For 35 years, I have been an editor and proofreader. Yes, you read that right. Thirty-five years! I’ve edited everything from legal and medical reports to liner notes for CDs, press releases to websites, and Ph.D. theses to novels. And yes, I know that both PhD and Ph.D. are correct versions of the abbreviation for the Latin term Philosophiae doctor. I read every single day. Being a voracious reader has made me a better editor, so the first piece of advice I have for anyone who wants to write a book is, read a book.
Read a best-selling book in the genre in which you want to write and pay attention to the book’s structure, style, diction, tone, narrative voice, and the author’s use of punctuation. Take notes. Look up “How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline” or “writing an outline for a fiction book” on Google, read about that, and then write an outline for your book. Once you have created an outline, write the first draft of each chapter, paying attention to your narrative tense. Be consistent with it. If you’re recounting something that happened in the past, use the past tense. Think about who your audience is and write to them. Don’t use a flowery word when a simple one will do. These things alone will make your editor very happy and save you considerable expense.
However, before you submit your manuscript for editing, here are 20 self-editing tips that will save you a lot of money:
1. Answer the questions, “What do I want to offer the reader?” and “How can I stand out from the crowd?”
2. Consider who your book is for and create a target demographic audience for it.
3. Write for that target demographic. For example, if you’re writing for teens, know the authentic slang used by modern teenagers and make them believable. Interview them to get the right voice.
4. Research, research, research!
5. Decide whether you’re using American or British spelling and be consistent.
6. Create an outline for your book that organizes chapters with working titles, and then write out what you want to convey in that chapter on recipe cards that you keep at your computer. Refer to them to make sure you’re staying on point.
7. Write your first draft without worrying about it being perfect.
8. When you write your second draft, flesh out all the points you mean to cover to support what that chapter is offering the reader.
9. Stay true to your voice and ask yourself how you can make the book as interesting, informative, and insightful as possible to your readers.
10. When writing fiction, pay attention to character development, back story and character history, timeline, and a dramatic arc about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the book that then becomes resolved in the denouement.
11. Be mindful of changing the lengths of your sentences. Don’t list everything in a long sentence. Instead, break it up and highlight the most critical parts of the paragraph with a shorter sentence.
12. Don’t use the same word over and over within one paragraph. Instead, use a synonym finder to find different ways of describing the same thing, and be careful about being too repetitive.
13. Start a new paragraph if you completed a specific thought.
14. Pay attention to your diction. Diction is word choice or the style of speaking used by a writer, speaker, or character. The diction used when speaking or writing should match your purpose or audience.
15. Understand what syntax is. Syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. In this case, it would be the English language. Again, pay attention to word order.
16. Be concise. Express what needs saying without unnecessary words.
17. Make sure that you’ve covered your key points for each chapter.
18. Watch your punctuation. If you’re writing something in quotes and then adding a comma after it, the comma falls within the quotes. The same goes for a period if you’re ending a sentence while still within the quote. When you start a sentence and then add a quote within it, start the quote with a capital letter. Make sure that if you’re asking a question, you use a question mark. Sometimes it’s better to use a conjunction like and or but rather than a comma. Read the sentence back aloud and check its fluidity when in doubt.
19. Put your work through WORD’s Editor and Grammarly’s proofreading service before submitting it to your editor.
20. Above all, enjoy the topic you’re writing about and this process!
Don’t skip this self-editing process unless you want to go broke before selling a single book. I promise it will be worth your time.