Lately I feel like a hamster must feel on his little wheel going round and round. Edit, revise, repeat. And again. And again. And again.
What if you’re only on your first round of this dizzying cycle? Think how it will be when you get farther along!
Let me share with you five simple steps I’ve found helpful and hope will help you get started on the right track. These are not all-inclusive for self-editing, but they at least give you something to think about as you begin. Many resources are available in book form, on the web, or through your library.
Please keep in mind engaging a professional editor or editorial team to make certain your manuscript is ready to publish. These simple steps are offered to get started when your manuscript is as far as you can take it. Once you feel comfortable that your manuscript is as clean of simple errors as possible, it’s time to hire an editor.
In Part 1 on self-editing and its cost savings, I shared a list of items to give close attention to before handing off your manuscript to a professional editor. You might think finishing the items on the list means everything is ready for your editor.
But wait! There’s more . . . much more you’ll want to do before allowing your editor to take over.
After completing a first round of mostly structural self-edits as shown in the list, take a breather from your manuscript. Have coffee, perhaps tea, maybe something stronger.
Take a day, a week, or in a writer’s life maybe longer before you look at your manuscript again, so you can read it with new eyes.
And now settle in for another round of self-edits. Here you’re working to interpret any items you missed the first time through — redundancies in expression, poor to bad transitions, and sentence structure problems. Then read over your revised manuscript.
These two passes at self-editing may be likened to laying a foundation for your home. You don’t want to be stingy at this stage of your writing. You want a solid manuscript ready for your editor.
Here are some things that a professional editor, someone you are going to pay for services, would like to see in your manuscript:
Stop and ask yourself the question, “Is my manuscript finished?” No one wants a raft of emails saying you’ve decided to change something. The pages you send to an editor should be your final, very final draft.
Run one more spellcheck, just to be sure.
Formatting is another place to do a recheck. From an editor’s point of view, 12 point Times New Roman is easiest on the eyes. Double-spacing makes your manuscript easy to read.
Save your document in Word as a .doc document. If you use another writing program, other programs (such as Pages for Mac) will export your document into Word.
Lastly, helpful information for your editor is a short summary of your work and a page count. Also, any tips for the editor about your story line or manuscript. For example, let’s say Sally gave her history professor a correct answer in lecture in Chapter 3 but gave her soon-to-be former boyfriend an incorrect answer in Chapter 5 intentionally. A watchful editor just may check Sally’s answer in Chapter 3 and be confounded at the provision of a wrong answer in Chapter 5. Save your editor time!
At this point, you may want to have your manuscript reviewed by two or more beta readers. Beta readers are persons you trust to read your manuscript and give you honest feedback. In addition to spotting typographical and spelling errors, beta readers look at your work as a reader, not an editor. Their feedback can relate to: plot — does it move, does it draw you in, does it fall flat; characters — lovable, likable, despicable (if you intended them to be, then great!); story arc — does it work, are you pulled from one point to the other. Basically, your beta readers can give you critiques of your book pre-publication. A priceless commodity for the writer, which costs you nothing!
Before leaving this topic, here are a few links you may find helpful when you reach that final word, last paragraph, last page, and the words “The End:”
CAVEAT SCRIPTOR: There is an abundance of information on the Internet on this topic. However, be sure what you read is provided by a reliable source. Vet the credentials of the presenter and never be afraid to ask questions if there is something you don’t understand or makes you uncomfortable. It will save you in the end.
Currently, self-publishing is a major topic at writing conferences, workshops and on blogs. Although I am not near the point of even beginning to check and edit a first draft, I try to stay aware of all that is happening with self-publishing vs. traditional publishing.
Based on my reading, it is my opinion that we all hope self-publishing requires a smaller outlay than traditional publishing. However, that may depend on how well you’ve charted your course through all the necessary avenues before actually publishing your book.
One cost which can be controlled by you, the writer, on the front end is the cost of editorial services. Let me qualify that statement by saying that if you’re a first-time author, you will need to hire an editor at some point in the process. Here are a few suggestions to help keep the editorial cost down.
Most importantly, work with your manuscript diligently editing and revising it yourself so that you hand the editor of your choice the cleanest possible copy.
Content editing is one tool you can use to reach the clean manuscript for your editor.
Watch for repetitive words, avoiding where possible the use of the same word twice in a single paragraph.
Example: Jeff’s eyes met my eyes, and as we gazed into each other’s eyes, I knew our love would last forever.
Revision: Jeff’s eyes met mine, and as we gazed at each other, I knew our love would last forever.
Eliminate descriptors which weaken your characters and diminish them to less than they what they are.
Example: Sarah felt slightly afraid as someone rummaged through the downstairs rooms.
Revision: Sarah felt afraid as someone rummaged through the downstairs rooms.
Carefully construct character reactions so that they come afterthe action. Otherwise, it confuses your reader.
Example: Emily jumped into Sam’s waiting arms as the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed.
Revision: As the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed, Emily jumped into Sam’s waiting arms.
Past or past perfect tense is always tricky. You should carefully check this. Rule of thumb: When writing in past tense, anything occurring before the point your story begins is past perfect tense.
Example: Dad had purchased (past perfect) a red Mustang convertible in 1964 and was (past) in love with it as much today as the first time he drove it.
And, as always, be sure you are showing and not telling. The best way to lose readers’ attention is to tell them, and not show them through rich detail the personalities of your characters, the scene you want to set, and the clever dialogue you use.
Telling: Max was mad.
Showing: Max doubled up his fists and gritted his teeth.
These are just a few of the steps you can take to make sure that your manuscript is in good editorial shape before you send it to your editor.In so doing, your editor will not need to spend as much time editing and revising your manuscript as she or he might have otherwise.
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In Part 2, we’ll look at thinking like an editor before the editor takes your manuscript for review.
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