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About Writing Right: The Blog

Writer, Edit Thyself!

I was reading an article the other day about the importance of authors self-editing their work before sending it out for publication, and I ran into this gem: “An author [singular noun] should always aim to make their [plural pronoun] book the best it can be. Unless we [third person] are literary geniuses, you [second person] can’t get away from some element of human feedback.”

Is he kidding? Fortunately, he got one thing right. He nailed the importance of self-editing on the head! Unfortunately, he failed to heed his own advice.

This is a good example of how easy it is to miss little things in our work. Sometimes, authors believe that a publisher’s editors will clean up the book, so why spend any more time than necessary on that boring, unglamorous chore?

The answer: Because you’re a professional who wants a professional-looking product before it ever leaves your desk. Professional-looking products take time and energy to produce. Here are a few tips to help you self-edit your book.

Read through it several times. Don’t assume that one or two run-throughs on your monitor or (God forbid) cell phone will accomplish your goal. To “hear” your words more clearly, read them out loud. To “see” them better, read them after you’ve typed them out. Use a green marker for thoughts you need to come back to and a red one for corrections. Then go back and make your changes

Do it all again. Once you’ve done the best job you possible, put your manuscript aside for several days before going back to edit it again. You’ll be surprised at how putting a little “distance” between your editing passes will illuminate problems you had previously overlooked.

Use a spellcheck program. Spellcheckers aren’t foolproof, so don’t rely on them to give you a whistle-clean copy. But at least they can point out the more obvious errors. The most basic spellcheckers are those pre-packaged with word-processing programs, such as MS Word. Others, such as Grammarly and Hemingway, go into more detail. Both offer free and paid versions, and either one may be worth using if only for your peace of mind.

Share your work with others. True, the people in your writing group aren’t likely to be any more useful in providing skilled editing than anyone else at your writing level, but if the adage that two sets of eyes are better than one holds true, it can’t hurt to ask for help. In turn, you should volunteer to be that second set of eyes when your editors require help with their works.

Listen to someone else read your work. If you can’t find someone with enough free time on his hands to read for you, invest in a SAPI text-to-voice synthesizer from Cereproc and use it in combination with the free audio software, Balabolka, to create an mp3 file of any document you choose. Then sit back and listen to your masterpiece.

Hire a professional editor. When all else fails, you should consider hiring a professional editor or book doctor to help with formatting, editing, and even rewriting sections of your book if necessary. Just make sure before you spend big bucks to get a proven professional with a track record of creating publishable-quality books that you find the right person. Quality professional editing can cost anywhere from a thousand dollars well into five figures, depending upon the complexity of the job and the time required to complete it. If you’re serious about whipping your book into shape, hiring an outside pro with a fresh set of eyes could be the best investment you’ll ever make.

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