Having an edited, ready-for-publication manuscript is paramount when searching for a publisher or an agent. Some vanity publishers—like EMSA Publishing—will provide editing in exchange for a percentage of the royalties. Others will provide you with a list of approved editors and ask you to pay from your own pocket for their services. Similarly, when self-publishing, the onus is on you to self-edit and/or hire an editor to get your manuscript up to standards.
In today’s economy, hiring an editor isn’t financially feasible for most of us. Authors are forced to become jacks-of-all-trades as a result, writing, publishing, advertising and editing on their own. Out of that array, editing is perhaps the most difficult to master, especially when it’s on your own manuscript.
Two reasons why self-editing is hard
Reason One – lack of education
Whether your highest level of education is a high school diploma or graduate degree, chances are you were never formally taught grammar in school. This is especially true if only a decade or so has passed since your graduation. I remember, in middle school, having to parse sentences to pick out the subject, object, predicate, etc. I was never very good at it because I was never formally taught any of the rules. My knowledge of grammar is more intuitive than practical—if it sounds good, it’s probably grammatically correct. When in doubt, I can always look it up online, a luxury I didn’t have in middle school.
Reason Two – it’s not how our brains work
As a writer, you’re too close to your work. Nick Stockton’s article, What’s Up With That: Why It’s So Hard to Catch Your Own Typos, says writing is a critical thinking task. When you challenge you brain with higher-level thinking, it tends to generalize. You remember where you wanted to take the story and your brain fills in the blanks, glossing over the errors. It’s hard to edit your own work, not because you can’t or don’t know how to fix the issues, but rather, because you know what should be on the page so well that your brain doesn’t realize it’s not there.
Even with the cards seemingly stacked against you, there are still techniques you can use to help with this aspect of the publication process.
Five Ways You Can Make Self-Editing Easier
- Give yourself some wait time.
Put your work away for a day, a week, or a month. If you give your brain time to forget what you’ve written and come at it with fresh eyes, it might help to find issues you missed before.
- Read your work aloud.
Sometimes hearing your work will help you to find grammatical problems. When you read, don’t just vocalize your words. Read slowly and really try to listen to what you are saying.
- Pay attention to spell- and grammar-check, but be skeptical.
Sometimes, spell- and grammar-check marks correctly spelled words and stylistic sentences as incorrect. While that doesn’t mean it is an actual error, it is worth checking it out. Check online against the rules when in doubt.
- Use online applications to help with the process.
Websites like PaperRater that have built-in grammar and style checks can be useful, but take all suggestions with a grain of salt. I particularly like the HemingwayApp site which marks difficult words and sentences, and highlights phrases in passive voice. HemingwayApp will also categorize your reading level for difficulty, which can be helpful to for authors writing for children and teens.
- Read your work from the bottom up.
Fool your brain by reading your work backwards, sentence by sentence. This can help you find sentences that don’t make sense, or those with errors in grammar, even though it’s a really awkward way to review your work.
Do you have any other suggestions or sites that will help with the editing process? If so, please share them in the comments below.