When it comes to editing your manuscript, many authors get anxiety attacks, reach for that bottle of bourbon, have thoughts of self-destruction, or simply ignore the need to edit. After all, that’s what the publisher’s editor will do, right? Unfortunately, that escape gambit won’t work if you are thinking of self-publishing. Ah, the things I’ve seen! You might be one of those who grits his teeth and gamely ventures into the deeps. Some will come up gasping for air, thankful to have survived the experience; others will give a huge sigh of relief that it wasn’t so daunting, and of course, a few will never surface again. However, editing can be something like jumping into cold water. Sure, the initial shock can be less than amusing, but after a while, you start feeling good and enjoy it. And once you get really good at it, it can be a lot of fun—ignoring some of the frustrations along the way if you are a professional editor.
I’m not going to talk about grammar, sentence construction or story structuring here. I’ve got problems of my own. As authors, all of us have developed a comfortable writing style, or voice, but even reading your stuff aloud to trap the more obvious bloopers doesn’t identify glaringly bad writing habits. Some of the most popular sins are overusing a particular word, and ‘that’ often takes the prize. You can get stuck into using passive voice, get enchanted with your adjectives…lots of others. Then, of course, is my favorite: incorrect punctuation. You’d think writers would have gotten that part right by now.
Let’s get something straight. Every writer should do his utmost to become a proficient editor. It is simply another tool in a writing kit of a professional. There is no getting around it; editing is hard work, and after going over a manuscript for the tenth time, I can understand if you never want to read the damned thing again. There is something else everybody should understand: no matter how good you might be as an editor, when you’ve finished with the manuscript, do send it to a professional to at least proofread the thing. Why? As the creator of your novel, reading it, your brain will not be your friend. Your eyes might see a blooper, but your brain will try to rescue you, automatically substituting a correction. That’s why I tell people to leave a manuscript for a week or so after its finished, and come back to it with a fresh look. It works, too.
I know what you’re going to say. A professional editor costs a fortune and I cannot afford one. Yes, a good editor charges for his service, but believe me, it is worth the expense. Finding a good editor is another story, which I will not delve into here. Just one thing: buyer beware. Check the credentials of any editor before you sign up for a service. Still not convinced you need a professional editor? There is another avenue you can pursue—get yourself an editing tool.
What do these software wizards do? Check this out.
• Online grammar and spelling checker
• Improve readability
• Sentence variation
• Find overused words
• Clichés and Redundancies
• Improve dull paragraph structure
• Find repeated words and phrases
• Check for consistency of spelling, hyphenation, and capitalization
• Eliminate clichés and redundancies
• Eliminate vague, abstract, and complex words from your writing
• Analysis of sentiment, alliteration, and writing time-line
While writing, all of us growl sometimes when Microsoft Word—I don’t know what other word processors do—underlines a word or phrase, telling you that it’s not quite right. Mind you, it is not a bad grammar checker, but it is simplistic and dogmatic. An important thing to keep in mind when using Word: it is not an authority on the English language! Don’t get caught up in the mistaken belief that you have to do everything Word tells you. Having got that out of the way, an editing tool can be extremely valuable to writers, helping to polish your technique and giving you a heads-up at eliminating some bad habits. A word of caution if you are considering using such a tool: edit the manuscript yourself as you go, and edit it once you finish. I would only use an editing tool after I have finished a large block of writing. The reason should be obvious. If you rely exclusively on your editing tool, you will never learn to rely on your own skills as an editor. Moreover, like any tool, it is not perfect. As the author, you must be the final authority how your manuscript reads.
There are a few editing wizards on the market, some are free, some not. Then again, nothing is free. All offer an online service where you upload a block of text and you get a critique on the screen. You might be wary uploading your manuscript, fearing the material might be stolen. It is a legitimate issue, but I wouldn’t worry too much about that. With the good tools, you must purchase the software in order to get all the benefits, which is fair enough. The two I looked at, AutoCrit and Pro Writing Aid, are very good and reasonably priced. Both have a facility to upload a sample document, giving you an opportunity to evaluate before you buy.
Remember, a manuscript is never fully edited, but you must learn to close it sometime and move on.