Self-editing is not an easy task. As a rule, I don’t recommend it because we authors see what we want to see. However, hiring an editor is out of reach for some people, and we will discuss that further in the second half of this article.
The publishing world is a rough playground. Editors for traditional publishing companies and small presses have a landslide of work to pick from and are chronically short-staffed. They can’t accept unprofessional work regardless of how good the story is.
Finding a freelance editor can be a challenge. A good way is to ask other authors who they recommend. Also, many freelance editors network through social media sites like Linkedin.
Another way is to google “how to find a freelance editor.”
Before you hire an editor, check their qualifications and references. SFWA (Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers Association) has an article you should read regardless of the genre in which you write: EDITORS AND EDITING – SFWA
What to expect once you do hire an editor:
Many editors will ask for the first twenty pages of your manuscript at no cost to you. They will either accept your project or explain why it isn’t ready for editing. Submissions should be formatted as MS WORD documents using Times New Roman 12 pt. font. Some editors will ask for a different font, so format it in the style they require.
Using the ribbon at the top, on the far right-hand side of the home tab, click Select All. This will highlight your entire document. With the whole document highlighted, open the paragraph tab to drop down the formatting menu. The manuscript should be aligned left, creating a ragged right-hand margin. Sentences should be double-spaced with no extra space between paragraphs. The first line of each paragraph should be indented .5 and formatted using the ribbon (not the tab key).
If you have used the tab key to indent paragraphs, you can fix it by using one of the following ways.
To remove tabs from a manuscript in MS Word or most other word-processing programs, open the “Find” box (right side of the ribbon on the home tab). In the “Find” field, type in ^t. (Caret + lowercase t) (press the alt key 94 to make ^ and key the t). This only works if you have a ten-key (number pad) at the right side of your keyboard: ^t.
Then click “Replace.” In this field, type nothing. Click once on “Replace all,” and it will remove every tab.
That will leave you with no indents whatsoever. Your manuscript will temporarily look like a wall of words, but you will resolve that.
Once the tabs are all removed, use the following instructions to format paragraphs.
FIRST: SELECT ALL. This will highlight your entire manuscript.
Step 1: On the Home tab, look in the group labeled ‘Paragraph.’ On the lower right-hand side of that group is a small grey square. Click on it. A pop-out menu will appear, which is where you format your paragraphs.
Step 2: On the indents and spacing menu: Use standard alignment, align LEFT. We use this format because we are not looking at a finished product here. We are looking at a rough draft that will be sliced, diced, and otherwise mutilated many times before we get to the final product.
Step 3: Indentation: leave that alone or reset both numbers to ‘0’ if you have inadvertently altered it.
Step 4: Where it says ‘Special,’ select ‘first line on the dropdown menu.’ On the ‘By’ menu, select ‘0.5.’ (Some publishers specify a different number, 0.3 or 0.2, but 0.5 is standard.)
Step 5: ‘Spacing’: set both before and after to ‘0.’
Step 6: ‘Line Spacing’: set to ‘double.’
If you don’t have a ten-key pad, you must remove each tabbed indent by hand. Beginning with the first paragraph on the first page, scroll down and use the backspace key to remove the tab indenting every paragraph.
The editor will probably use the track changes function in MS Word. They will return your manuscript with their suggestions for revisions, highlighted in red and noted in the review column on the right-hand side of the document. You will use the track changes function to accept or reject each suggestion. This is what track changes looks like when you get the manuscript back:
Also, you might receive a separate report detailing the editor’s overall impressions of your manuscript’s strengths and weaknesses.
During the editing process, a word-frequency report might be generated. A style sheet will probably be developed for usages and unique spellings that may pertain to your manuscript. Via email, you and the editor might discuss the names and usages that may differ from standard spellings to create that style sheet. A good editor will respond to your questions as soon as they receive your email.
We overlook many flaws when trying to self-edit our work because we are as immersed in visualizing the scene as we were during the moments when we first wrote it. Our eyes see what we imagine to be there rather than the typos or missing words.
If you’re a member of a writers’ group, you have a resource of people who will beta read for you at no cost. As a critique group member, you will read for them too.
Be careful how you phrase your comments on their work. Be accurate and find positive things to point out as well as areas that need work.
For those who can’t afford a full professional edit, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at editing your own manuscript. However, it is time-consuming, which is why an editor’s services are not cheap.
Open your Manuscript.
Break it into separate chapters by copying and pasting each individual chapter into a new document. Doing this preserves the original manuscript and breaks it down into manageable chunks.
Save the chapters in a new file labeled with the word “revisions.” Example: Barons_Hollow_revisions_12-22-2022
Clearly and consistently label each chapter. Ensure the chapter numbers are in the proper sequence, and don’t skip a number. I would label my individual chapter files this way:
Print out the first chapter. Everything looks different printed out, and you will see many things you don’t notice on the computer screen.
Turn to the last page. Cover the page, leaving only the final paragraph visible.
- Starting with the last paragraph on the last page, begin reading, working your way forward.
- Look for typos and garbled sentences.
- With a yellow highlighter, mark each place that needs correction.
I can’t stress the importance of the following observation strongly enough:
YOU MUST UNDERSTAND AND OBEY THE BASIC RULES OF GRAMMAR. Those who think the standard grammar rules don’t matter to readers are doing their work and reputation a disservice.
If you are writing in the US, you might consider investing in Bryan A. Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers to questions about grammar and sentence structure. It takes the Chicago Manual of Style and boils it down to just the grammar.
For a quick one-page reference, here is a link to an article I posted on the basics of grammar:
Fundamentals of Grammar: seven basic rules of punctuation
Punctuation is not an area where we can cut corners. It serves as the traffic signals, affects pacing, and avoids verbal chaos. Most readers won’t notice the grammar if you have a good grasp of the basics and are consistent.
When you have finished, you should have someone you trust read it for typos and copy/paste errors you might have missed. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but readers want to enjoy the book, not struggle through garbled sentences.
The New Year approaches, and many books will be indie-published novels written during NaNoWriMo. Will they be readable and enjoyable? If the authors took the time to have their work edited and seen by their writing group first—then yes, probably so.
Whatever you write, and whatever your publishing path, I wish you a blessed New Year. May the well of inspiration never run dry!