I have good news for you—two bits of it, even!
- You can save money by doing a bit of editing yourself.
- You do not have to spend time cleaning up the formatting.
Follow the process below, and you’ll have a better grasp of your own work and save a bit on editing. Plus, you’ll probably spot some problems that had eluded you before.
What I want you to tell me about your work
Save a new document called Style Sheet for [name of work]. On it, tell me this:
- dictionary you prefer, or at least whether to use Canadian, US, or UK spelling
- style guide you prefer, or at least the intended market such as trade, news, academic journal, or website
- preferred spellings of any words, especially if you made them up (like hullova)
- abbreviations and acronyms used, and what they mean when spelled out fully
- names of all people and places in the piece, make sure they are spelled the way you want
- relationships among characters, such who is the dad and who he was married to first
- important attributes of characters, such as eye colour (if it comes up) and any other important details (such as “colour blind”)
- timeline, list pertinent events and dates in order
- map of place if fictitious
What I want you to do to your manuscript
Grab the checklist below and give your manuscript a once-over. I will still check these things during a copy edit, but the cleaner the manuscript is, the less it costs to edit. Time is money after all.
- Run Spellcheck. Be sure to pick your language preference, such as US, UK, or Canadian English.
- Check each occurrence of words that are commonly confused. There’s a long list of these in the Chicago Manual of Style. Include the most popular ones too: your/you’re and their/they’re/there.
- Look for every “turn of phrase” that you have used, and Google it to check whether you got it right. That means looking for websites that explain “the difference between tongue-in-cheek and tongue-and-cheek”, for example.
- Read out every contraction in full. This will help you know whether you got it right. That means, for example, read every single “it’s” as “it is” and read “you’re” as “you are.”
- Identify the most challenging sentence on each page and try to simplify it. Challenging might mean it has difficult words, the most words, or the most commas, for example.
- Look at the manuscript in “document outline” and read just the headings and the first line of each paragraph. If the content doesn’t flow, tweak it. If the main points are not there, rearrange each paragraph so that the point (the thesis statement) starts each one. (Some variety is ok.)
- Search for every instance of “to be” and eliminate as many as you can, to liven up the prose.
- You can even follow these steps to tighten up your prose. They’re some of the editor’s tricks.
Why you still need an editor after all this
Seeing your manuscript with fresh eyes is one big benefit of hiring an editor. You can also try the tips in this other post for tricking your eyes into seeing the manuscript in a new way.
If you just can’t face your manuscript again, let your editor do these checks. That’s just fine.
Why I want you to ignore formatting
It takes me seconds to clean up the formatting. I want you to save your energy for content decisions and other creative bits that I can’t do.
Other editors keep putting out lists of things you should clean up, like double spaces and other picky shit. Really?! The editor or formatter is the formatting specialist. They know all the shortcuts and efficiencies to do this in no time flat.
Seriously, I can accomplish the typical list of fixes by pressing two keys, once. This is not something even worth explaining how to do. Just let me do it for you. It won’t cost a dime. And I’ll do it exactly the way I like it. I mean, “how the publisher wants it.”