Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tips for Editing Your Manuscript from a Real-Life Editor, Part 1

In this new year, I'd like to do more to help my fellow writers.  I've always been inspired by the lovely Susan Kaye Quinn, who has always been so open to assisting other authors who ask for it.  She even compiled a new ebook that combines a series of blog entries (along with new material) to help folks make up their mind whether they want to self-publish or not, and how to do just that.

But what to help other authors with, exactly?  What skill set do I have that I can use for the greater good?

Well, I'm an editor.  A real-life professional one.  So we'll start there.  I'll give a few credentials to start...I'm contracted with a mid-size publisher to edit with them. I do free-lance editing, as well as critiquing in various forms for people.  I've also been part of a team that accepts/rejects online submissions to an online story archive.  So I've been editing in some form or another since 2008.  This ain't my first rodeo.

So, editing...  One of the hardest things to do is edit your own manuscript--or really your own work in general--because of author bias.  We (as authors) are naturally blind to certain things, and have read our own work over so many times that we don't even catch things like missing words.  Feel free to laugh...I've done that myself.  But we're obviously forced to do some editing before anyone who belongs to the publishing industry powers-that-be (an agent or acquisitions editor, for example) sees our work.  It needs to be in excellent shape to be considered for publication, though it is understood that it'll have to go through further editing during the publication process if it's lucky enough to get that far.  But you want to give your manuscript the best chance possible, right?

But then how do authors get their own work in shape to go out into the world? That's where I come in.  These tips are in no particular order, and are a guide to those of you who want to do a good job at self-editing (and good editing ideas in general) before you start querying or officially self-publish your book on Amazon or Smashwords or wherever you're doing it.  Especially with self-publishing, a quality product will translate into higher sales.  Readers have high standards, so strive to meet them.

I'm even going to split this into multiple parts, because I got a bit carried away and this entry became far more detailed than I'd expected.

So onward to the first point...

1)  Look it up.

This may seem intuitive, but we all make common writing errors.  All of us.  No one is immune.  Let me repeat that: NO ONE IS IMMUNE, even you, Super Writer.  So if you're using one of the many commonly misused words, or like to use (or abuse) semi-colons, look it up to make sure you're using them correctly, even if you're pretty sure you are.

Where do I find this information?  Well, when I edit, I reference the incredibly clunky Chicago Manual of Style.  But it's not user-friendly, even for those of us who know what section we're looking for.  Honestly, for most grammar issues, I use Painless Grammar.  The examples in it are easy to understand, and none of it is overly complicated.  However, there are countless grammar books like that one, so find one that works best for you.  And there's always Google, though I'd be more careful with that, unless you're one of those people who trusts everything they read on the interwebs.

"But," you may ask, "don't most manuscripts you see already have this kind of stuff ironed out?"  Well, no.  They don't.  And sometimes I want to put the Cone of Shame on an author.

When I edit a manuscript and return the work to the author, I always include a list of repeated issues I've come across.  By that point I've spent hours--sometimes it cumulatively adds up to days--reading their work over and over, and I feel it's partly my job to point these things out because it can help the author learn and they'll be less likely to repeat these things in future manuscripts.  It makes less work for me (or whoever the editor is who's editing their new work) and the author learns something valuable.  It's a win/win.  In one recent manuscript I had, the author constantly confused further/farther, and I had to do a global search in the document for both words to make sure the correct one was used (or fix it if it was incorrect).  So I made sure to let her know about that when I returned it to her.  This is something that would have easily been fixed by the author taking a few minutes to check which word would have been appropriate.

And before you ask, yes, I do it too. Even with as long as I've been editing, one thing that still trips me up is affect/effect and every damn time I write one of them I have to make sure I'm using the correct one.

What's your favorite reference to use when writing?  Internet?  A particular book?

Point #2 is coming up shortly, so stay tuned!

xoxo Sarah


  1. Hi, Sarah,
    It's great you want to help fellow writers. Tips from an editor are especially helpful. Thank you!

    1. You're very welcome, Laura! Stay tuned for another tip tomorrow. :-)