The Dreaded Red Pen
Let’s back up a step. We’ve talked about building your brand, we’ve covered marketing. We should take a moment to discuss, uhm, well…the elephant in the room.
Editing is critical to your work. You may think you’ve got a solid manuscript with no mistakes. You’ve run a spell checker, right? Looked over the grammar? Read it eleventy-billion times and there can’t possibly be an error left in any shadowy sentence corners. You are good to go.
Nope. You’re not. There are a couple of reasons for this, but let’s start with author bias. You know every word and what should be where. You dream this book. And that’s exactly why you’re a terrible person to say it’s done.
You see what you want to see. You’ll glide over homophones, even though you know that know should be no. You’ll ignore now when it should be know, because you’re seeing most of the letters and the brain says, “Eh. Good enough.” You’ll read too fast and realize forgot a word in a sentence (did you catch it?). All of that will get past a spell checker, and a grammar filter might catch the last, but probably not the others.
There’s some witty saying (isn’t there always?) about the best way to find all the errors in your work: Publish it.
But you can avoid a true mess with some ease. The first path is to hire an editor. But wait! you cry, I am but a poor author, huddled over a single candle in a drafty Victorian office!
Fair enough. Tuck your thin wool cloak in tight and listen up.
Hiring a good editor, with decades of knowledge, is going to run you a significant penny. And it should. Hiring someone newer to the field will save you coin, and we all have to start somewhere. It’s kind of like going to a stylist’s college to get your hair cut. Is it going to be perfect? Maybe. Could be glorious! Could be a little rougher around the edges. Either way, you’re better off and more presentable than when you started.
You can preemptively cut some cost by doing some of the work yourself. But wait! you cry, I have already perused my work from every angle! That’s why I’m here!
Okay, sure. But did you look for spelling and commas only? What about echo words—those pesky words you use more than once in a small space because that’s a cool word and it looks good? How about filler words? Stuff like just, had, and that? Have you read your work out loud to find words you completely missed? Did you notice I’ve repeated suggestions I made earlier in this article? No? You may not see it in your manuscript, either.
Run through your tale with a different eye and voice. If you can get some of the overhead cleanup out of the way, a professional editor is going to spin fewer cycles going after the other pests and cost you fewer pennies.
But wait! you cry (again with this?), I have no pennies at all! Did you not hear me bemoan my single candle?
Doing it yourself isn’t a kiss of death. You don’t have to hire anyone. You know words; you know grammar. You can do this. If you take this route, though, do yourself a favor and ask people you trust to read it. Tell them what you’re specifically after. Ask them to look for the things mentioned here and anything that feels off. And don’t get mad at them when they tell you.
This is a broad, simplistic look at editing. There are massive books dedicated to all the ways getting it perfect can make you sob, and entire certification courses on the books themselves. The Chicago Manual of Style (CMoS) is one of the standard guides for all things editable—and arguably the most used. Merriam-Webster is the industry standard for spelling (especially if you’re using CMoS and American English (AmE) spelling). ProWritingAid will gleefully point out some errors and offer suggestions. Grammarly will do the same, but in a less robust fashion. With those last two, you still need to know when they’re right and when they’re wrong, so if you follow verbatim, expect some adjustments by the editor where your story is placed. There are a veritable ton of courses, websites, and books to help you hone your editing skills.
Hiring a pro, or glaring ferociously at your manuscript…it’s a decision you have to make based on your needs and resources. But decide you must. This isn’t something you can skip. Yes, I’ve seen authors do it. That pretentious writer who swears every word they scrawl, hunched over their Much Better Candle, is perfect and they won’t have anyone sully their masterpiece.
You won’t see them on a bestseller list.
And now, this is off to an editor.