If budget is a concern, try these editing techniques before sending your manuscript to an editor.
One of the biggest reasons writers are reluctant to hire an editor is—you guessed it—money. It’s true; good editors aren’t cheap. But there’s a little secret that editors don’t tell you. (Okay, we actually tell authors this all the time.) That is, edit your own work.
Wait, what? Isn’t that what editors are for? Why would editors tell you to edit your own work?
Believe it or not, good editors have your best interests at heart. We don’t want to bleed you or your wallet dry. We want your work of literary art to shine at its brightest! But we also know that the only way it will do that is if it goes through many rounds of revisions—before we even take a look at it.
If editors receive a manuscript full of errors or largely lacking in character development, there’s a lot more cleaning up to do—which means higher costs. It takes much longer to make something shine if it’s still caked in mud. That’s why most editors prefer to receive a clean, typo-free manuscript that has gone through enough revisions to have a strong storyline and character development. From there, we can really dig deep and get to the nitty-gritty details of making your golden nugget gleam.
Just remember: The cleaner your manuscript is before you send it to an editor, the more polishing they can do. That speaks well for your wallet in the long run.
So how can you clean up your manuscript? Read on to find out. These ideas don’t have to be done in order, and you can always do them more than once.
1. Reread your entire manuscript. Then revise.
If your writing style is anything like mine, you’ve probably read and reread sections of your manuscript over and over again. And the temptation may be to revise your words as you read it. But this time, try to read the whole manuscript without making any revisions. If it helps, print it out on actual paper so that you can’t reach the keyboard. As you read through, take notes on characters’ actions or backstory that don’t add up or write down any questions from the plot that don’t get answered. Once you finish, you can get to work and revise all those missing elements that you found.
2. Tell your story out loud. Then revise.
This is a fun way to find out what the real bones of your story are. Find a friend that you feel comfortable telling your story to. Then start telling away! If you don’t know where to begin, you can make an outline or cheat sheet (or even a PowerPoint, if that’s your thing). Telling your story out loud may prove more difficult than you expect, but keep pushing through. Embrace the stumbles, the backtracks, and the laughs. It’s all part of the process! Make notes after you tell your story, writing down areas that didn’t make sense to you or your listener, concepts that you had to explain more than others, and any feedback that your listener gave. You may even want to record the whole thing so you can review it later.
As you revise, pay attention to the parts of the story that you left out. Reexamine those sections in your book and ask yourself if they are really needed. Sometimes, less is more. Also ask yourself if there was anything that you had to explain earlier than when you wrote it in the manuscript, or if you had any new realizations about your characters’ motivations. Then make the applicable changes.
3. Have others read your manuscript. Then revise.
Alpha readers are definitely a necessary step in the publishing process. These are trusted readers who read your initial drafts and give feedback on the plot, characters, and holes that exist. When looking for your first readers, make sure they will give you honest and useful information to use in your revisions. (Your mom may or may not be the best person for this.) You can find impartial readers online or in writing groups. One option is to switch manuscripts with another author and critique each other's work. Try and have at least two different people read your manuscript before you revise so that you have multiple opinions to learn from and compare.
Beta readers are another option, preferably in addition to alpha readers. They can come before or after you work with an editor, but have a slightly different purpose: alpha readers are specifically reading to give critiques, while beta readers are casually reading to give feedback.
4. Reread your manuscript out loud. Then revise.
So you already read your manuscript all the way through. Why do it again? Well, this round of edits will have a distinct focus. When reading out loud, your attention will naturally be on the syntax and flow of the words. While reading this time around, make notes on where you stumble, where you miss the intended inflection, and where any spelling mistakes and typos pop up. Then—you know the drill—start revising!
5. Ask someone else to read your book out loud. Then revise.
If you have someone who is willing to read your manuscript out loud for you, the value of this editing technique is exceptional. By this point, you’ve probably read it out loud yourself and found places that didn’t sound right. You know your book inside and out. Now it’s time to hand it to someone who doesn’t know how your mind works. Listen to them read your writing, either in person or on a recording, and make sure you’re following along. Mark any points where your reader didn’t catch your emotions or inflection. Pay particular attention to any dialogue that you may have between characters. Sarcasm is also a big element to watch out for, because if that’s missed by your readers, you may send the very opposite message than you intended.
Of course, your reader will read differently than you. And another reader will read differently than them. So before making any revisions here, ask yourself whether or not your meaning or message was delivered. Does your reader’s difference in inflection change your message in any way? If it doesn’t, you can leave it as is. But if your meaning is misconstrued, that needs to be addressed.
Yes, writing involves more than just the first draft. Revisions take time and full brain power. But your gold nugget of a manuscript is bound to see its best the more work you put into it. Once you’ve revised it on your own, then you’re ready to send it off to the professionals. By doing this, you’ll save your editor time, and you money. But first, you get your manuscript nice and clean, and then we’ll help you get it glowing.