Every writer needs an editor. That is a fact and not open to discussion. But what sometimes gets lost in the desire to get published is the need for pre-editing or what I refer to as “The Home Edit”. When you complete a manuscript and you’ve typed in the very last word, you should absolutely sit back and savor the moment. You’ve done it. You’ve written a book. Then, after a brief celebration, put the champagne away and make a plan. Because as with most things, the end is really only the beginning.
The Home Edit is the process of transforming your first draft (don’t kid yourself – it’s only the first draft) into the best it can be. After all, most books go through several drafts before readers ever lay eyes on them! If you plan to pursue traditional publishing, your goal with The Home Edit is to get your manuscript ready to send to agents and/or publishers. However, if you are self-publishing, this is the first step in editing. Your goal is to get your manuscript “ready” to be reviewed and fine-tuned by a professional editor. Why do you need this? Because even the best-selling authors on the NYT bestseller list use an editor. Not some of the time or just when they need a little help. Always.
There is no single way to complete The Home Edit. There are multiple methods and strategies and all have merit. Use all or any combination of them to polish your manuscript and make it shine. (Note: most of these have been recommended to me at various stages by published authors I admire.)
- Take your newly completed manuscript and put it away! Don’t worry. It’s just for a short time so you can come back to it later with fresh eyes. (Note: an author once told me she put her manuscript away for 3 years and then worked on other projects. I don’t recommend this but the ending worked out for her with a publishing contract)
- Reread the manuscript in its entirety for inconsistencies in timelines, characterizations, and plot lines. Did you leave any loose endings? Does Sally have blue eyes in chapter 3 and green eyes in chapter 12? Is your pacing consistent?
- Always, always, always check for spelling and grammar errors. Agents who find multiple errors will not consider the work and immediately toss it in the slushpile. As for self-published novels riddled with typos and punctuation errors, they look like what they are – amateur. Don’t trust the spell and grammar functions as your only source of corrections here!
- Read the book out loud. How does it sound? (This is my favorite method. I don’t know why this seems to work but it does.)
- Let your writing/critique group read the completed novel. Even if you’ve already incorporated their comments on a chapter-by-chapter basis, the finished novel may be different.
- If you are ready for constructive criticism and your book club is willing, let them review your draft. My own book club read an early draft of my novel and gave me great feedback.
- Make the changes and put it away again. Then read again. Revise again.
Hooray! You’ve completed a Home Edit. If it wasn’t a long and painful process, either you weren’t doing it right or you’re a natural born editor. Now, on to the next step.
So, what’s the best editing advice you’ve ever received? What methods of The Home Edit work for you?