Self-editing is important. With a cleaner manuscript, you’ll get better results from your beta readers. If you hire an editor —especially one who charges by the hour—you’ll save a little money. And even if you decide to pitch to an agent or self-publish without professional editorial services (though I can't recommended that!), your chance for success will improve.
Yet I’m often surprised how many authors skip the easiest, quickest, most elemental methods for self-editing. Here are seven:
1. Run a spell check. We all know spell checks don’t catch everything, but authors too often fail to run them. Words with several i’s seem particularly vulnerable, such as the words responsibility and eligibility. Why not let our computers catch what we might not see?
2. Replace two spaces between sentences with one. You might be old enough to have been taught to type in two spaces between sentences, but that’s old school. Modern typesetting does not require that much space. Use your search-and-replace function to change two spaces into one throughout your manuscript. Even if you know you habitually type in only one, sometimes a grouping of two sneaks in.
3. Check chapter number sequence. The best policy is to check chapter number sequence . . . again. You might be surprised to find you’ve skipped or repeated a number, maybe because of revisions. It happens!
4. Search for repeated words, especially “the the,” “and and,” and “to to.” Your spelling and grammar check may or may not pick up on repeated words, so a little extra effort can help. I've found the words most likely to be repeated are the three above. Give it a shot. It can’t hurt.
5. Search for a name you changed or the traditional spelling you elected not to use. Did you decide to call Violet another name? Daisy maybe? Search for Violet to make sure Daisy’s former name isn’t hiding in some literary corner. Is your heroine's name spelled Jeniffer? Search for Jennifer to ensure your brain didn't tell your fingers to go with the more traditional spelling once or twice.
6. Mind the squiggly lines. In Word, that squiggly line beneath a word really does mean the spelling or grammar could be wrong. When you see that line, right click on the “offending” word. The correct spelling (at least according to the Word dictionary) might show up. Oh! Left click on the correct spelling and it will pop right in. Of course, if you know the squiggly line is wrong, ignore it.
7. Repeat steps 1 through 6 for every draft. Once is not enough for these simple checks. Most novels are revised numerous times, which is what makes them so good! But even if you think you’ve revised very little in that final draft, you could easily have made an error one of these checks will catch.
Maybe you already faithfully walk through every step above. If so, great. If not, give them a whirl to see if you can catch errors . . . before someone else does! They really are quick and easy.
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