While it’s true that a manuscript can be edited to death, as so eloquently detailed in Gail Carson Levine’s article there are many writers with the opposite problem. This is especially true of new authors who choose not to pursue a traditional publishing strategy.
When I first jumped into the amazing world of ebooks and perfect bound print, I assumed that editors were plentiful and that I would find one that would fit my needs. We’d get along like peas in a pod, become best friends, or at the very least we would send each other birthday and Christmas cards. If only it were that simple. Rather, my eyes were opened so abruptly that sometimes, I think I’m still seeing double. My disillusioned world did not last long, and when it came to an end I suddenly realized that the content of my book had been erroneously misrepresented because I thought I could pay someone to find my typos. Out of my confusion came a whole new approach to print. I had to take charge. I couldn’t let anyone figure out when my manuscript was ready for publication except for me. I had to do it myself. And that’s when things started to get a whole lot better.
You may notice some repetition in the outline below. Don’t adjust your screen or start sending me emails about how I’m off my rocker. The repetition is there for a reason. Most new authors jump into this piranha pool the same way I did, thinking that they will find an editor to fix everything. If that’s what you’re thinking, think again, because unless you already have a book deal and are working under a big publishing house, you’re going to be in for a shock.
Here is what I suggest and currently use as my model for preparing a manuscript without the help of a spendy editor:
1. Read and correct your manuscript until it you think it can’t possibly get any better.
2. Find a book club(s) where the members do not know you, and ask them to do a content edit of your manuscript. I prefer to use people out of state so that my readers will feel comfortable criticising the content (storyline) comfortably. You may want to prepare a questionare to accompany the manuscript. I have found it useful to have readers fill these out in private so that they don’t taint one another’s opinions. Be sure to keep the questions open ended so that people can give maximum feedback. I also usually throw in a few very specific questions based upon concerns that I have. Make sure to use people that are not prejudice in your favor. The whole point is to find out if your story is any good. If you use your friends and family, what are they supposed to do if they hate your book? It’s just too awkward to be honest under those circumstances, and that’s what you need: honest feedback, whether it is good or bad.
3. Take the content edit comments seriously, but take them with a grain of salt. Some of the comments will be very good, meaning the point is valid, and some won’t. If you hear the same thing over and over, you know you need to address the issue. This is where you have to be objective and put the story above yourself. Pride is not your friend in this phase. If you are not sure, use another group. Use as many content readers as you need.
4. Review the manuscript again. Rewrite and correct.
5. After you have finished the content editing phase, and after you have corrected again, ask family and friends to proofread your work. Make sure to use people that aren’t interesting in rewriting the entire book. Use people that you can trust. Use as many people as you can! In my experience, you can’t get enough people to look at the manuscript. The more eyes searching for errors, the better.
6. After this, proofread the manuscript again yourself. Rewrite. Correct, correct, correct. Proofreaders will not catch everything. Most peopled lose their editing skills once they get into a story, so don’t be surprised when your Great Aunt Helda, who holds a Masters Degree in English, misses something. That’s why you want multiple proofreaders, especially those who are willing to read it twice.
7. Some new writers think that all of this rewriting and rereading is not their job. It is. It is 100% their job. Even those who are going the traditional route have to do this. There is no other way. So, step number seven is, read it again, ten million times. Read it again, and again, and again.
8. Now that your manuscript is as good as you can get it, it’s time to publish in ebook format. But, don’t put your computer away quite yet. Look for corrections that may come from your readers. Take advantage of the ease of updating your manuscript through kindle/nook before pursing a paper copy of your book.
9. Finally, your manuscript is pristine and beautiful, so perfect that you are practically glowing. The time has finally come to publish into print. Hooray! When that first book comes hot off the press delivered to your door, remember to smile! Congratulations! If you haven’t started marketing yet, it’s time to get cracking.