In the new millennium, the traditional publishing world has changed and evolved in how they do business. In some ways, they haven’t changed enough, and in others, they’ve gone too far.
All authors must create a social media platform to promote their work. In most cases, the amount of help the Big Four publishers (Simon & Shuster, HarperCollins, Penguin Random House, and Hachette) offer their new, unknown authors is minimal. So, whether you go indie or not, you’re on your own.
Whether you intend to publish your work independently or try to go the traditional route, you are responsible for editing your work. Unedited work shouts “amateur” to an agent or editor, so never submit work that isn’t your best effort.
If you can’t afford a full professional edit, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript. However, it is time-consuming, which is why an editor’s services are not cheap.
Open your Manuscript. Save a copy of your original manuscript in its bloody, raw form with a file name that denotes exactly what it is.
If you are using MS Word, your manuscript title will look like this: Book_Title_version_1.docx. My current work is: Gates_of_Eternity_version.docx.
Do save the original draft in a separate file on a thumb drive or in a file storage service such as Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive. You will have a fallback manuscript in case something happens to your working files.
Break it into separate chapters and save them in a new master file labeled with the word ‘revisions.’ I would name the master file: Gates_of_Eternity_revisions_02-17-2021.
First, I divide my manuscript, saving each chapter as a separate document within the master file. Clearly and consistently name each chapter. Make sure the chapter numbers are in the proper sequence, and don’t skip a number.
For a work in progress, Gates of Eternity, I labeled my individual chapter files this way:
The reason we divide it into chapters for the editing process will be made clear further down this post.
The next step requires pencils, yellow highlighters, a printer, paper, and a good supply of ink, which may be a cost outlay. Another, more affordable option is to save your work to a USB Flash Drive, take it to an office supply/print shop, and print all the files at one go. In the US, FedEx Office, formerly known as Kinkos, provides printing and copying services.
I am currently in need of a new printer, so I feel your pain. My ancient thing is still limping along, but soon it will go to the recycling center. Once you have the required equipment, print out the first chapter.
Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
Step 1: Turn to the last page of that chapter. Cover the page, leaving only the final paragraph visible.
Step 2: Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
Step 3: Look for typos and garbled sentences.
Step 4: With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction. In the margin, pencil in notes of how you want to correct them.
Some things you should consider in this step: consistency in spelling, consistency in punctuation, crutch words, repetitious paragraphs/ideas, and long, rambling sentences.
Step 5: I use a recipe stand for this step. Take the corrected printout and lean it where you can easily read it while you make corrections. (Amazon sells copy stands, but recipe stands are cheaper.)
In your word-processor, open the chapter file. Save as a new file: GoE_ch1_edit1. It’s important to clearly label it as edited, so you don’t mix edited with unedited files. Reading from your corrected printout, make your revisions.
Step 6: At the end of it all, reassemble the corrected files into one manuscript, again making sure you haven’t skipped a chapter. Save that manuscript with a new label: GoE_manuscript_edit1_16-Feb-2021.
The date at the end of the file name is essential as you will know what the most recent edit is (not the most recent time you saved the file) and will have the previous version to go back to if needed.
For this method to work, YOU MUST UNDERSTAND AND OBEY THE BASIC RULES OF GRAMMAR.
First, you need something called a style guide. As an editor, I regularly refer to my copy of The Chicago Manual of Style. If you are an author writing fiction you someday hope to publish and have questions about sentence construction and word usage, this is the book for you. Another option is the online version: The Chicago Manual of Style Online.
The researchers at CMOS realize that English is a living, changing language. When generally accepted practices within the publishing industry evolve, they evolve too.
A less expensive option you might consider investing in is Bryan A. Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers to questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure. It takes the CMOS and boils it down to just the grammar.
Here is a list of links to articles I’ve previously posted on the basics of grammar:
- Commas and Basic Punctuation (posted January 28, 2019)
- Ellipses, Exclamation Points, Em Dashes, and Interrobangs (posted November 11, 2019)
Those who think the common rules of grammar don’t matter to readers are doing their work and their reputation a disservice.
You don’t have to be perfect, but readers want to enjoy the book, not struggle through rambling, garbled sentences.
Self-editing is not an easy task. You will still want another person, perhaps from your writing group, to read your work before you send it off or publish it. Then you may need to make some revisions.
However, all that hard work pays off when you put your best product possible in the hands of a reader, and they like what they read.