those feelings when first falling in love.  She has won or been nominated for every major award in the romance genre, from a double nomination in the RITA to winning the Bookseller's Best, National Reader's Choice Award, and the prestigious HOLT Medallion, among others.  Barbara lives in a rural county in California's gold rush country. She loves the history of the place and is involved in the county's genealogy group and historic cemetery preservation in addition to volunteering one day a week at the local Animal Shelter.


Mary Cline said...

I would love a chance to win this book. It sounds like a good story and the cover is intriguing and beautiful.

This is another very helpful post and will be very helpful but it's not complicated. That is good. Thank You.

Barbara M said...

Glad you like the suggestion. It's worked for me for years. But it does take getting used to reading aloud. Good luck on winning the book.

Annette said...

Every bit of advice helps. You've given me a few more gems to tuck under my writers belt. Thanks

Natalie Monk said...

Hi Barbara!
I confess, I've been neglecting my messy manuscript of late. But now summer's through and it's time for me to get back to editing. Thanks for these very practical instructions and pointing me in the write ;) direction!

Ausjenny said...

Hi Barbara, I read the first book in the twins series and would love to read book 2.

When I read the post I remembered when I was doing my course on Business Admin and reports several things you said we were told. The first draft is just that then start editing checking for words that are not needed.
Also told to read it allowed to see how it reads. I know myself I tend to miss things when reading but reading out loud I found the errors or things that needed fixing much better.

Glynna Kaye said...

Good morning, Barbara! Welcome to Seekerville!

I really enjoyed "Mirror Image Bride" -- very heartwarming! It's been so much fun to read the stories of the characters who will lead into my October book of the Texas Twins series.

16 MILLION books is HUGE! Would you please tell us a little about how you got started as a published author? Maybe some tips for sustaining a long-term writing career?

Rose said...

Hi Barbara,

I'd say my self-editing style is very similiar to yours. The only difference is when I'm writing the rough draft, I do read through what I'd written the day before to get back into my story, and many times I will edit that as I go.

Julie Lessman said...


WOW, more than eighty novels??? When did you start writing, girl, age ten???

LOVE your process of editing, which is very similar to mine although I don't do a search for it's or its or there or their, but I think I will now!! Like your affinity for "just," I usually have one word per book that I overdo on and then I'll search and replace that.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

Barbara, good morning!

80 books.

You rock the big kahuna! And thank you for those timely tips on your process. Short. Succinct. To the point. You are a refreshing change because a few of us (naming no names) TALK WAY TOO MUCH.


Hey, breakfast, Friday, back to low-carb, Peeps! Eggs. Bacon. Sausage. Broccoli/Egg/cheese casserole.

Which is like quiche without the crust and works just as well with spinach or cauliflower. Or a combo of the three.

And I used cheddar and parmesan cheese, no carbs, but some bite. Hey, if we're gonna do this, we're gonna do it with taste...

Pass the salt!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Rose, I do that too. And that makes mild edits for later...

Hey, coffee's on! Sorry, forgot that earlier.


Glynna Kaye said...

I like to read my manuscripts aloud, too. Several times if the looming deadline allows. It especially helps to get the dialogue sounding more natural. I hadn't thought, though, of reading it thru with focus solely on the hero and then solely on the heroine. I may have to try that next round.

Janet Dean said...

Welcome to Seekerville, Barbara! Congratulatons on your fabulous career!!!

Thanks for the tips for self-editing. I try to read the manuscript aloud but next thing I know, I'm reading silently again. Now I try to read only the dialogue aloud and even fail in that. Weird, I know.

I brought my favorite apple fritters this morning.


Sandra Leesmith said...

Morning Barbara, Welcome to Seekerville and thanks for sharing your self-edit hints.

I have a dear friend who reads her manuscript to her cat. I know it helps, but it seems so slow. How long does it take to do it? I think I'll set aside time for my next manuscript.

Jackie said...

Barbara thanks for stopping by today.

I'm still trying to figure out a best way. So far I write my story. Then I take it chapter by chapter. When I go over one chapter I submit it to a crit group. When I get it back I read over their comments and work on it again.

I like you idea of going through the story once to focus on heroine and once to focus on hero.

Thanks for sharing! And please add my name to the contest.

Jackie L.

Ganise said...

Good morning, Barabara,

I just like your self-editing process! It sounds so much like something I would do.

I was nodding especially when you mentionned finding synonyms for words because I do that ALL the time!

Good day Seekerville!

Marianne said...

i LOVE stories about twins, and about unknown family (you'd think i was the one adopted in our family, huh?)i am blessed enough to know a family with triplet girls! Although i am not a writer, i can appreciate how you self-edit your novels before they go to the editor. It's no fun reading a novel that's not been edited enough.
Thanks for the chance to win Mirror Image Bride, Barbara


Glynna Kaye said...

Barbara--I know you've heard this question a million times and groan each time you hear it--but after writing 80 books, how do you get new plot ideas? New characters? New spins? Keep it fresh for yourself? I've only had 5 books published so far and it's always a challenge to make the next one "different."

Jeanne T said...

Barbara, love this post. Your method is practical and helpful. I hadn't thought to check for those synonyms like their, there and they're. Thanks for that!

I'd love to know if you have any tips for when you write your rough draft that make the revising and editing easier later on? Does that question make sense?

Thanks for sharing with us today!

Jan Drexler said...

Hi Barbara!

If everything else in your writing process is as organized as your self-editing routine, I can see why you have 80 books out there!

On my first (and only) book, I did the read throughs concentrating on the hero and then the heroine. Like you, I wanted to make sure the characters were consistent and their growth made sense.

And those pesky homophones! I never used to make mistakes like that when I was younger...take that as a warning you people under 40!

I'd love to win a copy of your book. The whole Twins series intrigues me :)

Myra Johnson said...

Welcome, Barbara! You certainly hit one of my "pet words." It really is so easy to slip "just" into dialogue or interior monologue.

Another word that always jumps out at me is "back." I'm continually looking for different ways to say something without using that word!

Then a couple of books ago, my editor commented that my characters "breathed" a lot. They sighed, they huffed, they inhaled deeply, exhaled sharply, etc.

Your advice about shelving the manuscript for a couple of weeks while you get your mind on other things is absolutely vital for reading with a fresh eye. My husband will also read the entire book at this stage, and he's always catching some little something I missed.

Barbara M said...

Good Morning. I'm in California, so I suspect either all of you get up much earlier than I do, or you're in more eastern time zones.

Thanks for all the comments. Annette: So glad you found something helpful. I love information from other authors and their process. I can take what I think will work for me and let the rest go.

Natalie: I think summer doldrums comes for me from when I was a kid and had every summer off. I feel ready to get to work come Labor Day.

Ausjenny: The reading aloud enables us to see a manuscript in a different way, and even some words that work all right in silent reading suddenly jump out and need changing.

Glenna: Thanks for the kind words on Mirror Image Bride. I've had lots of reader mail on that one and it just went on sale, so it must be the reader's club. It was hard to write for that continuity series, but so much fun. I'm saving all the books to read straight through.

Rose: I do too, usually. I reread what I wrote the day before and try to catch things there. But mostly I'm raring to go on the next pages, so do read it fast.

Julie--you're my new BFF. I must have been around 10. Just kidding. Oops, there's that word just. I've been writing 30 years this month!

Ruth: Okay, now I have to keep my succinct reputation.

Glenna: Will answer later on career. I find focusing on either the hero or heroine helps me nail their characterization. When I read through the first time I'm looking for story holes.

Janet: Are we doing breakfast. Can I bring Cinnabon Cinnamon rolls, a rare treat for me, but I love them.

Sandra: It is a slow process. I usually set aside a couple of hours each morning--which is when I'm fresh. I'd say it takes me usually 3 mornings to do the read aloud.

Jackie: the luxury of a critique group. Wonderful. I had one when I started, but after a while we moved more into brainstorming and that's great, too.

Ganise: I also try to find different ways to say things without using the same words over and over.

Marianne: I love twin stories, too. I've had a couple with Harlequin Romance that have done well.

Jeanne: What works for me is to reread what I wrote yesterday and edit as I go.

Jan: Nice to know another writer works like I do.

Myra: Too funny about the breathing. I had one book where the editor said my heroine had to have the bloodiest lips in the planet she kept biting them.

Long post, I'll pop in during day to keep up better.

Have a good on.

PatriciaW said...

Always good to hear how authors approach polishing their stories. Never thought about reading it strictly from one character's vantage point.

Please enter me. Yours is the Texas Twins story I missed.

Digging for Pearls said...

Great ideas. When I was doing a recent edit I went through with a blue and pink highlighter at the beginning of each scene break(blue for hero, pink for heroine) so I could make sure I didn't have any POV error within each section.

Jodie Wolfe

Barbara M said...

Patricia: Try it for a couple of chapters and see if you like how it works. If not, this is an idea that isn't for you.

Jodie: That's a good idea, too. I took a course a couple of years back where we highlighted all sorts of things in all different colors. It really go me thinking about things as I did it, but it would take too much time from a tight writing schedule to do all the instructor suggested. But I think it made me more aware of areas that might be weak.

Debbie said...

Hi Barbara:
Your method makes a lot of sense and I hope to incorporate more of these into my process. I've been asked to submit full manuscript, so I need to polish my baby in every way possible. At this time my "read aloud" has been confined to reading scenes to one of my daughters.
Thank you for the words of wisdom and the opportunity to win Mirror Image Bride.

Mary Cline said...

Sheesh, I shouldn't make comments when I'm tired. I see I used helpful twice in the same sentence. I should have edited myself but my grand kids were here . . .

Janet Dean said...

The cinnamon rolls are yummy, Barbara.

I have to watch lumps in throats, knots in stomachs, all the over-used body parts. LOL

Lunch time. Panera is catering.


Myra Johnson said...

Barbara said: " I reread what I wrote the day before and try to catch things there."

That's my usual routine as well. It also helps me get back into the flow of the story.

Janet, I know what you mean about lumps in throats and clenched fists--LOL! It's a challenge coming up with fresh ways to show emotion.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the re-reading, that keeping it to a minimum is ideal. Too often I get caught up in reading the WIP rather than making a conscious effort to move *ahead*!

Thanks for the interview and giveaway. Sign me up!

Kav said...

Oh my goodness!!!! I use 'just' just about all the time. I mean it's just so necessary to complete a sentence, don't you think? I'm so guilty of using that word to excess...even when I write emails or blog posts or just plain old talking. It just feels right, you know?!

Love these editing tips -- intrigued by the idea of doing a run through concentrating on the hero first and then the heroine. I bet you catch a lot more that way. I'm going to have to try that. Might be interesting to do when plotting out a story too. Hmmmm.

Susan Anne Mason said...

Hi Barbara,

I love hearing how other authors edit their work - since I'm still trying to work out the process for myself. I find I get caught up in the story and start reading like it was an actual book I'd bought! LOL. Then I have to smack myself and start editing!

When you go through from the hero's perspective, for instance, do you only read the scenes in his POV?

Do you only do a few chapters at a time, or the whole book at once?

Love to be in the drawing.


Ruth Logan Herne said...

I liked that Barb's heroes do not chuckle.

Neither do mine.

Like... ever.

I'm not big on spinning and whirling, either.

Isn't it funny the words we like and the ones we don't like????

If I have just insulted anyone besides Connealy, I heartily apologize. Really...


Mary Connealy said...

I know others who always read their books aloud. That is amazing to me. I suspect you really catch a lot of stuff but I've never done it.

I should.

I suspect I won't and now I'll have to deal with the guilt

THANKS A LOT!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

What? You say I do too much spinning and whirling? EXCUSE ME? Who had a TORNADO in her book, huh, Madam Ruthy? Major whirling there!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Kav, we should do a run through concentrating on that less Lorna Seildstad taught about The Five Love Languages, too, to make sure the hero and heroine both do all of them to make the readers love them!

I'm really big on setting the book aside for a while too. But I usually use that time to start a new book rather than like....dust...or clean...or something crazy like that.

Mary Connealy said...

OH GOOD GRIEF could I have spelled Lorna's name any worse?
And I meant LESSON Lorna Seilstad taught, not LESS.

I rarely correct typoed comments, trusting all of you to understand what I meant, but this was pretty far off!!!!!!!!!

Debby Giusti said...

Hi Barbara,
So glad you could be with us in Seekerville today!

Lyndee said...

Hi Barbara,
What an impressive number of books and readers! You must write in your sleep!

I edit similarly. Being dyslexic, it's always a challenge to make sure the words are really there and not in my imagination. When I read aloud, I am shocked to see simple words are absent - the, it, and. I just don't type them, but when I read on the computer, I 'see' them there! That's why reading aloud is so valuable to me.

Thanks for the terrific post. Would be delighted to be included in the drawing for Mirror Image Bride.

Janet Kerr said...

This is an interesting take on editing. Thank you for the information.
Please enter me in the draw for your book.

pol said...

Hi Barbara, I am a reader so your editing process lets me know just how much goes into the process before "my story" that I read gets to be published, thanks for all your hard work..
I would love to have a copy of your book, all the others sound interesting too, here I go finding more books to read..
Paula O(

Donna said...

Barbara, thank you for the lesson on editing. I took away some great ideas!
I am like Glynna, wondering how you came up with 80 different plots, heros, and heroines. I would be challenged to think of names for all of them!

Barbara M said...

catching up again.

Debbie: Yay on the request for a full. Good luck on a sale!

Mary Cline: I'm glad if any comments were helpful.

Janet: Isn't it funny how some aspects get over used in a book? Knowing what those are at the edit stage can be helpful. It flows so freely when we're creating, but then smacks us in the face once we are reading the entire manuscript.

Emily: I push through to the end or I'd stop at polishing the first few chapters over and over. I also see scenes in my mind and make myself take them in order with transitions in between, or I'd never get done. A friend writes all her scenes and then goes back and puts them in order and writes the transitions. I can't imagine that chaos working for me.

Sue: A sign of a good book--that you are caught up in the story you wrote! I read the entire manuscript when focused on the Hero or Heroine. But I pay attention to descriptions, attitude, personality, dialogue to make sure it matches what I see in my head when envisioning the Hero or Heroine.

Ruth: Here's to men who never chuckle--expect in real life when they aren't the heroes!

Mary Connealy: I laughed out loud. Sorry for the guilt trip.

Hi Debby: What a fun group. Thanks for having me visit.

Janet: Glad to show the "how" for me. What about the rest of you, what's your method?

Paula: Yay for books. I firmly believe one can never have too many books.

Donna: It is hard to be different when writing more than 80 books. Often when brainstorming story ideas with my group, one will suggest something and I'll say, nope did that in Such and Such book. Then we'll throw out more ideas, and again, I've been there done that. So it does get harder and harder to come up with new ideas. But I strive to make each hero unique by one thing, and the same with the heroine. By using different settings, sometimes I'm helped by the location. Still, I like the ones that are linked best.
I have three books in the Rocky Point series, so far, and I like going back to that town, hearing a bit more about the characters from a previous book. Those are more challenging, however, as I have to remember exactly how I depicted the characters in the earlier books.

I get story ideas from all over. One was from a Lacey J. Dalton song, another when I saw a handicap cowboy sitting in a pick up truck at the supermarket, one from a guy carrying around a baby. It all starts with what if...

Tina Radcliffe said...

Barbara! Welcome to Seekerville. Thank you for the great tips!!

Missy Tippens said...

Barbara, welcome! I loved reading how you write and then edit. My editing method is similar. I read through a couple of times, looking at particular character arcs or the romance plot thread. Then I send out to my critique partners. Then I make changes and read through a couple more times.

By the time I send it in, I'm totally sick of it! LOL

Missy Tippens said...

I should add that I don't read my manuscripts out loud. I probably should, though, because it gets so that I almost have it memorized and don't see errors anymore.

Lyndee said...

So do real men smile?

Barbara M said...

Hi Tina: Glad if the tips are helpful.

Missy: That's why I read aloud, otherwise I "see" what I think I see, instead of what's actually there. And you're right. I'm sick of the book by the time I send it in. Fortunately, I spring back by the time I get edits.

Glynna Kaye said...

Wow! It's been a busy here while I was at the day job! Thank you again, Barbara for joining us. I'm so happy to have been given the opportunity to work with you and the other "Texas Twins" series authors. Yes, it WAS hard work, but it's so much fun to see how the books intertwine yet are still complete, self-contained stories that bring little Grasslands, Texas to life!

Barbara M said...

Lyndee: Real men do smile. And in my books they smile--sometimes. It depends on how you want your hero to come across. I love reading some beta heroes--think Jimmy Stewart in those old movies. But for my books, I want the men a bit less easy to get along with initially. I guess that's why it's so much fun to read different type of books. Ones I couldn't write in a hundred years are favorites.

Glenna: It was fun, but harder than I expected. In other series I've done, we touched base with other characters, but living on the same ranch was a challenge. Fun to interact with the other authors and get to know them better.

marybelle said...

I would love to read MIRROR IMAGE BRIDE thank you.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Barbara, for the editing overview. One question: do you print out the ms for the read-aloud?

Again, thank you, and your twin-plot sounds intriguing. Take care,

Gail Kittleson

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Barbara, for the editing overview. One question: do you print out the ms for the read-aloud?

Again, thank you, and your twin-plot sounds intriguing. Take care,

Gail Kittleson

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Barbara, for the editing overview. One question: do you print out the ms for the read-aloud?

Again, thank you, and your twin-plot sounds intriguing. Take care,

Gail Kittleson

Barbara M said...

Hi Gail:

I do print out the full manuscript when I'm doing the last read aloud part of my process. Then I can sit on the deck, or in a recliner, or wherever I find that's quiet and I won't bother anyone and read away. I especially like summer edits as I can sit outside.

Shelia Hall said...

Would love to be entered for your book

Ginger said...

Wow, great advice. Thank you.

I'd love to win your book.

ginger dot solomon at gmail dot com