4 Edits to Do Yourself before Sending Your Manuscript to a Line Editor
Updated: Aug 10
Give your wallet a break by completing these four edits so your line editor doesn’t have to.
Congratulations! If you are looking for a line editor, that must mean you have a finished book. At this point, you’ve probably made substantial revisions and gotten useful feedback from alpha readers. If your developmental editor has said you’re ready for a line edit, that’s a big deal!
But before sending your manuscript for a line edit, you can take a few steps to flesh your text out as much as possible. To make these steps easy, all of the following suggestions use the Find function. To find words and phrases in Microsoft Word or Google Docs, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+F.
Remember, anything you fix using the following tips will lessen what you’ll end up paying your editor to correct. That’s a win for you and your wallet!
1. Eliminate the Nonspecific Pronoun It
What do I mean by “nonspecific pronoun”? I’m talking about a vague pronoun substitution for a person, place, object, or idea. This can happen when a pronoun has no named
antecedent (the noun the pronoun refers to) or when multiple nouns could be the antecedent. Any pronoun has the potential to be nonspecific, but more often than not, the pronoun it runs as the main culprit.
Don’t get me wrong, pronouns do serve a useful purpose. But pronouns are often overused or used incorrectly, so you’ll want to watch for that in your writing.
Luckily, fixing the overused it is pretty simple. Just whip out the Find function and start by searching for “ it” (make sure to include the space before). Then look at each instance and see if you can replace that pronoun with exactly what it refers to. You may be surprised by how often it shows up or how unclear some of the antecedents are. I’ll give some examples:
“Don’t hit Send until it has been reviewed by you, your roommate, and the guy across the street.” This example has an incorrect antecedent. Grammatically, it refers to the subject that comes before: in this case, Send. But the Send button is not what needs to be reviewed. So I must change it to the correct noun. “Don’t hit Send until the email has been reviewed by you, your roommate, and the guy across the street.”
“The author wrote both the article and the ad, and it couldn’t have been funnier.” This example shows how the pronoun it might have two possible antecedents. Does it refer to “the article” or “the ad”? We never want the reader to have to guess, so specificity matters. “The author wrote both the article and the ad, and the article couldn’t have been funnier.”
You may come across another use of it called an introductory it. This is when it comes at the beginning of the sentence and has no antecedent, such as, “It’s great to see you.” While the Chicago Manual of Style does not consider an introductory it incorrect usage (see section 5.240), you may still want to revise if this sentence structure appears often or if the surrounding sentences have another it. I could revise my introductory it example to “I’m glad to see you.”
Other pronouns can also be nonspecific, so if you get the hang of changing it to specific nouns, you can do the same with other pronouns (he, she, they). Pronouns that refer to a specific antecedent will help your writing stand out as clean and easy to understand.
2. Replace the Generic Noun Thing
Yep. Thing needs to go. Speakers and writers alike overuse this noun to the point that we don’t even realize when we say it. The problem is that thing relies heavily on context, and too often, the context gets left out. Plus, a more specific noun can always replace the generic word thing.
The reason behind our overuse of thing likely comes down to the spoken word. After all, the time between thinking a thought and saying it out loud may not be long enough to rack your brain for the right terminology. But when writing, there’s really no reason to keep thing in the final draft unless you are purposely writing in a conversational tone. Even then, a text that expands its vocabulary will carry a more intelligent tone.
So grab the thesaurus, and let’s get your brain rolling as you enter “thing” into the Find function. Then look through the instances this common noun appears and revise them to include specific nouns. Here are a couple examples:
“She knocked him back with the first thing she could grab—her Webster’s Dictionary.” This sentence is fairly easy to revise—just replace thing with whatever other noun you deem most fitting: book, weapon, defense, etc.
“The most embarrassing thing of all was when my friend caught me reading the book her ex wrote.” The word thing when used as a subject will likely show up with a verb like to be. To revise, I have two options here. I could simply change thing to a different noun: “The most embarrassing moment of all was when my friend caught me reading the book her ex wrote.” Or I could change up the structure of the sentence altogether: “My friend caught me reading the book her ex wrote—embarrassing!”
As you search through your manuscript, you may choose to keep colloquial phrases, depending on the tone you are going for. Examples of such phrases might be “Here’s the thing,” “It’s one thing to,” or “The thing is.” But make sure not to use these types of phrases too often.
Also, if you have dialogue in your text, remember that using thing in the spoken word is totally okay. Just know that how often a character uses the word thing will affect their perceived intelligence.
3. Avoid the Passive To Be + Past Participle
Passive voice is when the subject of a sentence receives the action instead of doing the action. For example, “The dog attacked the rat” (active voice) versus “The rat was attacked by the dog” (passive voice). In the active sentence, the subject (the dog) does the action. In the passive sentence, the subject (the rat) receives the action. The active sentence emphasizes the attack, whereas the passive sentence emphasizes the victim of the attack.
You don’t need to shun passive voice completely, as focusing on the receiver of the action does have its place, but active voice generally creates more interesting and fast-paced storytelling.
The passive voice most often shows up as a form of the verb to be paired with a past participle (e.g., is thrown, was left, were scared). These types of sentences can become active voice by switching the subject from the receiver of the action to the doer.
To help you do this on your own, start by entering into the Find function one of the eight forms of to be (be, am, is, are, was, were, been, and being). As you go through each of the instances, look for any be verbs paired with past participles and consider revising them. Once you’ve finished, take time to find each of the additional forms of to be. Let me give some examples:
“The video of the author’s cat will be posted on his page tomorrow.” This shows future tense passive voice. To change the construction to future tense active voice, we need to determine who is doing the action—in this case, the author. “The author will post the video of his cat tomorrow on his page.”
“The book about why dogs lick babies is being reviewed by the editor.” Here we have present progressive tense + a past participle. While present progressive (to be + verb-ing) has the verb to be, it conveys action currently happening—thus, active voice. But the verb to be combined with the past participle reviewed is passive voice. To change to active voice, switch the subject to the noun doing the action. “The editor is reviewing the book about why dogs like babies.”
To be clear, sometimes you don’t want to revise passive voice. Doing so might change the intended focus or even change the meaning of certain sentences. For example, take a look at this sentence: “I am honored to write for this company.” Taking out the passive voice here (“this company honors me by letting me write for it”) completely changes the focus of the sentence. Suddenly the message switches from how honored I am to how gracious the company is. During your editing sessions, only revise passive voice when the changes do not affect the purpose of the sentence.
4. Remove the “Telling” Verb To Feel
But how do you know when you are telling? A form of telling that’s easy to find is the verb to feel. When describing someone’s feelings, to feel is a very “telling” verb. “He feels sad.” “She felt like jumping for joy.” “I feel itchy.” This manner of conveying information gives no real action, and these sentences tend to fall flat.
When showing how someone feels, you do not need to use the actual word feel. A bit ironic, but true. Let’s take “He feels sad.” This sentence names an emotion but doesn’t tell much about the character. The named emotion of sadness could manifest in many different ways. Does he cry or stare blankly? Does he hunch over or curl on the floor? Does he walk slowly or run as fast as he can? Describing how he feels sad shows readers so much more about the character.
Using your handy Find function again, you can do exactly that. Search for each form of the verb to feel (feel, feels, felt, and feeling). Then think about how you might show the emotions and remove the verb to feel entirely. Consider these examples:
“When the ball hit her in the stomach, she felt like throwing up.” This sentence appears to show how the character feels but doesn’t really get in the character’s head. By describing more actions and senses, readers will know what’s happening without being told. “When the ball hit her in the stomach, her eyesight flashed and her stomach heaved. Saliva rolled out of her mouth as she dropped to her knees.”
“Every time I see the clock hit 5:00 p.m., I feel relief flood my body like air escaping from a balloon. In cases like this, “I feel” is unnecessary fluff. The metaphor does a great job on its own. I can simply remove feel to tighten the sentence and increase impact. “Every time I see the clock hit 5:00 p.m., relief floods my body like air escaping from a balloon.”
No, it’s not a rule that you can’t use feel. But using this trick in your revisions will help you become a master at showing emotion in a powerful way.
If you’ve finished all four of these tips for self-editing, rest assured that you will give your line editor a well-thought-out draft and get more bang for your buck. By doing this work beforehand, it’s likely that your editor will not need to ask as many queries. Plus, by doing each of these practices in self-editing, you will start to see common patterns in your writing that you will notice and correct from the get-go.