I am often asked how much editing I do before I know a manuscript is ready to shop or publish. This question is tricky, because I know how paralyzing it can be to wonder if your work is ready for others’ eyes. There is always something that can be tweaked, reworked, reworded. I am blessed to have a critique partner and a close friend who happens to be a professional editor, but not everyone is so fortunate.
I have put together a check-list that I use, but I also rely on my friends’ advice and critique along the way. Another great tool that I use is a group of beta readers—volunteers willing to tell the truth about my manuscript before it goes to publishing. I ask them to provide feedback about content and clarity. Of course, anyone who finds typos or mistakes is asked to mark or correct them, but I find betas to be really great for finding inconsistencies or omissions.
My editing checklist consists of six stages. I advise other writers to go through these steps before sending their manuscripts to any publishing professional, like an agent or publisher. You want to look as professional as possible before it goes to their editors. I recommend for everyone to use a professional editor before self-publishing. One of the worst mistakes a writer can make is to put out a wonderful story that is filled with mistakes, inconsistencies, and confusing dialog. If a reader puts down your book because of these things, they probably won’t pick it up again.
Here is my checklist; I hope you find something in it to help you construct yours.
( ) First Draft—No Editing
Just get it all out there in writing.
Seriously, don’t even think about editing as you write.
( ) First Round—Content and Clarity
Make sure your manuscript says everything you think it says.
Read out loud, or have someone else read it aloud, to be sure.
Make sure your research is thorough and accurate, even for fiction.
Make sure your story is easy to understand.
Remember to include sensory imagery on every page.
( ) Second Round—Point of View (PoV)
Make sure each chapter is told from the appropriate character’s point of view.
If PoV changes from one character to another, make sure the shift is obvious.
( ) Third Round—Voice
Make sure each character uses his/her specific and unique voice.
If you read a quote out of context, would you know who was speaking?
( ) Fourth Round—Spelling, Grammar, and Vocabulary
Make sure that your narrative is grammatically correct.
Do NOT rely on spell-check and grammar-check to get it right. It won’t.
Dialog doesn’t require proper grammar, as long as it suits your character’s voice.
Are you using the most precise words for the situation?
Don’t send your reader to a dictionary more than twice in one book.
( ) Fifth Round—Format
Make sure your manuscript is formatted according to your publisher’s guidelines.
Double-check your publisher’s guidelines—really.