Despite each emerging author’s initial confidence in their ability to proofread and/ or edit their own work, there comes a time when the truth stares starkly back at them from their own pages, and it’s more than likely not the pretty sight they had envisaged.
As an author, you might be re-reading a paragraph down the line that you believed to be perfect and find it, literally, unreadable. If you are one of the lucky ones — to get the manuscript picked up by an agent or publisher–you will be fortunate enough to get your work polished by professional copy writers and editors. Nevertheless, the less presentable your book is, the less chance you will have of getting it through the tight doors of international publishing. It’s a catch twenty two situation, really, you need your book to be ‘discovered’ in order to benefit from professional services, but you are unlikely to get it ‘picked up’ unless you do a good job of imitating those services before you send it to the publishing fraternity. Furthermore, most authors do not have deep enough pockets before they hook-up with an agent or publisher to afford the top notch service providers of the literary world, many of whom charge by the word and will not guarantee a perfect product if engaged freelance–due, they say, to the nature of the craft.
So then what is the aspiring writer to do?
Here are a few tips and tricks each author could employ to improve their raw manuscript.
- Let it Rest- Put the manuscript down, leave it untouched for a couple of days then re-read it, you will be surprised at the benefit a little distance can bring to the desk.
- Involve your trusted family members and your pals-Get your family and friends to read the book. Even unprofessional eyes can pick up errors, especially editing problems, such as discrepancies in plot sequences and traits assigned to characters. A good example is one I can take from my own novel. I had an evening scene in which one of my characters were injured and rushed to hospital. In the following chapter, obviously still in the evening, I described the sunlight dappling interesting patterns on the doctors face as he spoke to my character’s wife. I had written the second scene after a weeks break(not really an excuse, but it happens to every author, believe me!), my mom picked up the discrepancy (thankfully!). You will find yourself beholden to their fresh perspective. Also, you might find their honesty really helpful, few care as much as those closest to you so don’t skip this opportunity.
- Use a Spellchecker- This may seem obvious, but it can be time consuming and difficult to spell check a document as long as, say, 100 000 words. Check one chapter at a time, and be consistent about using American or British spelling.
- Use online proofing software programs- Although these tools rarely point out typos they can be invaluable for picking up grammatical errors such as ‘Passive Voice’, double negatives, incorrect punctuation and holes in the overall standard of writing. Some discover words that are repeated too frequently, and some offer improved sentence structure for you to accept or reject as you wish. Once again checking an entire manuscript can be an onerous task, but if done in batch form the end result is certainly an improved product. Paper Rater is a good online proofreading service and it’s free.
- Use your computer’s ‘text to speech’ program to listen to your book- This is simply the single most valuable thing you can do for your work. While listening, you will hear all the typos, typos that may be missed by even the most trained professional eye. It will also give you clues on improving your word flow, sentence structure and punctuation. I cannot stress the value of any tool more. You will be amazed at the number of errors you will hear, and the manner in which it will improve your work.
- Ask any professionals in the field to help you- Don’t be shy, if you still have contact will an ex-teacher or lecturer, ask for help! You might find yourself surprised by their encouragement and their respect at the fact that you actually completed a novel!
Hopefully these few pointers will assist. Good luck!