Many publishing professionals will tell a self-publishing author that, despite the high cost of hiring a professional freelance editor ($50/hour and up), he or she can’t NOT afford an editor. A poorly edited book will look unprofessional and amateurish. What’s the point of spending thousands of dollars on printing costs if the finished product is going to look like crap?
I ignored this advice and decided to edit my collection of short stories, The Prescribed Burn, myself, not only because I can’t afford an editor – I’d rather dedicate my budget to production costs – but also because I don’t trust many readers. Some friends and family members have read the manuscript and have made suggestions, but no one has read it critically, red pen in hand, scribbling notes in the margins and helping me shape my work.
Was not hiring an editor a foolish decision? I have yet to find out. However, I’m very confident in my editorial skills and my eye for detail. With more and more writers self-publishing these days, fewer of them have access to editorial assistance. Not everyone should attempt to edit their own work, especially if time is an issue, but I believe many writers are perfectly capable of editing. Here are five tips for editing when you can’t afford an editor:
1. Read your work aloud. Or, ask a willing friend to read it to you. In the past, I’ve used free voice recording software like Audacity to record myself reading my manuscript. Later, I’ll listen to the recording with either a notebook or a printed copy of my manuscript in hand, noting moments when the sentence structure seems awkward or when I start getting bored. If my mind’s wandering, that means the writing isn’t engaging enough.
2. Between reads, take a few weeks – or months, if you can afford it – away from the manuscript. Editors are great when you don’t have time to step away from your work and gain some perspective. As someone who’s never read your manuscript, an editor can approach your work with a fresh eye. If you have the time and aren’t in any rush to publish, set aside the manuscript for at least two weeks and work on other projects. Don’t even let yourself think about the manuscript until you pick it up again.
3. Make a style guide for yourself. The problem I most often encounter, especially when I’m working with a book-length manuscript, is that I forget conventions: spelling a number rather than just typing a number or using an Oxford comma. Regardless of the stylistic choices you make, you need to be consistent because a careful reader will notice. You may want to make a style guide – a document saved on your computer’s desktop – that lists all your stylistic choices so that you can refer back to them when in doubt.
4. Pay special attention to beginnings and endings. Beginnings are your chance to capture the reader’s attention. If your manuscript lacks a strong beginning, then the rest of it won’t matter because the reader will stop reading. Make sure the beginning is as perfect as you can make it. Finally, focus on crafting a powerful ending. If your ending is hurried or poorly constructed, nothing you wrote before the ending will matter to the reader. He or she will simply be disappointed.
5. Dedicate time for marathon readings. If you have the time and energy, try to read your complete manuscript in one sitting. This activity will be exhausting and probably require a significant portion of your day. Make sure you have snacks on hand! However, I think it’s important to do at least one or two marathon readings to make sure you’re not missing any issues of consistency and continuity. Also, note any moments when you become really tired or bored. These emotions can be clues to problems in your writing.
(Photo by TheCreativePenn)