Preparing Your Manuscript

preparing your manuscriptYou’ve finally done it… written your novel. It’s complete. All those words down in one place. And you’re no fool. You’ve got an editor all lined up.  But wait.

Is it really ready for the editor yet?

When you say it’s done, is this the best it can be or did you just finish your rough draft? If you just finished typing ‘The End,’ you’ve still got a lot of work to do before you’re ready for the editor. You’ve still got some revisions of your own to do after your rough draft. Maybe this scene isn’t the best it can be. Maybe Sally should have made a different decision after that first plot point, because if she did, the whole second act would have been so much more interesting. Maybe the climax of the story still needs some work because it’s good, but it’s still oh, I don’t know, it’s missing something.

Once you’ve wrestled with all of this and straightened it out, then it’s time for your trusted beta readers, or your mom, or whoever you feel will give you the best feedback. Once you get a copy back all covered in oil stains from your mechanic (because he has true literary insight, even though he messes up your manuscripts) and you hear his critique, you can go back, fix what you truly feel needs to be fixed, and then take one more look at it.  Are you finished preparing your manuscript yet?

When you think you can’t make it any better than it is, run it through spell check. I know it won’t catch everything (like words that are spelled correctly but used incorrectly), but it will save a few of the hairs left on your editor’s head. Look at it again. Have you dotted all your i’s? Crossed all your t’s? Do your sentences have punctuation and capital letters? If not, you may need to review some basics. If you know they belong there and just didn’t put them in, put them in. Do you really want to pay your editor extra to put them in for you?

Okay, now you can send your manuscript to your editor. Your editor will appreciate all of your hard work.

You know all those horror stories about editors? About how mean they are? How they’ll tear your manuscript to pieces? A lot of that stems from receiving manuscripts that were really rough drafts. That didn’t have sentences starting with capital letters. That didn’t have punctuation at the end of sentences. That had paragraphs that lasted for pages. Dialogue without meaning that went on and on. Missing plot points, garbled structure, cardboard characters, flip flopping between tenses and points of view, repetitive anything… After awhile, editors develop twitches. And headaches. And then they begin to morph into editing monsters that lash out uncontrollably at anything that passes by that even remotely resembles a manuscript. They can’t help themselves. They hoard red pens compulsively and growl at anyone who dares reach for one. (That’s MY red pen, damn it!)  Please, for the love of God, save an editor today! Prep your manuscript properly or we can’t be responsible for what may happen next! :::eye twitches:::

:::clears throat::: Okay. Sorry about that. But it had to be said. Writers, learn your craft. Hold your head high. Be proud of what you do. Step out and say, “Damn it, I’m a writer.” Own it. Be responsible for what you put on a page. Don’t get sloppy. It’s your name on the cover, not the editor’s.

It’s amazing what a difference it makes to get a manuscript that looks well prepared. Yes, there may be shallow characters, missing plot points, repetition, and flip flopping tenses, but presentation at least shows us that the author cares enough to make it look nice. Presentation can soothe a lot of ruffled editing feathers. Nice editor. There, there.

Once your book is edited, it’s up to you what you want to do with it. You can self-publish. You can submit your story to agents. If an agent accepts it, they will probably suggest their own edits and you’ll comply. Then when they sell your story to a publisher, they’ll also send you through another editing process.

Even so, it all comes back to you. You’re the one writing and preparing your manuscript. Do it with pride.

Get Thee to an Editor

get thee to an editorPesky errors got you down? Tired of hearing you’re using ‘reign’ instead of ‘rein’? Does trying to figure out the difference between the two leave your head in a tizzy? Get thee to an editor.

Do you love the word ‘that’? Do you capitalize your dialogue tags and don’t know why? Get thee to an editor.

Got a hole in your plot big enough for a Mac truck? Are your scenes lacking panache? Are your descriptions falling flat? Get thee to an editor.

When you’ve done all you can on your own, it’s time to get some help. Go ahead and send your baby out to your beta readers… they can give you some good advice. They may not all agree, however, and you’ll need to pick and choose what will work and what won’t. Still, when you’re done reworking the story for the tenth or hundredth time… it’s good to have eyes on it that know what to look for.

What can a professional editor do?

  • Help you find the glaring issues in your story
  • Fix timeline problems others may have missed
  • Get rid of the annoying errors readers will be sure to mention in their reviews
  • Tighten your writing
  • Polish that manuscript and make it shine
  • Make you look good

Doesn’t that sound worth it? Especially that last one. Your book is your baby. You’re putting it out there for the world to see. You want it looking all pretty and clean, not all messy, right?

And what does the editor get out of it? The satisfaction of helping an author and some money to pay the bills. Do we like it when we’re mentioned in the acknowledgements? Sure. We appreciate your thanks. Do we demand it? No. We’re happy even if you don’t mention us in public. We’re happy because we were able to help you get your book ready for the public. That’s what makes us tick. What makes us get up in the morning. We don’t necessarily need the accolades. We just like what we do.

So if we like it so much, why don’t we do it for free?

Well, sometimes we do. Most of the time, however, we need to pay bills. We need to feed the kids, just like you. Editors understand that it’s hard to spread the money around sometimes. We have the same problems. It comes down to what’s important. If someone wants to go on a vacation, they’ll save up for it. If they want Prada shoes, they’ll save up for them. If they want a 125 gallon fish tank, they’ll save up for it. If they want editing, they’ll save up for it (or take advantage of a payment plan). Whatever becomes important, we find the means to do. Is your book important? Then you should do what you can to present it in the best way possible. This includes good editing and a good cover.  Can just anyone edit or do a cover? No. Some do not possess the skills to do these things. Some are not the right fit for each author. But when you find that fit, it’s worth the price.

OMG–I Can’t Stress This Enough

I’ve written on the topic of the importance of editing before, but OMG guys, it really is.

I love indie authors, I really do. Heck, I’m one myself. Some of my best online friends are, too. Some of what I’m hearing from indie authors is alarming. I’m hearing that editing is a luxury, an expense they can do without. Yes, it can be expensive. I’m sorry about that, but if you tell me that How to Train Your Catfish in Three Easy Lessons is 175,000 words long–well, I know you want to hear it’s only going to cost you $50, but any manuscript that long is going to cost you some bucks. Editing carefully, I can average about 1,250 words an hour, assuming I’m not spending that hour answering your emails asking why I haven’t finished your book yet or what did I think of the chapter on earning your catfish’s trust. I’m not saying you can’t ask questions… I encourage you to do so. This is a working partnership on your book. But back to our make believe scenario. So your 175,000 word manuscript on training catfish is going to take about 140 hours of my time. I wish I could do it for free (if I were rich, I would… I enjoy it that much!).  So why should you pay this *luxury tax*?

Case in point: Step into my time machine and we’re going to travel back several years. At this point in time I was doing reviews of birth-related books. (Cue spooky time travel music.) Ah. Here’s one. Take a look at this. Not only is the text so riddled with errors that it gets in the way of their wonderful message, but their formatting for the book was way off. The title page was actually on the left side! It made me wonder if they’d ever even seen a book before. Needless to say, all the money they spent printing all those copies was wasted. I couldn’t review it… there was nothing good I could say about the book. I contacted the author privately and suggested nicely that she get an editor to go through the book and then a book designer to set it up properly. I never heard back from her so I don’t know if she did or not.

As I said at the beginning, I love indie authors. I want them to succeed. However, it’s getting to the point that I hesitate to buy ebooks unless I’m already familiar with the author. I don’t want to waste my hard-earned cash on a book that may be full of errors. Before I push that Buy button, I wonder if they had the book edited. Will it be full of errors? I read books full of errors for a living… I don’t want to do it in my pleasure reading. If I find the first chapter full of mistakes, I don’t read the rest of the book, no matter how good the story was. I know I’m not alone in this.

A lot of readers are returning their ebooks for errors or complaining to Amazon, who then reports the errors to the authors for fixing. Amazon will report a few of them, then recommend to the author to check for more. If you get an email like this from Amazon, will you follow up and fix them? Will you look for more? Do you even know what to look for since you let them go through the first time? This means spending time going through your book again and then re-publishing.

Some of those readers will go so far as to write a review criticizing your editing errors for all the world to see and giving you a low rating for them. This brings down your overall rating. Even if you do find every error and fix them later, those reviews will still be there for other potential readers to see. I’m currently editing a book that had this problem. Yes, the errors will be fixed, but the old reviews will still color the perception of the improved book once it’s done.

Others will request their money back, and Amazon cheerfully refunds it, taking it out of your royalties each time a reader does this for the life of your book. Still think skipping the editing was a good idea?

Do it right the first time and hire an editor. Most of us are willing to work with our clients. I offer a payment plan… I’m sure many other editors do as well. I even offer a discount to those who can pay in full. I love books. I always have, ever since I learned that when letters are put together to form words they could tell a story. I got into this business to help authors make their books the best they could be. When the spotlight is on you, I want you to shine.

Timing

Timing is everything. When you’re planning the publication date of your book, make sure you leave enough time for revision, editing, proofing, cover design, and formatting. None of these things should be rushed. In fact, it’s better to have scheduled extra time and be ready ahead of your date than to find yourself crunched for time at your deadline and getting errors when you’re uploading your book.

What a headache that can be!

So prepare yourself by scheduling plenty of time for each of these steps. Beta readers need time to read and give feedback. You may decide to revise something after receiving their feedback. This takes time to do it right. You hand the manuscript off to an editor. They go through it carefully and find some issues you need to tackle. You do so and hand it back. The editor goes through it again and gives it back. You both agree it’s ready to be formatted. It goes through formatting and then gets proofed to catch any last errors that may have slipped by. It happens. Any errors that are found are corrected. You upload the book. Sometimes formatting errors arise that need to be corrected, so back to the formatter it goes… and finally, it is accepted. Whew! Good thing you allowed yourself plenty of time! You’re still a couple of days ahead of schedule, so your launch will go off without a hitch! That was excellent planning on your part!

Too often I talk to writers who want their 300 page book completely edited to perfection in less than a week (at a discount, no less), then need it formatted in three different formats overnight so they can get it uploaded on ten different sites for their launch yesterday because they didn’t plan ahead. No editor worth their salt is going to put their name on a project like that. If the author is willing to do such a rush on the production work, how much do you want to bet they rushed the writing, too? The editor is asking for a major headache ten ways from Sunday to tackle a project like this.

Give your book the time it deserves.

How to Approach an Editor

When your book is ready for an editor, you’ve reached the next stage in your book’s development. If you’ve never done this before, it can be exciting. Daunting. Intimidating, even. How do you go about it?

Here are my recommendations based on how I like to be approached.

Don’t be afraid to make contact. Most editors will have a way to contact them on their websites. Mine is here: Contact me. Fill it out and tell me about your project. Be honest about what kind of editing you feel you need. If you’re not sure, look through the editor’s site… most likely, they’ll have a page that describes the type of editing they do (mine is here). Sometimes they’ll even list their pricing here, like I do. Sometimes they won’t.

Usually, the editor will get back to within a reasonable amount of time (I try to respond to emails within a day or two at most). This can begin a dialogue about your project, your budget, and the time frame your project will take.

Some editors only work on one project at a time, while others (like me) work on multiple projects at once. While this can slow me down at times, it also keeps my prices lower, since my budget costs are spread across several clients instead of just one. It’s up to you to choose an editor who works the way you want them to work.

Once an agreement is reached with your editor, your manuscript needs to be sent in the type of file you’ve both agreed upon. I like to work with Microsoft Word files. I find that most people have a version of that program and most platforms for publication or submission accept them in some form. If you use one of those cloud open source word processing programs, they can transfer to Word, but be aware that sometimes not all of the formatting will transfer and you may have some things lost in translation between you and your editor or you may end up with lots of artifacts in the file that have to be removed. Every program is different.

Some editors will go through the entire file before they return it, others prefer to work in chunks. I’m pretty flexible and will do it either way you choose.

Remember that you’ll probably fly through your edits faster than the editor… you’re mostly accepting changes while they’re carefully considering what needs to be changed and why. If you have a question or comment, make them. You don’t have to accept everything blindly and you shouldn’t. If you don’t understand why an editor suggests a certain change, ask. If you don’t agree, challenge them. If they can back it up with the Chicago Manual of Style, they probably have a point. If they’re changing it just because they would write it differently and it changes your voice, you don’t have to accept it. There’s a difference between following accepted publishing guidelines and changing the author’s voice. That being said, there’s a difference between blindly accepting the author’s voice and disregarding accepted publishing and story telling guidelines. It’s a two way street.

The relationship between an author and an editor is intricate. One is changing the creative work of the other. At the same time, those changes should be for the better. These changes should tighten the work, bring out the strengths and eliminate the weaknesses. They should make the author look their best. The editor should be invisible. We’re the set dresser, the makeup artist, the costumer, all rolled into one as we prepare the author for their debut. The author is the star.

So choose your editor wisely. Not every pairing is perfect. Your editor has to be content to stay in the background. Sure, we appreciate a mention on Facebook or Twitter or Google+ (along with a link to our website and undying gratitude LOL). It may help bring more clients our way and help us pay next month’s bills. We appreciate a nice blurb to put on our sites from another satisfied customer. All in all, however, we remain behind the scenes. You’re the one in front of the audience. Your book represents you. More than anything, the editor you choose should care that your book reflects well on you.

Editors Are Vital — Guest Post

Today’s post is by another client of mine, Shane Scollins. Shane is the author of Legacy Rising, The Game, and several other thrilling reads. If you haven’t read any of his books yet, you should pick one up.

By Shane Scollins

Writing a book is a solitary undertaking. As writers, we live inside our heads, listening to voices, and becoming random and often insane characters. We put a lot of time and effort into creating worlds and plots and all the things that make a great story. But without a good editorial eye, the story won’t be worth the broken keys on our laptops.

Editors are a vital cog in the gears of the novel creation machine. They are a key link between creating a story, and getting a polished book to the public. We want to believe we are good enough to get by without an editor. After all, today’s software programs are good enough to catch most basic mistakes. However, the reality is that no matter how good we think we are, and no matter how good we really are, there is no substitute for the second or third pair of eyes of another human. We need help from someone who can be both clinical and creative to help hammer our story into form. That’s exactly what an editor does.

A great editor can be the difference maker, because let’s face it, we can’t always be objective when it comes to our own work. We are simply too close to it. It’s not a matter of being a good (or bad) writer, it’s a matter of being an author. We all make mistakes and we all need the help of a professional editor. I’m a firm believer that producing a book is a team effort and the editor is an essential part of that.

I’ve heard a lot of writers express great dread over editing process. I have to say that I’ve never really been one of them. For the most part, I’ve had positive experiences with editors. Of course, I’m not one of those writers married to every word I write. There have been very few times when an editor suggested something that I disagreed with. I can usually see their point, and if not, I usually defer to them anyway because I’ve learned the wisdom of detaching my emotion from the process.

As writers, we want to protect everything we write. We want to believe that every word is vital to the story. But that’s not always the case. Readers are not always going to notice everything we do, they often gravitate to parts of the story we never intended them to become invested in. That’s what makes an editor so important. There are going to be parts of our stories that we may not be as fanatical about, but that readers will notice. The editorial process will ferret out all those nuances that only readers will discern.

If you are one of those writers that balls up with anxiety over the editing process, try not to worry. You’ll get through it. No matter if you’re working with the same editor, or a new editor, the key word is working. Writing is a job, and not every part of a job is going to be easy. Sometimes you’re going to have to default to another part of your team and give up some control for the sake of a good story. If you treat the editing process as just another aspect of your job, it won’t be nearly as stressful. Editors are not out to make your life miserable, they’re trying to make your story the best it can be. It’s never personal.

Remember, it’s the story that matters to you, and If you want the story to matter to the readers, work with a professional editor. Your readers will thank you.

Shane Scollins is a freelance writer and Amazon best selling author. Originally from New Jersey, he now resides in Upstate New York with his wife, Heather. He has a degree in computer science and has worked as an automotive service manager, a website developer, and a computer network engineer. In his spare time he enjoys playing ice hockey, riding his mountain bike, and strumming on his guitar. Primarily a SciFi and paranormal novelist, Shane enjoys taking readers on surprising and unexpected journeys that twist reality. He is currently working on his next book.

You can find out more about Shane at his website, http://www.shanescollins.com/

Selling Yourself Short

The other day, I got into a discussion with someone about why authors might skip the editing process before publishing. Now, I didn’t know this guy, and I’m sure he’s a perfectly great guy. I don’t hold anything against him. We had a lively debate on the topic.

In my own experience, I’ve picked up a few ebooks on free days that I’ve put down just as quickly when I discovered that they were filled with basic errors. I’ll be honest… I edit for a living. That means I spend my life reading unedited writing, so I’m extremely choosy about what I read during my limited time for leisure reading. The occasional editorial flub is no big deal, it happens in every book, even those put out by the Big Six publishers. But I can tell the difference between the occasional editorial flub and an unedited manuscript. Remember Elaine from Seinfeld testing her dates to see if they were sponge-worthy? Well, unedited books are not time-worthy.

Anyway, back to my discussion. My worthy opponent brought up cost. He said editing costs a minimum of $1500. I know writers are notoriously poor. I’m an editor and I’m notoriously poor. I get it. Money can be hard to come by. There’s a reason they say it doesn’t grow on trees, because if it did, we’d all be horticulturalists. As I told him, not all of us editors charge an arm and a leg. Some of us softies even offer payment plans and bend over backwards to work within budgets. Why? Because we all have families to support. You gotta feed your kids, I gotta feed mine (and boy, it seems they eat more every year, doesn’t it?). I can’t speak for every editor out there, but this is why I work with several clients at one time… to keep my prices as low as I can. My rent won’t get any lower, but hey, I can spread my costs out to make it easier on my clients, right? So, authors… you may think we charge a lot at first glance, but we’re also having to use our fees to not only run our business, but to pay all those pesky bills that you have to pay at your house. It seems as soon as one month starts, it’s over and the cycle begins all over again. I’m sure you feel the same way. So, I do what I can to keep it reasonable, including a big discount for payment in full upfront. If you can afford it, you don’t have to worry about making payments, I don’t have to worry about sending reminders, you save money, it’s all good.

He suggested that most people don’t press the quality issue when I suggested that you can’t redo a first impression, and maybe that’s true. But they won’t buy book two, either. Putting out a second poorly done book won’t help you sell more books. While some may ask the seller for a refund, others won’t. When authors are signing petitions to convince Amazon not to refund ebooks after seven days (and part of me doesn’t blame them… you can read any ebook in seven days and return it, quality or not) the issue over quality becomes clouded. Was the book returned because the final quality was not up to par or because the reader knew they could get their money back, no questions asked?

Now, Amazon does have certain standards in place, but many of them don’t kick in unless complaints are made by readers. How many readers know how to make these complaints? How many readers actually write reviews? There’s the rub. Without the extra layer of an editor, how do these errors get expunged from the book?

To take it a step further, how do you know you have a competent editor? If you don’t know other authors who can recommend one for you, how do you know you don’t have one who isn’t an author just like yourself who decided they’d hang out an editorial shingle to earn a few bucks?

These are good questions. First, ask your author friends. They may have worked with an editor they liked. Second, (blatant self-promotion) you could hire me. :) Third, you can go to an editorial association like the Editorial Freelancers Association and peruse their members. If you go that route, make sure and look for editors who work on fiction. Fiction and non-fiction are two different animals, and not every editor is familiar with both. Not every good editor is a member of associations like this (not all of us can afford it yet), but you can bet that you can avoid the bad ones by going there.

If you’re not sure about an editor, look at their client testimonials. Ask them if they’re willing to edit a few pages for free as a sample of their work. When you send a sample, pick a few of your worst pages so you can make a fair assessment. If you’re testing more than one editor, send them the same pages so you can compare. Cheaper isn’t always the best choice, just like the most expensive isn’t always the best choice.

So, don’t sell yourself short. Put out the best book you can. Don’t skimp on the editing. You want a book as close to error-free as you can make it. You want your story as tight as it can be. You want it to be a pleasure to read, not something someone puts down after a few paragraphs.

After the Edit

You’ve opened up the manuscript you got back from your editor and you may be amazed at how many changes have been made. If they’re using Word’s Tracking Changes, you’ll find your manuscript may be very colorful indeed. Now what?

If you’re not familiar with Word’s Tracking Changes, now’s the time to get to know it better. In Word 2010, you’ll find it under the Review tab. It’s the fourth section from the right. Proceeding left to right, you’ll see Proofing, Language, Comments, Tracking, Changes, Compare and Protect. Right now we’re going to look at Tracking. Your editor clicked on Track Changes to make her edits. This makes all changes visible and puts them in a different color than the original text. If you need to make changes and send the manuscript back, you’ll want to make sure Track Changes is enabled so your changes are made in a third color. This makes it easy for your editor to follow your changes.

If you’re ready to accept or reject changes, move one more topic to the right and find Changes. If you click Accept, the program will accept the change that is highlighted, making it black text, then it will move to the next change.  If you pull down the menu from the tiny little arrow under Accept, you can choose to accept and move on, just accept the change and remain there, accept all changes shown, or accept all changes in the entire document.

I highly recommend going through each change individually. By accepting all changes in the document, you may miss a spot where the edit accidentally included a space that was supposed to remain there, or maybe you don’t agree with a suggested edit. While it may seem tedious to go through the edits one by one, it will save you time and effort later when the document is all in black again and you can’t find what you’re looking for easily.

Just to the right of Accept is an icon with an X. This is for rejecting a suggested edit. If you use the drop down menu provided here, you’ll have the same options as were available under Accept.

Below the Reject icon are two icons with arrows, one facing left and one facing right. These will take you to the previous change or the next change.

After you’ve gone through all the edits, I suggest you do another spell check. Again, this helps find those little areas where spaces or other issues cropped up when edits were being made. Don’t want two spaces between a word or no space between two words. :)

After the spell check, it needs another read. Yes, you need to read it again. If you have the funds, now is the time for a proofread. Some people find reading a manuscript backwards will help them find any tiny errors that may have escaped everyone that has seen it. It does happen.

Once your manuscript is all clean, make sure it is formatted in the form required from the agent/publisher you are submitting it to. In the case of self-publishing, this means you need proper indents for each paragraph (often without using tabs), proper chapter headings, page numbers if applicable (not used in ebooks), and so on. If you’ve got it all done according to the format you wish to use, your manuscript may be ready to head out into the world.

Prepping Your Manuscript

Before you send your manuscript to an editor, an agent, or a publisher, there are a few things you should do to make it presentable.

If you’re sending it to an agent or publisher, look at their website for submission guidelines. Most will have their formatting preferences posted. Follow them to the letter. If you don’t see any guidelines, here are a few that will help your manuscript look its best.

Assuming you’re submitting a Word document, select all and go to the Page Layout tab. Under Paragraph, choose Indents and Spacing. Under Indentation, set the Left and Right at 0 inches. Under Special, choose First Line. The default of 0.5 inches is fine for a manuscript.

Now look just below Indentation and find Spacing. Set both Before and After at 0 point, then set Line Spacing at 1.5 lines. Any numbers that were in the box under At will disappear. This is fine. When you’re done, click OK.

Of course, don’t forget to run spellcheck and make sure you’ve made all the revision necessary to tighten your story.

Put a title page on your story with your contact information. Include your email, phone number, and address. Some publishers/agents will also require your word count, genre, and so on.

This presents a clean file that looks presentable and is easy to read.

Before You Send it to the Editor

You’ve finished your masterpiece and now you’re ready to send it out to the first editor you can find, right? Wrong. There is still a lot you can do to make sure your manuscript is ready for the editor. By following these suggestions, you’ll get the most for your editing buck.

Rewrite

Did I just say rewrite? Yes, I did. No book is ready for publication as a first draft. First drafts are just that…the first version of the manuscript. This is where you maniacally put all your words down in a flurry, just trying to get your story told. First drafts are known by many different names. Rough draft, shitty draft, and crap are just a few I’ve run across. First drafts are first drafts for a reason: they give the author the chance to just get everything down on paper (or the computer). Now is when you revise, refine, and rewrite.

Get rid of excess words. Look at the scenes–are they really working? Maybe it would work better if this happened instead of that. Did you forget any crucial parts of the story? Do the words flow? Can you say this sentence better? You get the idea. Sharpen your story to a fine point. It is impossible to get all the details in place correctly with a dull point, to borrow a drawing analogy.

Structure Analysis

Now that you’ve identified any gaping holes in the hull of your story, check your structure. It doesn’t matter if you outline your story or write it on the fly…you still need a structure. Structure is the skeleton that supports your story. Can you build a house without a framework? No. And you can’t write a story without a structure. Sure, it’s possible that the structure automatically flows from you as you write. But it’s still important to check that everything is in it’s place.

Readers expect stories to move and develop in a certain way. Structure helps you do just that. If you find holes, fill them in now.

Self-Edit

If you’re not sure how to do this, there are lots of books on the market on self-editing. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, Second Edition: How to Edit Yourself Into Print springs to mind, or Line by Line: How to Edit Your Own Writing. These are skills every writer should work on. Editors, agents and small presses really appreciate receiving a manuscript that has been cleaned up to the best of the writer’s ability.

I’ve heard the analogy that errors on the page is like handing it to someone with snot smeared on it. While it isn’t my favorite image, it holds true. Writers should learn their craft, and this includes the mundane tasks. Grammar, punctuation, and spelling are still important. Yes, the editor will fix any you missed, but if you’re working to eliminate them before you send it to the editor, you’ve got more eyes looking for errors. Believe me, the more eyes you have looking for errors, the better.

Get Opinions

Don’t be afraid to let others read your book. If you know a few people who read a lot, use them as beta readers. Ask for their feedback. What is working, what isn’t? Ask them about your characterization, plot, and flow. Incorporate their suggestions.

What this means is you need to get a bit of a thick skin. Not every critic will phrase their suggestions nicely. Write down the suggestions and think about them. Look at your manuscript… are they right? Is your main character shallow and two dimensional? Is there a major plot point missing that leaves readers lost and confused? Could you clarify the link between this action and that reaction? Be open-minded and honest with yourself.

At the same time, if most of your readers say a certain point is fine and only one is insisting that certain point is stupid, think about it long enough to consider who is right. If you need to go with the consensus, fine. Don’t let one person bring you down. No book will be the perfect read for everyone.

Now that you’ve got your manuscript polished as much as you can, it is time to send it to your editor. They will hone that shine until you need sunglasses to read your book.