Here is a list of the top 10 tips for editing your book, once you have completed the first draft:
- Run the manuscript through your computer's spell check and grammar check. Use spell and grammar check, but DO NOT RELY ON THEM to catch everything. That is NOT the end of your editing. It's only the beginning.
- Read your work and edit it, chapter by chapter. Start from the beginning and edit each chapter, looking for issues with plot, characters, continuity, typos, grammar and more. This is your first main edit.
- Do a synonym check. Go through the manuscript and look for synonym errors (too/two/to, your/you’re, their/there/they're, rode/road, where/wear, its/it's, etc). If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can use the Find button to help you search for these terms. As you come across synonym errors, make a list for future use of the ones that seem to catch you up most frequently.
- Do a tense check. What tense are you writing in? No matter what tense you use, make sure it's consistent throughout the book. “Look especially for tense errors in dialogue tags,” I said. “I will,” she says.
- Do a ‘was--ing’ check. 'She was walking down the road...' should be changed to 'She walked down the road...' or 'She strode down the road...' We want the action NOW. There are some exceptions. If something else happens as a result, then you can use ‘was--ing’, such as in ‘She was walking down the road when a car appeared out of nowhere, heading straight for her.’
- Format your manuscript like a published book. Copy your file and title it "final edit". Format it so it looks like a book you'd find in a bookstore, one of similar genre. Single spaced. Sized according to trade paperback (5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9). 1/4 to 1/2 inch margins. Then print it out. Seeing your work resemble an actual book is the first stage of your final edits. You need to see how it physically looks. After you’ve completed ALL editing, you can reformat the layout and size.
- Look at the whitespace/text ratio on the printed copy. Whitespace is where the reader's eyes take a quick break, where they absorb what they've read. Our eyes instinctively search out whitespace. Being able to recognize a good balance is almost an art form. When in doubt, find a book you really enjoyed reading and examine the balance. You want a flowing mix of both whitespace and dark text. Too much whitespace on a page means too much dialogue or one-liners and not enough "meat" or description or information. Too much dark text means many readers will start skimming. Paragraphs should be broken into manageable chunks. Keep individual paragraphs to less than 1/3 of a book page and make them random in length.
- Mix up the chapters and edit again. Take out individual chapters at random and edit them without the benefit of the preceding or following chapters. This helps you focus on the actual writing. You can also pull random pages and edit them out of order. This gives you a bit of a break from the story, so you can focus on technical issues.
- Read your book aloud. Reading your work aloud, chapter by chapter, helps you focus on the rhythm of your words, not just the words themselves. Think of it like music. A well written book has a natural flow. If you find yourself hesitating, that usually is an indication of a problem area. Mark it with a highlighted dot so you can return to it after you've read the entire chapter. Edit all highlighted areas, then review it (aloud or silently) again.
- Find at least 2 editors who know HOW to edit and 2 readers to evaluate your work from a reader’s perspective. Have the editors edit your work, preferably people who know HOW to edit. Professional editors and English teachers/professors/majors are your best choice. Once they’ve gone through your book, really weigh their suggestions. If what they say improves the book, make the changes. The trick is to be able to remove yourself from the personal attachment of your work so you can recognize when someone else’s suggestions will make it better. Sometimes you’ll need to think on their feedback for a day. Once they’ve given you their feedback, make changes and go through the manuscript one final time.
If you’ve done all of the above, your work should be quite polished by this point. There are, of course, numerous things to watch for when editing a book, but this tip list will at least point you in the right direction and get you off to a good start. While editing is work, it can also be inspiring. This is the time when you see your work pulling together into a creation that will be more marketable and more acceptable. There are no shortcuts with editing. Not if you want a career in writing books. Happy editing!
Cheryl Kaye Tardif is a bestselling suspense author and book marketing coach living in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. She has been featured on TV, radio, in newspapers and magazines. Cheryl has presented at writers' conferences on the topics of book marketing. Her next release is Lancelot's Lady, her debut romantic suspense written under the pen name of Cherish D'Angelo. http://www.cherylktardif.com/