How Edit Your Book Like a Pro
Before Submitting to an Editor or Publisher
It’s hard to know exactly how to edit your manuscript so editors and publishers take notice.
This article offers pro-editing tips and explains the value of investing time in editing on your own and through collaboration so you can produce a book that gets noticed. This post Identifies:
- Reasons your book might get rejected
- 4 ways to edit your book for success
- Specific editing tips to make your book marketable
Your Investment: Time and Heart
You have spent hours, months, maybe years working on completing your story. Regardless if you aim to publish or self-publish, it’s essential to edit your book so you look professional and get buy-in from readers and publishers. If you don’t, your work will be another click to something more enticing or a drop in the recycling bin.
Publishers and editors are taxed by time and financial limits. Readers have endless book choices in their favorite genre.
You need to be competitive to stand out to publishers and agents. Sadly, your advantage may not come from the uniqueness of your manuscript, but the time and effort you take to make your book marketable.
Errors ruin your chance to sell your book to readers. If you self-publish and manage to interest your reader beyond your cover, any mistakes in your description, samples, or reviews commenting on error mean your potential reader is going to move on. Fast.
Read on to learn why your book might be getting rejected, and how to edit your manuscript for success. Then stay tuned to learn the process of self-editing your novel.
Reasons Publishers might reject your book:
Editor Jerry Jenkins lists some of the following reasons why publishers reject your manuscript after two pages:
- Labor costs: it’s not worth it because there are so many errors.
- Characters: too many characters too quickly.
- Hook: where’s the hook? Have you grabbed the reader in a meaningful way?
- POV: do you understand point of view and employ it correctly or not?
- Setting & tone: are the setting and tone interesting?
- Direction: is there a definite sense of where the story is going? Meaningful direction?
- On-the-nose-writing: it mirrors real life, but does not advance the story? This includes dialogue.
- Verbosity: word distraction. Let the story show through and don’t distract the reader with flowery language.
Related Article: Top Ten Reasons Your Novel is Getting Rejected
Learn these rejection points and do your best to correct them before passing it over to others. Honestly, some of the things on the list are not easy for you to spot on your own. Even the best writers in the world use beta readers and editors to make sure they are hitting the mark.
Remember, you’re often too close to the material to truly offer an objective edit. You wrote it, so you probably feel it’s good enough. But as writers, it is not our opinion that sells books. You need to know what the audience thinks. Editors and beta readers can be extremely beneficial in giving you some direction about how others are responding to these important aspects of your book. They are a worthy financial and time investment.
Related Article: 7 Deadly Myths and 3 Inspired Truths About Book Editing
Why potential readers may reject your self-published book and tell their friends to do the same:
Errors and awkward writing weaken your chances of building readership. Titles, covers, keywords, and more are all things that impact your book being chosen or ignored by your target readers on amazon or other online platforms.
Potential readers are put off by errors and they may even bad-mouth your book. If you manage to entice readers to spend time exploring your description, reviews, or book sample you will lose them if there are errors. Not only are they not going to read your masterpiece, they may even tell their book buddies to stay away from your book. Yikes!
4 Things you can do to edit your book for success:
- Start learning to identify potential problems and compile examples of great writers who are strong at their craft, and refer to these when building character, dialogue, setting, tone, and POV etc.
- Edit your book using the editing tips below to the best of your ability before handing it over to others.
- Find a few good Beta Readers in your genre to give you impartial feedback.
- Hire a qualified and experienced editor to get your book up to professional industry standards. Below is a list of the best editors groups in the following countries:
- Canada: Editors Canada
- US: EfA and Independent Editors Group
- UK: SfEP
Related Article: How to Find and Work with Beta Readers to Improve your Book
Pro-Editing Tips to Make your Book More Marketable:
How to Self-Edit Your Book’s Ideas, Language, Punctuation & Structure: An overview
- Cliche Ideas - avoid tired situations - waking to an alarm clock; unexpected encounters with love interests, characters describing their looks in a full length mirror.
- Character log - create a log or chart describing the physical and personal descriptions of each character, including their motivation and back story. Refer to it to make sure you’re not contradicting or changing your characters as the novel progresses and their actions are plausible.
- Take a break - make sure you rest your manuscript for at least 2-6 weeks, so you can put a fresh pair of eyes on your work and strengthen your ideas and spot errors.
- Read your sentences out loud - pay special attention to any spots you are unsure of. You can use text to speech programs, or even the voice recorder on your phone to help the process.
- Hook - make sure you have a great idea for your hook with an intriguing first line to make your audience want to read on. Make sure the premise of your book begins with a “what if” question readers will be anxious to find the answer to.
- Setting: Ensure your setting is dynamic and evolving with sharp contrasts from one setting to the next. Settings should intersect with plot progression, impact the character, and have descriptions appealing to the five senses to bring it alive for the reader.
- Tone & Voice: look for places where tone (author’s attitude) or voice (character’s personality, speech and thought patterns) seem inconsistent and revise. Tension is the foundation of good tone and it comes alive with thoughtful descriptions. Look for chances to build unique observations, humour, and objective observations in your writing to enhance tone and voice.
- Word Cliches - we are all guilty of them because they come so naturally during a first draft. Hunt them down and reword anything that has an overused feel. Thoughtfully rewrite these sections in a more creative way.
- Uncertainty - if your gut makes you feel uncertain about a spelling, you are probably right. Take the time to look it up. Head to a dictionary to see if it is “a lot ” or “alot.” Track these Achilles words - words you commonly tend to spell wrong. Editors look up and record words they are uncertain about in a style guide. You should track yours too. Chances are they will come up repeatedly. It will save you time editing your work.
- Homonyms & Easily confused words - we may know the difference between “then” and “than” or “two, to, and too” or “deer and dear” but when we are writing the messy first draft it is easy for our brains to put the wrong spelling or word on the page. Be alert for these.
- Repetition - after you have rested your manuscript, look for repeated words in each paragraph or page. Mix them up and use a thesaurus to find an alternate word. dictionary.com is a fast way to look up alternate words.
- Avoid Verbosity - cut big words or flowery language. This is distracting to the reader. There is a trend towards people wanting their books to read like a movie. Make sure the story is evident and you are not distracting your audience with big words. Focus on strong verbs and nouns and use adjectives sparingly.
- Stage direction - avoid too much stage direction. We are supposed to show and not tell, but it is possible to show too much! Find a balance.
- Spellcheck - use spell check, but don’t rely on it. It has limits.
- Quotations - avoid putting quotations around words or phrases as a way of drawing attention to them. Favor italics or remove altogether.
- Exclamations - avoid exclamations in general--save them for when there is something especially important where the excitement over the situation is necessary to truly convey the emotion or situation being experienced by your characters.
- Proper Nouns - make sure you capitalize proper nouns. Proper nouns include specific names, people, or things. For example: Queen Elizabeth, Kraft Dinner, The National Gallery, instead of queen, noodles, and the gallery.
- CMOS - The Chicago Manual of Style is the go to stylebook for authors and editors. It is an essential reference to double check any grammar questions you are unsure of. CMOS online is a worthy investment because it speeds up the process.
- Commonly misspelled words - print off these frequently misspelled words and check they are spelled correctly in your manuscript.
- Editing Tools - Grammarly is a good first step as an editing tool to clean up your document. However, this tool has its limits. Hiring an editor is still valuable because they show you your strengths and weaknesses so you become a stronger writer.
- Sentence Length - keep sentences between 20-30 words generally. If you go to the review button in MS word, highlight and check sentence word count lengths. If the sentence is too long, break it up into two sentences.
- Pacing - be very careful not to use too many words to say something simple and not relevant to plot or character development. For example taking five pages to introduce your character. It is better to spend a few lines and then weave information naturally through dialogue as the book progresses.
- Formatting - aim to format correctly so you don’t look like an amateur. It is important to be in tune with industry standards. Use doc or docx; double space; black font, Times New Roman. Use page breaks between chapters; make sure your pages are numbered. Avoid widows and orphans: 1-3 sentences dangling at the top of a page.
- POV - maintain a single point of view for every scene. This means you tell the story from only one characters perspective for the entire scene, you don’t hop around telling the reader what other characters are thinking.
- Dominoes: a strong story is a series of cause and effect. In your rising action, your inciting incident should tip over the first domino over sparking a chain reaction for your character lasting until the climax is resolved.
- Balance: it is important to maintain balance in page numbers for your genre. Also make sure to consider balance of chapter length.
- Character Arc - your character should change in a significant way because of their experiences over the course of the plot. Explore K.M. Weiland’s Creating Character Arcs to learn more.
In the end, we need to be honest about the impact errors and mistakes can have on book sales and acquisition. Hopefully you have spotted some items on this list to help you edit your manuscript more successfully. Then, by involving beta-readers and editors you can bring your book to a place where it will stand out to industry stake-holders and readers on your genre.