Onward to the third one!
3) Have someone who knows what they're doing read it.
And by that, I mean a professional editor, or a beta reader, or a critique group in your local writer's association, or some form of one of these things.
I can't tell you the number of times I (and my fellow editors...yes, we talk about this stuff) have heard some variation of: "Thanks, but I can't afford [your services] right now, so I'll have my friend who's an English major/English teacher/blogger friend/sister in high school who gets straight A's in English/etc. read it over for me. That's pretty much the same thing as what you do, right?"
There's a reason we charge what we do, and that's because we know what to look for in a manuscript. Depending on the service you're paying for, we can help you with plot/character/writing style critique, grammar/spelling/punctuation issues--the list goes on. You get what you pay for, and always ask for references.
Other ways to get good feedback are to take writing workshops. Often there will be critique involved during the "classes" (even the online ones), and you'll get to work and study with other authors who write in your genre. Sometimes there's a bonus for signing up for one, like the instructor will critique your first three chapters or first thirty pages or something along those lines.
On the other hand, if you're lucky enough to be able to trade services with someone who is familiar with these things, great! That's a win/win. You get a chance to learn and work with someone else who can help you as well. It's much easier to find errors and patterns in another person's work, because you're not constantly reading it and immersed in it. I've learned so much from editing others' manuscripts that I can apply to my own writing. Editing has literally made me a better writer.
Otherwise, good luck with asking for help from your English major cousin who posts things like this on Facebook:
Keep in mind that it's awesome to have pre-readers of any kind. They can give you valuable feedback on whether your manuscript is boring, if it drags in parts, whether your action sequences are exciting enough, if your sci-fi aliens are plausible, etc. And that's all good stuff. But they, in no way, should substitute for a quality editing job.
How would I know this is important? Because a professional editor looked over the first fifty pages of my manuscript (I'd taken a workshop with her and this was a "bonus" for signing up for it), and immediately pointed out that I used the word "some" far too much. She'd even highlighted every time I'd used it...and WHOA. There were too many yellow words in my manuscript for my liking. Did I really use "some" that much? Apparently. I was shocked, but it was something I'd never caught in all my read-throughs. Why? Because of author blindness, plain and simple. She brought many other things to my attention as well that helped me immensely with my manuscript, but this one really made me realize that author blindness is a real thing, alive and well.
Let me tell you a little story to illustrate the cumulative importance of all of these editing posts. I was at a book fair with my publisher last year. I even had a sweet little badge that said "editor" on it, which was simultaneously exciting and terrifying. Keep in mind that I am no way in charge of accepting/rejecting manuscripts. That's for our acquisitions department. This event was more for industry professionals and networking than for authors, but there were a few writer workshops going on and a bunch of authors were making the rounds at the (many) publishing booths. Once in a while one of them would stop by our booth, all nervous and excited and, after they found out what we published, would hand us a synopsis of their manuscript and their contact information. We'd always politely thank them and take the synopsis no matter what.
During some down time we started to read through some of the synopses, and I was shocked at how many of them had glaring problems. Not wonky formatting or anything like that, but spelling errors, run-on sentences, grammar issues, you name it. I literally couldn't make myself finish reading some of them (and keep in mind that a synopsis is short--typically 1-3 pages). And this is the piece that they're handing to publishers in hopes that someone will fall in love with their story--likely something they've been slaving over for a long time--and want to put it out into the world. Out of the few I read, I probably wouldn't have requested any of the manuscripts based on the errors in the synopses alone. Think about it--if this piece is their selling point, what condition is the actual manuscript in? I'd never want to subject an editor to that kind of a job.
You never want to put someone off your work before they've even actually read it, plain and simple.
Have you worked with a professional editor before? Do you trade critique services with someone? Is there a point I missed that's good editing advice? I may address it in another entry.
Tell me your editing strategy!