Friday, May 30, 2014

Squeaky Clean Manuscripts ~ Sally J. Ling

Final Self-Editing

Sally J. Ling

Writers write. Editors edit. At least, that’s the way it used to be. Now, writers, whether fiction or non-fiction, have to be their own editor, and the task can be daunting to overwhelming. So what’s a writer to do? 

When I published my first five books with traditional publishers, the publishers had editors on staff. It was the editor who then went line by line through my manuscript to catch any grammatical errors, content issues, or problems with sentence structure.

Today, manuscripts are expected to be in ship shape when they reach the publisher’s or agent’s desk. That’s not an easy task for many of us. Most writers are more interested in telling a compelling story than worrying about the details. But times have changed. Now, writers have to do their own editing, or find someone else do it for them. Ah . . . there is the rub.

If you’re not interested in hiring someone to professionally edit your manuscript (though I highly recommend this even though it can run from a few hundred dollars into the thousands if you’re looking for both content and grammatical editing—who said being an author was inexpensive?), then perhaps these suggestions will help you do most of the final editing yourself, thereby limiting your financial exposure for a paid editor.

But . . . let me warn you, even with the most experienced editor, or the dozens of pairs of eyes that may review the manuscript before publishing, in most cases not all the errors will be caught. It is rare when I read a print or digital book that I don’t find a word left out, misspelled, used out of context, or even a duplicate paragraph. To minimize that happening to you, I offer the following final self-editing suggestions.

For the purposes of this article, I’m going to assume you have a solid story line, dialogue is clear, point of view is appropriate, and you’re simply looking to catch any final problems. I’ve found that reading my manuscript in a variety of different formats makes the story look different (even when I’m sick to death of it!), and the problems often stand out, many times, glaringly so. Also, reading your manuscript on a different device—say a tablet rather than a desk or lap top computer—allows you to see errors as well.

So . . . here are my suggestions for that final self-edit:

  1. Read your manuscript on your computer. Make corrections.
  2. Put it away for a few weeks (This helps you see the story in a fresh light.)
  3. Print it out. Re-read it. Make corrections.
  4. Read it out loud to someone. Make corrections. (This is a great way to find glaring issues, such as duplicate or misplaced paragraphs, unrealistic dialogue, or content that doesn’t make sense. You’ll also be getting feedback as you go.)
  5. Make a pdf. Re-read it. Make corrections. (I realize that you are re-reading the same story just in different formats, but you will be surprised how many errors you will find just switching to a different format.)
  6. Send to “readers.” (These are a handful of people who will give you an honest opinion and who can catch additional typos and story glitches.)
  7. Send to an editor. (This needs to be someone experienced, not a friend, unless this friend is also a professional editor. Steps 1-6 will help you cut down on the time it will take for this step and the expense.)
  8. Upload your book as a print book or e-book. Re-read in printed proof copy or digital format. Make corrections. (You can skip step 8 if you’re sending directly to an agent or publisher.)
  9. Publish or send to agent/publisher.

I realize final edits can be a time consuming process (yes, it does take weeks). But better to take the time up front to edit it in these formats than to have readers turn up their noses at your story because of too many grammatical or content problems. Nothing kills book sales quicker than poor reviews.

Here’s wishing you much success with your self-editing. I’d love to hear about your experience using these techniques, and if you have other suggestions, please let me hear about them as well. You may contact me at

Note: For those who write fiction, a great book to read before you get to my final editing suggestions is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. This book gives proven techniques to help writers turn their manuscripts into published works of fiction. I’ve found it extremely helpful.

Sally J. Ling, Florida’s History Detective, is an author, speaker, and historian. She writes historical fiction and nonfiction and specializes in little known stories of Florida history. As a special correspondent, Sally wrote for the Sun Sentinel newspaper for four years and was a contributing journalist for Boca Raton, Gold Coast, Delray Beach, Boca Life, Jupiterand Palm Beacher magazines.

Based upon excerpts from her book Run the Rum In, Sally appeared in two TV documentaries-- “Gangsters” - the National Geographic Channel, and “Prohibition and the South Florida Connection” - WLRN, Miami. She served as associate producer on the latter production. She has been a guest on South Florida PBS TV and radio stations, guest presenter at the Lifelong Learning Society at Florida Atlantic University and Future Authors of America, and guest speaker at numerous historical societies, libraries, organizations, and schools.  Sally lives with her husband, Chuck, and her cat, Kitty, and splits her time between Deerfield Beach, Florida, and Wolf Laurel, North Carolina.


Ron Estrada said...

This is helpful, Sally. I always wonder how other authors go through the editing process. I just finished a manuscript and going through that first read. I'm looking forward to the 3 or 4 week "rest" so that I can plot out the next novel. That overlap is nice to keep me from getting bored. And I am hearing more and more that the pro editor is a must. I've read some self-pubbed books that would have been pretty good with that little bit of help. Thanks for the post.

Kelly Klepfer said...

Ha, ha, Ron. I agree, Sally. Some great suggestions and your book recommendation is awesome, too. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers is a great book.

MikeConnie Brown said...

This process reminds me of my Academy days. To be allowed to leave on liberty we needed to pass inspection. If just one thing failed to pass muster then the officer's attention turned to everything I wore. The belt buckle I thought was perfect, the black glisten on my black dress shoes, and the creases and seams of my pants and shirt that I worked for several minutes to make just right...All were frowned upon as substandard, and liberty had to wait until I could pass inspection. What I learned long ago is "good enough" is never "good enough."

Ane Mulligan said...

Self-editing an good critique partners are a must! When we know our stories so well, we read what should be there and miss what's not or what's wrong.

thewordmintmelissajane said...

A fantastic and very useful blog thank you Sally! I am currently "building" my second fiction novel and will refer to this time and time again as I work through the long editing phase! Thanks again. Melissa-Jane Pouliot