So, you’ve finished your novel, let it sit, made some revisions, and now you’re ready to send it to an editor. Not quite. First you need to do some self editing.
But, you’re not good at editing, you say. Well, too bad. Get good. I’m not joking, and I’m not being flip, either. As an author, whether self-published or traditionally published, you need to be a decent self-editor. Does that mean you need to go back to school to get an English degree? Of course not. But, as a reader, you have an idea of what makes a good story. The point of editing is getting it ready for the world to see. That means you want a manuscript that flows smoothly and is free of errors. The good news is good editing is often as much about taking time and care in evaluating your manuscript than it is about being a grammar fiend. Yes, you want a professional editor in the end, but you doing a bang-up job with it first, helps for many reasons. First, it costs more for an editor to work with a sloppy manuscript than it does to work with a fairly clean one. [A big reason many authors send their manuscripts out to beta readers before editors – but you still need to self-edit first.] Second, a particularly sloppy manuscript that requires a lot of work from the editor will lead to editing fatigue. So many errors make the editor lose his or her freshness and certainly prevents them from looking forward to coming back to it.
So, if you’re not great at editing, but want to punch it up, how do you do it?
Ask, is it necessary? There’s that old saying when people want to express something questionable to another person, first ask if it’s kind, if it’s true, and if it’s necessary. When it comes to self-editing, one of the best things to do is cut the unnecessary clutter. As you read through, ask yourself if words or even sentences are necessary. Try to pare down extraneous material to tighten your novel. You can apply this on both a macro and micro level. If you’re reading several pages and find that you’re bored, it’s likely your reader is bored, too. This may be an area where there’s too much unnecessary exposition, or it may be a scene that goes on too long with unneeded material.
Revise Passivity. Active voice is better than passive voice, so go through and rewrite passages in the passive voice to make them active. For example, instead of saying “The nonsensical, wicked blather was tweeted by David,” say “David tweeted nonsensical, wicked blather.” Instead of saying, “The girl was run over by a bus,” say “The bus ran over the girl.” Think of it this way: It’s better to have someone do something, rather than having something done to them.
Check spelling and grammar. Use basic spell/grammar checking software or foot the bill for more advanced software (like Grammarly) to go through your work. That will provide a good baseline for catching obvious spelling and grammar errors. Computer software isn’t perfect, but it tends to catch major gaffes. If you write fantasy or use a lot of original spellings, this will take longer as those words will get flagged as misspellings. You’ll need to ignore them or add them to your dictionary.
Read it aloud. A good way to catch errors in your manuscript is to read it aloud. Afraid you’ll still miss errors because you’ll read what you intended to write, not what you actually wrote? Have your computer read it for you. Most computers have speech-to-text features (even MS Word, here’s our tutorial on that) so they are accessible to those with visual impairments. Listen to what is being read, and when you hear an error, stop, and fix it.
Of course there are many more self-editing tricks, but with these four simple steps, you can improve your manuscript immensely. What are your favorite tips for self-editing?