When I hear, “My manuscript has been edited!” I usually cringe. Nine out of ten times when I ask who it was that edited the manuscript the response is invariably: “My neighbor who is a retired schoolteacher.” or, “My sister who has an English degree.” and so on. That’s all well and fine, and I’m sure they are good people who have a solid grasp of the English language, but…
Editing is as much of an art as it is a science, and it is hard work. A professional editor does more than fix your commas. Depending on their skills they can proofread, develop, copyedit, and line edit the text into a spectacular masterpiece.
What’s the difference between proofreading and the other forms of editing?
A proofread is the most basic of editing functions. The spellchecker in Word, InDesign, or other word processors can catch the common misspellings, but it generally does not differentiate with correctly spelled words with different meanings. For instance, to and too, or your and you’re. I can’t tell how many times I’ve seen just those two examples alone used incorrectly.
A developmental editor will look for inconsistencies in character, plot, and storyline.
A copy editor makes sure the words flow and can be read without hesitation, and without distraction.
A line editor works each line for specifics on grammar and punctuation.
While these are extremely simplified definitions they do cover the basic ideas behind the step.
There are many things you can do yourself to get your manuscript to a fairly clean state. It may not be a substitute for a professional editor, but when counseling my clients I tell them to focus on only one thing at a time in a series of specific steps. Each step has to be done without considering anything else, from front to back each time. Does it take time? Yes it does. Would you rather pay $1500, or more, for someone else to do the same thing? Again, this is not a replacement for the help of a professional, but it will go a long way in really cleaning up the manuscript before someone else points out the errors you missed.
Step 1) Look for errors in spelling. Using the standard spellchecker for the initial pass is okay but will not necessarily pick all misspelled words or it may suggest improper words. Read the words, not the line, not the story. Read backwards if you have to, but focus only on the actual word. (Proofreading)
Step 2) Look for errors in punctuation. Look for double periods, improperly placed close quotes, missing quotes, commas that should be there and those that should not be. Also, double spaces and other things that can be found using the reveal codes function found in almost all programs. (Proofreading)
Step 3) Look for errors in grammar. You are a writer, you should have an understanding of basic grammar and sentence structure. Like the spell checker, a grammar checker can help but it is no substitute for knowing the basics. (Copyedit)
Step 4) Check for context. An outline or timeline can help to insure that the story progresses without any backtracks or confusing issues. Are the characters consistent in their ways, manners, and personalities? Is there a consistent flow or does it jump from 1st to 3rd person and back without warning or reason. On a sentence by sentence basis ask: Does it maintain continuity? Does it have meaning? Is it necessary? (Developmental edit)
Step 5) Check your content. Each sentence should make sense. While the words within may be spelled correctly and the proper punctuation is there and grammatically it is correct. Ask yourself: Does it make sense? Can it stand alone? (Line edit)
Each step has a reason and each should be done independent of the others. While friends and relatives can be a good resource, it’s rare that they have the skills and abilities to properly edit your manuscript. If you consider and take action on the steps above your text will be better prepared for publication. A professional editor is always the best choice, but if your finances are unable to consider the expense, take your time, do the work and make your manuscript the best it can be.
If you work on and edit your manuscript, it can also be the difference between being picked up by a publisher or not. When we see a lot of work to be done we may require a certain level of editing to be completed before we accept the manuscript to be published under the GDP imprint.
So whether you are looking to find a publisher or are looking to self-publish your work, remember the formula… Edit, Edit, Edit, Repeat.