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The Editor's Mindset: A Quick Guide to Editing Your Novel

*Updated on 9/6/21*

Editing is a vital and crucial part of the book writing process. Without it, our rough drafts never become the polished, readable copy we see on retail bookshelves or on Amazon. Regardless of how you choose to publish and handle your editing it's important to know how to do it for yourself as you go along. This is because in today's publishing industry it's not enough to be just a writer. You must know how to write, edit, and market yourself in order to be successful.

How Do You Know You're Ready To Self-Edit?

Editing is the phase that happens once you seriously begin considering getting your manuscript ready for publication. We're talking the stage that occurs after numerous amounts of drafts have passed, not after draft one. This step occurs when nothing else needs to be revised in your book. Meaning that you don't have another draft planned after this one. This is THE draft. You've worked through your major issues and are now looking to smooth and polish to make sure that everything you wrote is consistent, correct, and connects.

1) Give Your Manuscript Time to Breathe

One of the most vital things you can do for the health of your manuscript is give it time to age. Once you're finished writing your draft for the last time, hold off on the urge to immediately dive into edits. The amount of time you let it "rest" is up to you, but a week or longer works wonders. Essentially you've spent so much time with your own writing that you become immune to your own mistakes. Taking a step back and allowing some separation gives your mind time to forget some of the finer details so that when you do pick it up again, it's almost like reading it for the first time. It's the closest you'll ever get to a genuine reader experience and that can help you see things more clearly in the long run.

2) Read It Out Loud

Another good idea is to read your work aloud. Sometimes things sound different when we are writing and reading it silently. Reading out loud to yourself when you're editing is a good way to catch things like strange-sounding phrases, choppiness, if you use the wrong word or miss a word, etc. It is also useful for dialogue. The best way to see if a conversation you wrote flows is to have someone else verbalize the lines with you, as if you're actors reading over a script. This will help you tell for sure whether your words are realistic and whether or not anything needs to be changed. An alternative option is to use the speech function on your computer. Typically it allows you to select the tone and reading rate of your choice, which can then be applied to anything written in your Word document. It'll read your writing back to you, which is pretty cool.

3) Double-check for "Trouble" Words

We all know those words that trip us up. The ones that sound easy but because of how complex English is aren't. Words that sound the same but are spelled differently. The best way to eliminate these errors is to print out your manuscript and highlight any of the following words. Once you're finished highlighting, go back through and make sure that you've used the right one. If you're in doubt about how to use any of these words or which might be appropriate for the situation, don't be afraid to google it or look it up in one of these editing books: Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, Developmental Editing: A Handbook for Freelancers, Authors, and Publishers, On Writing Well, and The Novel Editing Workbook: 105 Tricks & Tips for Revising Your Fiction Manuscript.

List of Common "Trouble" Words:

  • a lot/alot

  • weather/whether

  • affect/effect

  • can/may

  • further/farther

  • good/well

  • i.e./e.g.

  • into/in to

  • it’s/its

  • lay/lie

  • less/fewer

  • that/who

  • their/they’re/there

  • then/than

  • who/whom

  • your/you’re

4) Identify Your Crutch Words

Along the same lines as "trouble" words, crutch words and phrases are those that we tend to overuse. These are the fluff and filler words that worm their way into our writing to save us time and creativity. Choose another highlighter color and skim through your draft. Any word or phrase that you see more than ten times in the whole book needs to be highlighted. For the extra filler words eliminate as many as you can. For words that are necessary but overused, find alternatives that will vary your sentences. If you'd like to further explore what crutch words are, check out this article on Hubspot.

5) Remove Double Spaces

If you learned how to type before the digital era became widespread, you may find that you're using this outdated method in your writing. If you find this to be the case, the easiest way you can eliminate the problem is by utilizing the find-and-replace tool in your Word document. To use it, type two spaces in “find” and one space in “replace” and hit enter. This will allow you go go through your work and fix this promptly. If you prefer a less "tech-y" approach, simply go through by hand and manually delete the extra space. Some of you may be asking why it's wrong to use a double space after a period. The short answer is that typographers, the people who study and design the typewritten word, decided that we should only use one space and not two. This was to help the written word be more consistent and concise, as before this there were different options and everything was a lot harder to read as a result. Europe adopted this change in the early 20th century and North America followed shortly after (Manjoo, 2011, Space Invaders, Slate).

6) Fix All Punctuation

We all do it. We overuse commas and put semicolons where they don't belong. We misuse ellipses and think that we can get away with extra apostrophes. We think we're improving our writing and being more "creative" by doing so. The truth is that that is a misconception. Think of punctuation as a recipe. When you add too much salt to a batch of cookies, you end up with an inedible dessert. It's the same with writing. Using too much or too little punctuation not only harms the quality of our work but hurts our chances of being published in the process. The best way to avoid having this become an issue is by going through and circling any punctuation in your manuscript that you're unsure of. If you have even the slightest doubt that you may have used it wrong, it qualifies. Once you identify them all, spend some time looking up how to use them properly. Then correct the ones you did use incorrectly. Taking the time to learn things now will save you (and your editor) time during future projects.

7) Utilize Spell Check

Spelling is crucial. A draft with a lot of spelling errors is a guaranteed flop. When we write, we aren't necessarily focused on whether or not we are spelling things correctly, and that's okay. What's not okay is to leave those easily fixable errors once the writing is over and expect our editors to smooth them out for us. Unfortunately being blinded by the page after a while is a real thing. The more you stare at a Word document, the harder it becomes to read, and this is especially true if you've read the same paragraph about five hundred times. Thankfully we aren't expected to become champion spellers. That's where the wonderful world of spell check comes in. By utilizing these programs we can take the hard part out of solving all the errors we've made along the way. Whether you use traditional spell check or a program like Grammarly, using them guarantees you won't be letting your editor's down anytime soon.

8) Subscribe to The Chicago Manual of Style

If you've never been published before, you're going to want to familiarize yourself with this one. This is the ultimate style guide when it comes to writing and is known as the publisher's bible. It's not uncommon for editors to cite this in their notes and corrections, so if this is the first time you're hearing about it, it would be smart to look it over. Here's the link to it here in case you're interested. This will help you understand why an editor has made a certain change or suggestion. In order to read through it you can either subscribe to the online version or buy a hard copy. It's $39 for a year-long subscription, but well worth it. It'll allow you to become a better writer and solve more issues before sending your work off to an editor or beta reader.

9) Follow Formatting Rules

These days if you're looking to get published, you HAVE to follow the formatting rules. These specifications are plainly stated by publishers on their submissions page. Rules vary depending on who the publisher is, but one thing is absolutely certain: If you don't follow the rules, you don't stand a chance. For this reason it is vital to read and reread these parameters before you send in your work. Formatting in general is important because it increases readability. It allows beta readers to read as if it's already an established book, and editors to focus on what they're actually there to accomplish rather than fixing your format. While it's true that there are differences in what publishers ask for, there are some key elements that stay the same.

  • Send your manuscript as a Word document unless stated otherwise (.doc or .docx).

  • Use double-line spacing.

  • Use a single space after periods.

  • Only use 12 pt., black, Times New Roman font.

  • Using tab to indent your paragraphs may not be necessary. Check with your publisher as it varies by genre.

  • The first paragraph of any chapter, after a subheader, or following a bulleted or numbered list shouldn’t be indented.

  • Use page breaks between chapters.

10) Don't Over-Edit

While it's a good idea to self-edit, it's important not to over-edit. Knowing the difference is a little like walking a tightrope, but it's good to keep in mind that the pursuit of perfection is overrated. No one is perfect, and that includes writers. That's why we hire whole teams of people to help us clean, correct, polish, and sell our work. Unless you're an editor yourself, chances are you don't know everything there is to know about publishing parameters and editing in general. That being said, if you want to give your work its best chance at success, an extra set of eyes never hurts.

That's it! 10 tips to help you edit your manuscript. If you follow these, you should be in a good position when it comes to having a relatively clean manuscript. Remember, when in doubt, ask your editor.

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