|Posted by Kristen House on December 12, 2018 at 11:35 AM|
There is a common misconception in the writing community that immediately after you write your manuscript, you should send it off to a book editor. While a book editor will help improve your book before publication, the best books (and I've found, those by the most serious authors) are those that have been self-edited several times before being sent to a professional editor.
Why is self-editing necessary? Every pass over your manuscript is an improvement, so the cleaner you get the manuscript before giving it to a book editor, the cleaner your final book product will be. No matter how hard we try, us book editors can't catch every error, and this is especially true when a manuscript hasn't been self-edited and is filled with mistakes.
Here's how it works: Let's say there are 15 errors in one paragraph. Spell check or editing software might point out 3. A human editor might find 11 (and actually, the industry standard is for editors to find 95% of errors). That means that 1 error has slipped through. Unless you're hiring multiple editors (which can get expensive!), it's going to be difficult, near impossible, to publish an entirely error-free manuscript. This is where the self-editing comes in: Instead of 15 errors in one paragraph, what if after self-editing, there were only 9 errors in that paragraph?
The fewer number of errors that are in a manuscript when you send it to a professional editor, the fewer number of errors will be in your manuscript when you publish your book. There are fewer errors to start with, which translates to an overall cleaner document after a round of editing. This is also why many editors say that if a self-published book absolutely needs to be 100% free of errors, it should go through several rounds of proofreading—preferably by different sets of eyes.
If you're new to the self-editing process, though, here are 3 steps you should take to ensure that your self-editing process is a successful one.
1. Finish writing before self-editing.
You should completley finish writing your first draft before you move on to self-editing and revisions. So many authors can get stuck in between phases of writing and editing, and will never make progress on their book. (In fact, I have a client right now who is so focused on self-editing his work that he can't make enough progress to write any new material.)
Once you finish your first draft, leave it for a couple weeks before picking it up again. Your brain will need the break, and you'll find that you'll be able to look at your own work with a more objective eye. I think it's said best in the book Write Good or Die:
"Tell your story from beginning to end. Make it exciting. Don't wear yourself out correcting and re-correcting page one. Once you're told your whole wonderful story and you don't think your first page is or first pages are worthy, go back. But don't make yourself sick of a story before you've told it."
2. Do several passes.
There are many things to look for when self-editing your manuscript, starting from page 1:
Because of the sheer number of things you'll need to be improving in the self-editing process, you should take several passes over your manuscript, each looking at a different thing, in the same way a professional editor would. At this point, you don't need to worry about perfection—a skilled book editor will help with that. Just worry about fixing glaring errors.
3. Recruit beta readers.
When you feel that you have a good product, your book is ready for the next step: for other people to read it. Beta readers are focused on your storyline, not your punctuation or grammar, and can be very helpful in determining what's missing in your story! If your book has any issues with slow pacing, unlikeable characters or poor character development, or just doesn't make sense, beta readers will help with that. (See point 4 of my blog 8 Secrets of the Book Editing Process.)
Keep in mind that you won't be able to please every reader, but during this beta read process you should be looking for patterns in your beta readers' feedback. Keep an eye out for comments like "boring" or anything that indicates a lack of interest and engagement; "confusing" or any unclear areas; "unnecessary" or "redundant" for any areas that could use cleaning up. In fact, here's a good list of questions to ask your beta readers for the best feedback.
And Then . . . Send It to an Editor
Once you've done all you can (again, which might be several rounds of self-editing), send it to an editor. Editors are trained for what's working right now for the literary market, and will be able to take your best work and make it better. Still, you shouldn't send the manuscript off to an editor until you've first completely finished the manuscript, then have done a few rounds of revising yourself.
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Book editor Kristen Hamilton is the owner and sole employee of
Kristen Corrects, Inc., where she provides manuscript editing
services for traditionally and self-publishing authors. Several
authors whose books she has edited have won awards and have
Reading is Kristen's passion, so when the workday is over, she
can usually be found curled up with a good book alongside her
four cats. She loves watching cat videos and scary movies,
eating pizza, teaching herself French, and traveling, and she is
likely planning her next vacation. She lives outside of Boise, ID.