You've finished writing a book! Congratulations!
Man, typing The End is such an amazing feeling. It's a combination of excitement—for having written a story you can share with the public (or not, I don't judge)—and the sadness that is not living in the world with your characters any longer (sequel anyone?). Now, it's time to collect yourself and clean that sucker up!
I'm going to start by saying I recommend at least two self-edit rounds. Crazy talk, I know. But first, let's dive into what the heck for. If you know you're going to hire an editor, you might need some convincing to comb through it yourself since that's what you're paying them to do, right?
Well, yes and no.
"I recommend at least two self-edit rounds."
Cleaning your manuscript as best you can allows your editor to more easily see the errors that remain. They can use their time to edit deeper rather than adjusting errors you might've been able to catch yourself. Most editors either charge by the hour or per word(s). You don't want to have them spend the time they've set aside for your manuscript to be spent cleaning superficial errors.
If you can find and correct the basic stuff, they'll be able to focus on your word choice and content and things you might not catch because you're so engrossed in the book already that you're practically living in it.
Getting Your Brain into Gear
The good thing about being engrossed in the story you wrote is how much the story comes from the heart. If your story means this much to you, it's theoretically going to be easier to market. (I know, bad words . . . bad words.) The bad thing is that to do self edits on a book you basically live in, you'll have to separate yourself from the story in order to catch stuff you missed when you wrote it.
"But, Angie, I just kept on writing. I'm sure there's lots of stuff I missed while I was trying to get the words down."
Yeah, probably. But you are the one who knows your story like no one else. If you separate yourself from it, you'll figure out the spots that are too vague or you thought were assumed. You might even go back through and be like: Wait, where was I going with this?
Not every strategy works for every writer, but here are a few tips that might help.
1. Change the font.
- It might seem silly, but it works for a couple of my clients. If you change the font, you're still looking at the same thing, but you're looking at it another way. The goal here is to come at it from another angle than your usual, and changing the font will alter your view rather nicely.
2. Move your butt.
- Another way to change your view is by moving yourself. Get your brain out of its comfort zone and into a new environment. Keeping distractions to a minimum is ideal, but even going somewhere they have internet access for patrons to use will help you edit with a new perspective. Another room; another Wi-Fi.
3. Print it.
- Ah, the good ole days and working with pen or pencil and paper. Ignoring the fact that staring at a computer screen may not be the best exercise for your eyeballs, printing your manuscript and marking your edits on paper might help you look at it with a fresh view. If you don't have access to a printer at home, check printing costs at your local library or office supply store.
4. Set it aside.
- If you're not on a restricted time schedule, setting the story aside and forgetting about it for a hot minute provides a good opportunity for your brain to rewire itself. Work on another project or get some marketing going in advance; then go back to this manuscript when you're not cross-eyed over it.
Things to Consider Before Diving In
- Make a "style sheet."
- Depending on the genre and length of your book, you might want to consider compiling a style sheet as you go through your round of self edits. This is particularly helpful if you are doing any kind of world-building or term creation in your book. Having a list that explains what your terms should mean every time they are used as well as how you prefer for them to be spelled will assist your editor in ensuring consistency.
- Prepare for things to look out for
- Sometimes we get in the zone when we're writing, and since we tend to write the way we speak, our narrative isn't always easy on the eyes. Verbiage is quicker to process while listening to someone, but when it's read, it's comprehended differently. And things like throat clearing, head-hopping, and redundant verbiage aren't things that'll be easily found doing a quick search through your manuscript. Check out my Self-Edits: Avoid This blog post to get a good idea of what to keep an eye out for when you are ready to read through your story.
"Minimal formatting will be a big help for your editor."
- Provide a clean manuscript.
- We love the look of our book in our favorite typeface, but formatting prior to editing creates an unnecessary complication. Frills can be distracting for someone who is combing through your letters and words, ensuring they form the words and sentences you intended. If your editor gives you specific instructions on how to turn in your manuscript, follow those. Otherwise, here are some good general guidelines that I prefer as an editor.
- 12pt Times New Roman or Garamond font
- double spaced
- no bold
- one space after a period between sentences
Yes, that last one is a new industry standard, and it's something that your editor is likely to fix for you whether you do it in advance or not. Regardless, sending in a file that has minimal formatting will be a big help for your editor.
- Additional formatting adjustments that may help your formatting process include:
- no additional lines between paragraphs
- no tabs; use first line indents instead