I just finished compiling another issue of the SPAWN Market Update for the member area of the SPAWN website. That’s Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network, http://www.spawn.org.
In so doing, I had occasion to check publishers’ guidelines, their announced calls for submissions and their press releases telling about some innovative new publishing options for authors. Guess what I read in these documents over and over and over again:
“Send your completed manuscript ONLY after it has been professionally edited.”
Yup, this bit of advice can make the difference between a contract and a rejection letter. And it often does.
You hear that publishers will run accepted manuscripts through their editorial departments before sending them to the printers. Sure they do. Sometimes a manuscript gets just a good proofreading. Most publishers have specific editorial requirements and they want their stable of editors to make sure your excellent manuscript conforms. When my publishers edit my manuscripts, they generally make very few changes, but they will often catch a little something that we missed.
When I edit a manuscript for a client, I like to go through it at least twice. It doesn’t hurt to also have another good editor or good proofreader give it a look over. And this is after you have gone through it numerous, numerous time—looking at it from all possible angles and checking for all possible problems.
Here are some of the things your savvy editor will look for when editing your almost perfect manuscript:
- Spacing errors. It is now one space between sentences, not two!
- Punctuation problems. Are you using quotation marks and single quotes correctly? Are you accurately representing the em dash? What about commas and exclamation points? Do you place them only where they are needed?
- Misplaced apostrophes. A common problem I see in manuscripts is the misuse of apostrophes. Does the apostrophe go before the “s” or after? Is there an apostrophe in 1990s? This is elementary, yet way too many authors do not get it right.
- Missing or misused hyphens. Do you know when it is two words, one word or a hyphenated word? Many authors are inconsistent in this area. For example, they write heartbreaking on page 12, heart breaking on page 76 and heart-breaking on page 101.
- Errors in capitalization. Do you know when to capitalize Mom, Father, etc. and when not to? Have you been consistent in your capitalization of special words you’ve used in your story or nonfiction book?
- Spelling mistakes. Have you triple checked your spelling? Are you consistent in the way you spell names and other specialized words you’ve chosen for your book?
- Spell check errors. Have you checked for misused and extra words leftover when you’ve made changes? These can be especially difficult to catch. Maybe you changed a character’s name along the way—did you remember to make that change in all places?
- Clarity. Are your sentences tight, clear and necessary to your nonfiction book or your story? Is there enough explanation? Could someone from Mars read this sentence or paragraph and comprehend it? Be careful here. Often, folks who engage in muddy
writing don’t recognize the mud in the writing. This is another good reason to hire an editor.
- Repeated words. I see authors using the same words in sentences and paragraphs more often than you can imagine. And it makes them seem so amateurish when they do this. For more interesting reading, vary your use of words throughout the manuscript.
- The passive voice. The active voice is much preferred the majority of the time over the passive voice. And most authors know this. But do you recognize when using the passive voice has become a bad habit? Most authors do not.
- Problems with tense. Will you write your story using past or present tense? Decide and then be consistent. It can take an editor a great deal of time to correct your misrepresentations of tense throughout your story.
- Readability. Have you used common words that anyone can understand? Do you use reasonable, realistic transitions? Does your story flow logically? Is your informational or instructional book easy to follow?
- The overuse of clichés. Have you avoided the use of too many clichés? Readers (and publishers) want to “hear” that fresh voice coming through, not old, worn out phrases.
- Qualifiers. Avoid using too many instances of “very” and “really” in your nonfiction book or novel. These qualifier words tend to weaken rather than strengthen your statements.
- Blatant misuse of words. Are you clear as to which is correct: whose or who’s; then or than; your or you’re; to, too or two; it, its, it’s; there, their or they’re, for example. Often we know the right word, but inadvertently use the wrong one. An editor can help you clean up this sort of mess.
I’ve created a nice checklist for you to follow the next time you edit your manuscript. But keep in mind that these are some of the things that a good editor will catch probably even after you have spent hours self-editing
She (or he) will also help you to discover errors in your how-to instructions (errors that could be disastrous), serious inconsistencies or blatant mistakes in your storyline, boring redundancies or unrealistic series of events, for example.
Before you show your manuscript around to publishers or take it to a “self-publishing” company, turn it over to a good editor. While hiring an editor can cost you anywhere from $500 to $2,500 (or more), it is a solid business decision that could mean the difference between a publishing contract and a rejection. If you choose the self-publishing route, an editor could mean the difference between excellent and poor book reviews, bookseller acceptance or rejection and, ultimately, book sales.
Patricia Fry is a full-time writer. She is the author of 29 published books and the editor for an additional 13 published books. She is the president of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org. Learn more about Patricia, her work and her books at www.matilijapress.com. Visit her informative blog often at www.matilijapress.com/publishingblog.
If you have a manuscript that’s ready for publication, send it to Patricia for a free evaluation and estimate. PLFry620@yahoo.com. Put “Free Editorial Evaluation” in the subject line.