Indies have a hard road ahead of them, as they are financially responsible for getting their manuscript revised, edited, and proof-read. This can be a costly process as freelance editors are working for a living and expect to be paid for their work. A 70,000 word manuscript can cost from around $700.00 or more to have edited, depending on the services you want.
The reason we may want to hire an editor is that our eyes may skip typos and autocorrect errors in our own work. When we read what we have written, we are immersed in visualizing the scene. To our biased eyes, the words we have written do convey what we are thinking.
Many editors will do a Beta Read at a much more affordable price. Beta reads are helpful in identifying areas you may want to revise.
However, 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 member of that critique group, you will read for them too, so 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. If you are harsh and dismissive, your work will receive that treatment in return.
If you are unable to afford a full professional edit, there is a way to make a pretty good stab at revising your own manuscript, but it is time consuming, which is why an editor’s services are not cheap.
First, if you aren’t going to hire an editor, you should consider investing in Bryan A. Garner’s Chicago Guide to Grammar, Usage, and Punctuation. This is a resource with all the answers for questions you might have regarding grammar and sentence structure.
The basic rules of grammar are like traffic signals. They regulate the flow of our words, making our sentences understandable. A professional author will make a stab at learning a few rules regarding punctuation and will apply them to their work.
It doesn’t require perfection, but people who don’t think the common rules matter are doing their work and their reputation a disservice. Readers want to enjoy the book, not struggle through rambling, garbled sentences.
To do a thorough revision of your manuscript, open your manuscript file and create a new file folder. You never want to save over your old files, so we have a process to follow. Name your file in such a way that it is clearly labeled, and you are sure which contains your final revisions. I name mine this way:
Master File: Barons_Hollow_2019 (or whatever year I intend to publish)
Subfolder: BH_full_ms_version_1_2018 (this contains the original manuscript)
Subfolder: BH_chapters_revisions_final_2019 this is the file that contains the manuscript broken into chapters for revising—instructions follow:
b) Missing quotation marks,
c) Punctuation that is outside of the quotations.
Wrong: "dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house". Said Toto. I went with her".
Right: "Dorothy flew over the rainbow in a house," said Toto. "I went with her."
An editor will point out and encourage you to correct all instances of timid phrasing. Timid phrasing leads to wordiness, and we really want to avoid that. Overuse of forms of to be (is, are, was, were) also lead to wordiness. Long, convoluted passages rife with compound sentences turn away most readers.
To avoid wordiness, use action words (verbs) in place of forms of to be. In active prose, our characters don’t begin (start) to move. Instead, they move. They act as opposed to beginning or starting to act.
If you notice a few flaws in your manuscript in your final pass but think no one will be bothered by them, you’re wrong. Readers always notice the things that stop their eye.
In my own work, I have discovered that if a passage seems flawed, but I can’t identify what is wrong with it, my eye wants to skip it. But another person will see the flaw, and they will show me what is wrong there. This is why this editor always has a professional editor go over her manuscripts.
Once you have finished revising your manuscript in this fashion, have it proofread by a member of your writing group. If you are in a critique group, you have a great resource in your fellow authors as proof readers—they will spot things you have overlooked your work just as you do in theirs.
Editors do more than point out comma errors—they will make a note of incongruities, and contradictions. They will also note inconsistent style and usage. When a manuscript comes across their desk, editors and publishers create a list of names, places, created words, and other things that may be repeated and that pertain only to that manuscript. This is called a style sheet.
The style sheet can take several forms, but it is only a visual guide to print out or keep minimized until it's needed. I copy and paste every invented word, hyphenated word, or name the first time they appear in my manuscript, and if I am conscientious, I'll be less likely to inadvertently contradict myself later on in the tale. My editor is grateful that I make this list so that she doesn't have to.
I hope these suggestions help you in your revision process. We want our work to be enjoyable by the casual reader, and if we are conscientious in the final stages, we can turn out a readable manuscript that is not rife with easily fixable errors.
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Connie J. Jasperson is a published poet and the author of nine novels. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies. A founding member of Myrddin Publishing Group, she can be found blogging regularly on both the craft of writing and art history at Life in the Realm of Fantasy.
Portions of this article were first published on August 29, 2018 on Life in the Realm of Fantasy as “Final Revisions,” © 2018 Connie J. Jasperson and have been reprinted by permission.