The last word of a manuscript stirs a number of emotions in an author ranging from pride in his/her accomplishment, relief that it’s finally finished, and gnawing angst that it may not be just right. And so it begins, tweaking and re-tweaking until the author no longer recognizes her own story, or until she has memorized it word for word and can no longer spot errors. The time has come to turn to a professional editor before submitting the work to an agent, a publisher, or uploading it on Amazon.
A professional editor will enthusiastically dedicate herself to polishing and fine-tuning a writer’s manuscript, but her skills will be of no use if she can’t make heads or tails of what she is reading. In editing, the primary goal is to maintain the author’s voice with every mark-up made. In order to ensure this happens, authors might consider the following:
1. Read the work out loud. During the rewriting, rereading, and the overall polishing stage of the first draft, it’s inevitable that an author will memorize the manuscript to the extent that he is not actually reading the words, causing him to miss mistakes. Hearing the work calls the author’s attention to mistakes missed by the eye.
2. Read the work backward. This method reinforces sight over memory.
3. Ask someone else to read over it. Turning to a friend or family member is usually the first instinct but probably not the best source for an honest assessment. Joining a writing community on a social media outlet can be very helpful, as these groups exchange works for proofing all of the time.
4. Take some time away from your manuscript. Start writing a new book, spend some time reading new authors, take an online course in creative writing, or just take that vacation you’ve been waiting for. When you pick the manuscript up again, you’ll be amazed at how differently you see it.
5. How long is your novel? Most of us have spent a lifetime being taught “Quality over quantity,” advice that certainly stands in writing with the caveat that the length of your manuscript matters. The publishing industry’s word count standards for various genres are significant because they form a framework for a well-scripted story with a concise plot. This link to Writer’s Digest provides a guide to a quantity that equates to quality in the publishing industry.
The above proofing measures will alleviate most concerns, but the perfectionist in every author will tempt them to tweak and rewrite even more. At that point, you’ll know it’s time to remove your fingers from the keyboard and submit your work to a professional editor whose main goal is to make sure your work is polished and publishable.