Self-editing for dummies, or how to not annoy your readers

Self-editing for dummies, or how to not annoy your readers

Self-editing

First seen on the By Rite of Word Blogspot

Readers are picky beasts, and just because they couldn’t necessarily correct your writing, it doesn’t mean that they can’t recognise and be annoyed by constant technical issues. Leave enough editorial screw-ups in your manuscript, and not only will you lose readers, but arsehole book reviewers, like me, will call you on it in public. Actually, so will Amazon.

Yes, editing is expensive – or time-consuming. And boring, for the most part. But no, people won’t cut you slack just because you’re indie – and nor should they have to.

When you publish a book, you’re producing something you’ve spent months or years on. You owe it to yourself, not to mention your readers, the respect of doing it properly.

You may not be able to afford to have your 350-page manuscript professionally edited at $45/hour.

However, there are a number of things you can do yourself.

Will this self-editing be as good as having it done professionally? No, probably not. But at least you can minimise the chance that someone’s going to use your precious manuscript for toilet paper because the typos, homophones, and other easily-avoidable technical eff-ups are making their brains hurt.

Step 1: Eliminate the obvious

I use MS Word, but whatever word-processing tool you use, either find the native spellcheck option or mug someone for their computer and load your MS up into software that has one.

  1.  Highlight your entire MS. (In Word, Ctrl+A.)
  2. Select the dialect of English (or whatever language you’re in) that you want your MS to use. I use UK English.
  3. Go through your entire MS and check out all the errors.
    • If a word, phrase or sentence has a coloured line under it, that means you either have a spelling error or a grammar error – or the spellcheck thinks that you do.
    • If you write fantasy / sci-fi, or some other genre that you’ve made up words for, I recommend adding them to your dictionary. It saves you having to ‘ignore’ them several times a page.
    • Spellchecks can be wrong. If you aren’t certain that your red, blue or green wavy underline is actually right, go online and do your research.
    • Spellcheck, for the most part, will not catch homophones (words that sound identical but mean different things). You’re going to need to figure out that a horse doesn’t have reigns yourself.
Step 2:  Use your brain

Go back up to the very first sentence in your MS. You know, the one you hoped never to see again, because you agonised over it for weeks.

  1. Re-read your entire MS. Don’t skim. Read it as a reader.
    • If a sentence makes you pause, highlight it.
    • If you see an error you missed and the spellcheck missed, either fix it or highlight it.
    • If something doesn’t seem logical, highlight it (possible plothole).
    • If you find yourself starting to skim, ask yourself if it’s because you’ve inserted four words, four paragraphs, or four pages of unnecessary yak. Highlight it.
    • Does your scene suddenly change view-points? Highlight it.
    • Got sections where the hero’s rugged face took on a look of surprised dismay before he began to reach out to gently touch the heroine’s velvety, petal-like cheek? Highlight ’em.
    • Be consistent. If you hyphenated ‘cloud-filled’ in chapter 1, hyphenate it in chapter 20. If you spelt it ‘adrenalin’ in chapter 3, don’t use ‘adrenaline’ in chapter 4.
      • If you find yourself wondering about a word or words each time, make a list of the things you keep having to back-check on and use the list to stay consistent.
  2. Go back over all the sections you higlighted.
    • Could you rephrase the sentence / paragraph / section to get rid of whatever made you uneasy when you read it? For example, have you used the same sentence structure multiple times in a row? Is there a pet word that you’ve just used too often? Is the sentence structure just clunky?
    • Get all the weird and wonderful things that spellcheck missed and you highlighted. Spellchecks are tools, not a substitute for your brain.
    • Check the places where something struck you as not logical or missing something. Maybe you need to add an explanation or tie up a loose thread.
    • Check the spots were your eyes started to unfocus. Do you really need them in the book? Or are they pacing disasters that are going to put your reader to sleep?
    • Check your point of view. If you needed and planned to head hop, fine. If you’re just slipping from one character to another at random, or sliding into the omniscient view-point, re-write.
    • If you think that a lot of adjectives and adverbs enrich your writing, please think again. They’re like spice. Add none, and you’re bland. Add a bit, and you’re great. Add too much and you need to start freezing toilet rolls.
Step 3: Use someone else’s brain

Yep. Really. Even if you can’t afford a full edit (we get it: they’re expensive), there are a number of options that won’t cost you $3,000-plus.

  1. Beta readers. Get some. Beta readers are free, if occasionally difficult to come by. Ideally they should be people who read your genre, but who don’t know you, don’t care about you, have never seen your manuscript before, and will tell you the absolute truth. Try Goodreads as well as the options in the other links.
    • Give them some guidance (The Killzone Blog questionnaire is a good start)
    • Give them a timeline
    • Give them a free copy of your spell-checked, re-read, re-edited manuscript
  2. Get a manuscript critique, or partial manuscript critique. This may probably will cost money, but it’ll be double digits to low hundreds money, not thousands.
  3. Friends / family. Not ideal because they will for the most part want avoid hurting your feelings, but they’re usually easy to come by. Again, if you choose to go this route, give them some guidance (like the Killzone Blog questionnaire). Tell them when you need the feedback by.
  4. Join a writers’ group. Again, the standard on these varies wildly, but they’re another free option to get some feedback.
  5. Read some bloggers who publish editorial hints and tips. Here are a few to get you started:

Most important: while the manuscript is out with your critiquers / beta readers / Aunty Mae … don’t open it, don’t edit it, don’t read it, don’t think about it.¬†

Step 4: Use your brain some more

First off: Thank your betas / friends / family. You’re not obliged to agree with what they had to say, but all these people did donate their time to try and help you.

And now … oh yes. Now that you’ve got your beta read feedback, your manuscript critique, your Aunty Mae’s 4,000 word essay on why she never reads science-fiction except when it’s yours … grab a beer / cup of tea / relaxing beverage of choice and open up all the emails / documents / spreadsheets where people have taken their best shots.

Throw a pity-party, get over it, and spend a few profitable and possibly pleasurable minutes duct-taping your ego to the bedframe. I’m not judging.

Then, go through all the feedback. I recommend sorting it into at least two categories (1) things everyone, or more than one, of your sources is saying; and (2) the things only one person has noted.

If more than one person has highlighted something, put a big red circle around it for serious consideration. If only one person has it as a pain-point, well, it’s worth considering, but not agonising over.

Now … Yup! You’re going to read your manuscript again!

The good news is, the time while your readers were doing their thing means you haven’t seen it in a while. That means you will have got a bit of distance from it and you’ll probably be much more efficient (and ruthless) with the remaining errors.

Re-read it with the feedback, especially with the feedback where multiple people had the same thing to say. Implement what you feel needs implementing.

Keep in mind, however, the beauty of being indie: if you truly feel, after reviewing a bit of feedback and your book that you prefer your original set-up … well, you’re indie. Your call.

Now that you’ve added, deleted, struck scenes out altogether, spell-check it again. (You remember how that works, we did this already.)

Then, if you’re using Track Changes, get the final view, or print out a clean copy, or copy the whole thing into a 5x8 print template – make it look totally new and different – and repeat Step 2.

Step 5: Publish your masterpiece

This is the easy bit, right? You’ve got your cover, you’ve decided if you’re going Kindle Select, or Kindle and everywhere else you can get your book formatted for, you know if you want to do print-on-demand or not …

Good luck and thank you from all your prospective, un-pissed-off readers.