Many books get rejected by publisher and/or editors simply because they’re unreadable. Here are some self-edit suggestions for improving your chances of getting your work to the next level.
Good writing is re-writing, refining, and polishing your text. In other words, editing.
It’s hard to do a decent editing job when the text is disorganized or poorly formatted. Providing a quality manuscript to an editor is a serious responsibility for a writer. Of course, if you have lots of money, your can hire an independent editor to do all the editing work for you, but it’s still far more effective to make to do a self- edit before anyone else sees your work.
Most beginning authors make the same mistakes. After you finish writing your book, there are some things you can do to prepare your manuscript for reading by an editor.
- Take a break—After you finish the last page of your work, set it aside for a few days. If possible, set it aside even longer. Some authors put that draft away for as long as six weeks before looking at it again. The reason? To forget what you’ve written so when you look at it again, the writing will seem like someone else wrote it. You’ll be able to edit with a fresh perspective.
- Read your work aloud, slowly—This step forces you to read each and every word. It’s amazing how many errors, poor sentence structure and flow will leap out at you. This may take some time, but be patient – the end result will be worth it. Try reading it in “chunks” (e.g., chapters or sections). If you want someone else to read your book, don’t use family members, colleagues, clients, or friends. You run the risk that they won’t want to hurt your feelings, and so may not be provide honest feedback or criticism.
- Outline—Create a solid outline or detailed table of contents for your book. This allows an editor to know and follow what you’re trying to accomplish.
- Spelling—This may seem obvious, but it’s amazing how many authors skip this easy step. You can use a computer spell-checker or you can read your work backwards. Anything to find those pesky typos, including incorrect capitalization, use of hyphens, etc. And don’t forget, if in doubt, use a dictionary.
- Punctuation and Grammar—Again, you can use your computer grammar-checker, but this is a little trickier. It’s less reliable than the spell-checker, and is not designed to understand all the grammar possibilities in the language. Watch your comma usage. Use a style guide if necessary. Ditto for colons and semicolons. Especially important is to check your verb tenses, and avoid weak verbs.
- Voice—Choose a consistent narrative voice. This is you talking to your audience, either as the author or a character in a story.
- Words and Wordiness—Unless you’re writing for an academic audience, avoid using words that are likely to be over the head of your average reader. This includes specific technical jargon. Cut out all wording that is not essential to the communication of your narrative or story. Every word, every sentence should be sharp and necessary. Though you may blather away in your first drafts, your first submission to anyone should be on point. Most readers, today, don’t have patience for a Dickens David Copperfield length.
- Style—Choose one style guide and follow it: Chicago Manual of Style, Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, or the like. On example is whether you’re writing for a printed book (p-book) or an electronic book (e-book). It’s pretty much standard for e-books to use single spacing between sentences. For p-books, both single and double spacing are acceptable. The choice is up to you and/or your editor and/or you publisher.
- Fonts and Style Sheet—Create a Style Sheet for consistency of titles and headings. If you don’t know how, go online and learn. You’ll save yourself and your editor lots of time and yourself some money. Avoid using a non-standard font. Many writers and editors prefer Times New Roman, automatic or black, 12 point. However, some texts are easier to read in Arial, automatic or black, 11 point. Avoid using the Enter key to create spaces between paragraphs, and don’t use the Tab key to indent paragraphs. This also holds true for the first paragraph after a heading not being indented, with the following ones are. Another way is use a line space between paragraphs, with no indent. Don’t create large sections of text with capital letters or bold font. Use italics only as necessary. Use page breaks carefully, but be sure to use one after each chapter.
- Format—Whether you work on a PC or Mac, format your manuscript in Microsoft Word©, pretty much the industry standard.
- Finished draft—Make any and all changes required; then be sure that your manuscript looks “finished”. Never submit a rough-looking manuscript, no matter how anxious you are to get your work kin front of someone, And should never assume that someone else is going to do your dirty work for you. Self-editing is your job, and it’s important that you do it before submitting your manuscript. Many editors prefer double spacing, but that may be a carryover from the days of red-pencil editing.
In following the above ideas, don’t seek perfection. Seek very, very good. What you’re trying to do is tighten your writing, polish it, If you’re not a professional editor, over-editing may do more harm than good. The idea is to turn in a respectable looking document that show you care. It will also make you a better writer and self-editor next time. Your editor will take it from there to create the polished product you’re looking for.
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