To best utilize a professional editor, your manuscript ought to be as perfect as you can get it yourself, first. If you self-edit, you can reduce the cost of editing, as well as allow the editor to see the real heart of your manuscript, when it isn’t obscured by superficial and easily fixable issues. Here are some methods you should try.
1. Use Microsoft Word’s editing options fully
Word has a lot of options to help with your editing. Go to File-> Options-> Proofing-> When correcting spelling and grammar in Word-> Writing Style: Settings-> Style: Sentence length (more than sixty words). Next, run the Spelling & Grammar check and it will give you a blue squiggle underline for every super-long sentence. In the Require section, mark always for the comma before the last item (book publishing uses the serial comma), for punctuation inside quotation marks, and for one space after a period (not two, that style changed about thirty years ago). You can also have Word check for passive verbs, fragments, and clichés. It won’t catch everything by a longshot, but it’s a good starting point.
2. Get rid of time-framing words
If you place one thing after the other in the story, you don’t need to preface it with “then.” Excise these time-framing words such as “all at once,” “began,” “eventually,” “immediately,” “just,” “often,” “proceeded,” “started,” or “suddenly” whenever possible. They are unnecessary, make your writing wordy, and can make your writing feel timid and insecure, like you don’t trust the readers to get from A to B to C.
3. Scrutinize your words
Eyeball every adverb and delete most. Look over nonspecific adjectives like “really,” “super,” and “totally.” Specify or delete any nonspecific words or phrasing like “sort of,” “kind of,” “things,” “something,” and “stuff.” This is when editing online can be helpful as most of these can be addressed using “Find.” Delete every “Being that.” Don’t use complicated words when simple ones will do. Make your verbs active, not passive.
4. Familiarize yourself with the Chicago Manual of Style
This is the style guide used throughout book publishing. It might be significantly different than what you think are appropriate style choices such as the above mentioned serial comma.
5. Change your font
And do it more than once. Change the font, change the size, change the color. This helps you to be able to see the manuscript in a new context. (But when you are done with editing, change it back to a common serif font su ch as Times New Roman or Garamond and stick to it.)
6. Print the manuscript
While online editing has its advantages, you see things in print that you don’t see on the screen.
7. Read your manuscript out loud
Yes, this will be time-consuming and awkward. However, this exercise will smooth over difficult phrasing, make dialogue sound more realistic, and highlight errors that the brain fixes for you. Try to read it in a flat voice so you can hear where certain phrasing might be misunderstood without tone. You can also have your computer read it to you which would achieve the same effect.
8. Beginnings and endings
Do read over your beginnings and endings carefully but not just the beginning and end of the book—look at the beginning and end of each chapter. Each chapter should end on a cliffhanger as best you can. Try to keep readers reading. Don’t wrap things up too tightly. And be careful your chapters aren’t too long. Short chapters keep the action moving along.
9. Ask a friend
Ask your most critical, most honest friend for feedback. Assure them of no recriminations. Ask them specific questions, such as, Where did you lose interest? Were you confused at any point? Who was your least favorite character? Did you know why the main character did X? If you had to cut a scene or a character, what would you cut?
10. Put it in a drawer
Forget about the book for a while, as best you can. Put it aside for a month or so. Work on other things. Use the time to plow through other responsibilities and your to do list so that when you come back to tackle your manuscript with fresh eyes, you aren’t distracted by other responsibilities.
Write first, edit second. Don’t confuse the creative process with the editing process. And don’t use editing as a way to procrastinate finishing writing. On the other hand, don’t over-edit. Self-editing is a great head start, but even the world’s best writers need a second set of eyes. Learn to know when it’s time to let go.
At that time, we can help.