Editing can make the difference between a book with good potential and a great book. Although I highly recommend that authors-especially first-time authors-partner with professional editors who can help polish their books, I also recommend that authors do some of their own editing to make sure that their message is not changed during the editing process.
Professional editors are trained to catch grammatical and mechanical errors that you may have never heard of before, but you are still capable of catching a lot of errors on your own. If you are an author who is ready to enter the self-editing stage, the following six items should be on your self-editing checklist:
- Writing Style/Language-The first thing you want to pay attention to is whether the words you chose to use are the best words for your audience. Are the words likely to offend your readers’ beliefs and values? Are the words simple enough for your target audience to understand? When you read it out loud, do the words seem too casual or too formal for your audience? Is humor used appropriately?
- Grammar/Mechanics-You will want to read your manuscript very, very, very slowly so you can focus on the words and look for issues with spelling and punctuation. Even if you are not an English scholar, you will be amazed by how many errors you can revise on your own. If you want to invest some time into polishing your grammar IQ, I highly recommend using the free EnglishGrammar101.com website. If you would like to use a software to help you catch errors, you can use AftertheDeadline.com. It tends to catch more than Microsoft Word’s Grammar Check feature. Depending on how much time you have to edit and how long your manuscript is, you may want to s-l-o-w-l-y reread and edit your manuscript for grammar and mechanical errors at least twice.
- Organization/Flow-If you outlined your book before you started writing, your manuscript is probably well-organized. However, during your editing stage you will want to pay attention to how the information is shared. Does the information seem to flow smoothly from one page to the next? If not, how can it be improved to avoid frustrating or confusing your readers?
- Research- Not every book needs scientific studies to support claims, but any book-especially non-fiction book-that presents ideas needs to offer evidence to back it up. That evidence can be in the form of a story, expert testimony, a research study or even a direct quote from a credible source. Do your main ideas have enough support-or research-presented to support them and make them convincing? While you are busy checking your support, double-check the names, dates, locations and events for accuracy.
- Audience-Does the manuscript clearly show who the target audience is? Is the manuscript written with the audience in mind or does it focus more on your interests as a writer? Is it written in a way that makes it easy for the audience to understand?
- Overall Impression-When you put the book manuscript down and walk away, what is your overall impression of the work? Does this impression match the goal you set for your book while you were planning your book?
If you choose to get a couple friends to give you feedback on your book-which is a great idea if they are part of your target audience-you can ask them to give you feedback on the six items above.
Don’t let the editing process intimidate you. There are a lot of elements involved in the editing process, but if you focus on the six items above during your self-editing process you will save a lot of time and money when you do finally work with a professional editor.
Question-What tips do you have for authors who want to self-edit their work?