After completing the first draft of a manuscript, an author should self-edit the manuscript at least twice in order to ensure that each scene is described the way the author was intending, and to review for grammar, typos, and formatting issues.
Tip: After completing the first draft of a manuscript, most authors set aside the manuscript for about a month before starting the editing process. It gives the author fresh editing eyes.
1.2 Beta Readers
After self-editing a manuscript, most authors have a trusted circle of beta readers who read the manuscript and point out: 1) grammatical mistakes and typos, and/or 2) problems with the manuscript, such as inconsistencies or plot issues. Authors should ask beta readers to use revision markup so the author can follow all the changes and decide whether or not to accept or reject them.
Most beta readers are trusted family members or friends or authors of a common writing circle. They will normally read a manuscript for FREE (or maybe in exchange for dinner or a favor).
1.3 Professional Copyeditor
Whether an author is going to pursue finding an agent, submitting directly to publishers, or publishing independently, a professional editor can be invaluable.
When looking for an agent, authors must submit query letters with sample chapters. There are many reasons an agent may not be interested in a manuscript and many of those issues are out of the author’s control (such as, the agent is currently representing a similar book and therefore won’t represent a second such book). However, one thing that is in the author’s control is whether or not that author has honed his or her skills as a writer and has presented the best version of the manuscript. This is where a professional copyeditor is helpful. A copyeditor will review not only for grammar, but will offer suggestions on how to improve writing (such as being concise, descriptive, active, etc.), point out inconsistencies and plot issues, and explain why. To be clear, if an author is only interested in grammar feedback, then hire a proofreader, not a copyeditor.
An author should contact a copyeditor after the manuscript is completely written. If an author wants to be considered a professional, he or she should only book the editor’s time once the author knows he or she can meet that deadline and has the funds to pay the editor. This may sound snarky, but if an editor has reserved time for one author, that means the editor is not accepting work from other authors—that could mean rent for that month if an author doesn’t submit a manuscript on time or make a timely payment! (Same applies for other vendors used when self-publishing.)
How JMW Can Help: JMW offers copyediting services. Request a quote and sample edit by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the first five pages of the manuscript in MS Word format and provide the word count of the entire manuscript. The fee is based on the amount of editing required and the length of the manuscript.
1.4 Finalizing Manuscript
After a manuscript is edited (by beta readers and/or professional editors), it is ultimately the author’s responsibility to ensure that all typos are corrected and grammar/plot issues addressed. Not even a group of people will spot every last typo or grammar mistake, but hopefully most can be spotted and addressed.
After accepting and rejecting changes by beta readers and editors, an author should carefully read through the manuscript a few more times to spot any remaining typos and grammar mistakes.
Tip: Change the font of the manuscript; this can help your eyes spot new issues. For example, a lower case “L” and the number 1 can look alike in one font, but different in another.
Ask other authors what tips and tricks they find helpful. Do they read it backward, paragraph by paragraph? Do they print it out for the final proof?