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.
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:
- Read your manuscript on your computer. Make corrections.
- Put it away for a few weeks (This helps you see the story in a fresh light.)
- Print it out. Re-read it. Make corrections.
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- 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.)
- Publish or send to agent/publisher.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.