For the first post in the series on self-editing, click here.
For the second post in the series on self-editing, click here.
For the fourth post in the series on self-editing, click here.
For the fifth post in the series on self-editing, click here.
Every author needs an editor.
But that’s not an excuse to throw a manuscript at an editor without first taking the time to go over it yourself with a fine-tooth comb.
When you’ve read your piece what feels like a million times, and you swear that it’s ready…
read it one more time.
And then read it again. If you’ve done a final read-through for technical issues, then do this last one for contextual issues, and vice versa.
There are many reasons for doing a last read-through of your article or manuscript before submitting it to an editor. And yes, I do mean even after you’ve read it six or seven times. We’re going to explore them in this post.
Submitting to a paid editor
Once you’ve done your final read-through(s), you are ready to send your piece or manuscript to an editor for editing.
A paid editor is your first stop after you write “Final” on your work. He or she will fix up your prose, making it tighter and more readable – and giving it a better chance of being read by an audience and/or accepted for publication.
Why you need an editor even if you did a final read-through
You need an editor because you must always have a second pair of eyes on your manuscript. You are much too close to it to see all the issues.
Some editors will fix up technical issues such as spelling and grammar, and some will do more of a conceptual edit. Some will do both, but they’ll probably have to go over your piece twice. We usually label those who work on technical issues “copy editors,” but don’t get hung up on titles. For argument’s sake, however, think of the difference between a copy editor and an editor as like the difference between a math major and an English major. It’s two different types of brain power, and not every editor can do both.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your sister’s mother-in-law’s upstairs neighbor’s cousin can “edit” your manuscript because she studied English in college, or because she edited the school newspaper when she was in the 12th grade.“Qualifications” such as these do not an editor make.
On the other hand, one doesn’t need to have been an English major in order to be a good editor; it’s a combination of skill and gift. But one does have to be a professional editor. I happen to have been an English major, but I am definitely an exception to the rule. Some of the best editors I know majored in semiotics, linguistics, math, accounting, international relations, actuarial science, European history, and law.
Why you need to reread your work before you send it to your editor
- It’ll be cheaper. If your editor has to do your dirty work, such as making sure all commas are inside the quotation marks or checking spelling consistency (biblical or Biblical? Marc or Mark?), you are wasting their time and taking their attention away from big-picture questions like, “Does this sentence make sense?”
- Your editor will be able to spend more time on the content. Money aside, grammar and spelling mistakes fill up an editor’s head space. If you want someone to correct these more “technical” issues, then hire a copy editor in addition to an editor.
- You will find new mistakes. Believe me, there will always be a super-embarrassing gaffe for you to find during the last read-through, and now is your time to catch and fix it.
I must admit, I originally wasn’t going to include #3 in my list, as I was concerned it would only generate the ODD in all of us. So listen up: There comes a time when you need to let go of your manuscript. You will always find new mistakes and you can always think of a new way to say something, but you must know when to stop, click Save, and write Final on your document.
Submitting to a publisher
If you are submitting a manuscript or article to a publisher, there are a few other reasons to give your piece a final read-through besides finding that one doozy of a mistake:
- You will definitely have a better chance of your work being accepted if all the t‘s are crossed and all the i‘s are dotted. As I’ve said before on this blog, unless you’re J. K. Rowling – or even Daniel Silva – acquisition editors will not tolerate a manuscript or article with technical mistakes. Think of it from the editor’s point of view: poorly edited and typo-ridden manuscripts feels to an editor like the author simply couldn’t be bothered (or worse, doesn’t know how to write). So why should the editor bother publishing it?
When I did acquisitions at a publishing house, I also rejected books where it was clear the author never went over his or her book more than once or twice. Some didn’t take the time to get rid of spelling or punctuation mistakes – or even to make sure each sentence ended with a period, question mark, or exclamation point. And don’t get me started on their cover letters.
2. An editor receives too many submissions to bother with something that makes no sense. Or is unrealistic. Or unclear. After you have read your piece one last time for technical mistakes, read it one last time for clarity: Does it say what it’s supposed to say? If it’s fiction, are the characters well-drawn and is the story consistent and believable? Is the dialogue true-to-life? If it’s nonfiction, is your thesis well-set out and provable? Does it hold your interest? Read things aloud if you have to.
If all else fails…
While I am a strong advocate for an author’s attention to detail, I do understand that some of you are more “forest” than “tree” types, and checking punctuation, grammar, etc. isn’t your thing. Here are three suggestions:
- Make it your thing, at least for the time it takes you to go over your work.
- Spend money on a copy editor to do all the dirty work for you.
- Learn the rules of grammar, spelling, and punctuation. Bulletproof Writing has lots of helpful and fun grammar posts for you!
Sorry for nagging, guys, but this was important. There’s nothing like a final read-through (or two) AFTER you’ve self-edited according to the guidelines I set out in my first two self-editing posts – which you can read here and here.
Yes, it’s a pain in the neck, but it’ll be worth it when you receive your acceptance letter and a bunch of praise about your writing ability.
Are there any other points to look out for, either during the final read-through or while you’re editing your own work? Let me know in the Comments. And, as always,
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