Today, on Day 16 of National Nonfiction Writing Month, it’s time to talk about how to improve your manuscript once completed. No matter what you write, it’s important to know how to edit your own work, especially if you plan to freelance or to blog. There are many times when the only eyes that will see your work before you send it out are your own. Although the topic of this post, which I’ve written, is self-editing nonfiction books, all 13 tips I’ve provided can be applied to an essay, article, blog post, manifesto, or book proposal—anything you write.
Everyone, even a nonfiction editor such as myself, needs an editor, though. Keep that in mind, especially if you plan to self-publish a book. Don’t think these tips let you off the hook; you will need to hire a professional editor if you want your book to rise to the high standards readers expect and to succeed.
13 Lucky Ways to Self-Edit Your Nonfiction Book
By Nina Amir
Once you’ve finished the first draft of your book, or possibly the second or third draft, it’s time for the editing phase of book production. This is imperative if you plan to self-publish, but many authors choose to hire a professional editor even if they plan to traditionally publish. This helps ensure the end product is as high quality as possible.
Paying a professional editor may be one of the most expensive parts of producing a book, and you might need more than one type of editor. Therefore, it behooves you to do a good job of self-editing before you hand your manuscript over to someone else. This can save your editor (or editors) a lot of time and effort, which means you save money.
Here are 15 tips on how to self edit your work prior to sending it on to an editor—your own or the editor at a publishing house.
1. Walk away from your work for a few days—or, even better, for a few weeks.
When you get some distance from your book, you’ll find it easier when you return to see errors, redundancies, missing information, and things that simply don’t make sense. So, leave your manuscript alone for a while, and then try editing it again.
2. Speak your work.
When you read your work aloud, it sounds different—even than it sounded in your head as you wrote and revised. So read the whole manuscript aloud looking for errors and things to improve.
3. Reread your work from your readers’ point of view.
Your book must provide benefit to your reader and address their interests and concerns at all times. By rereading with their primary question—“What’s it in for me?”—in mind, you might find a number of ways to improve your manuscript.
4. Make sure all verbs are strong and active.
Use action verbs whenever possible. Also, double check that you have noun/verb agreement throughout.
5. Cut unnecessary words.
Eliminate all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. Let your nouns, verbs and dialogue, if you have used any, do the work. Try to tighten all your sentences. I’ve been known to cut the word-count of an article or blog post in half simply with this step, and the same methodology can be used to cut or simply improve a book manuscript.
6. Recheck all quotes and names.
Double-check all quotes against your interview transcriptions. Do the same for names, going to your sources’ websites whenever possible. If you feel uncomfortable about a quote in any way, or you think your source might not like the quote or how it has been used, ask them to approve it.
7. Make sure you retain point of view.
Check that you haven’t started with first-person and changed to third person along the way. Also, if you have referred to the reader as “you” and then switched to “he” or “she,” you will need to rewrite for consistency.
8. Check all punctuation and grammar.
Even if this is not your forte, go through the manuscript and look for punctuation and grammar errors. Get a good grammar book and use it to help you correct mistakes—or to find them.
9. Read backwards.
This can be hard and tedious, but you’d be surprised what you find if you read your whole manuscript in reverse.
10. Enlist readers.
Although not technically self-editing, you can ask others to read your manuscript for you or to read it aloud to you. This is a great way to catch some additional errors. You can also read it aloud to them.
11. Read from the hard copy.
We often end up proofreading our books on the computer screen. By switching to a hard copy—the printed version, your eye will see something totally different.
12. Read on the screen.
If you have been editing only on printed versions of your manuscript, try doing so on the computer screen. This can make a huge difference as well.
13. Read the “designed” book.
Produce a version of your book that looks like the final, designed book. You can do this by designing pages using Word or some other word-processing program (or use the Word templates offered by BookDesignTemplates.com—use NANO30 discount code to get 30% off this month). Then print out this version of the book. (You also can read it a second time on the screen.) When your manuscript looks like a real book, your eye once again will see different errors.
At this point, you are ready, to move on to a professional editor. You will definitely need a developmental editor and a line editor, who will check that your sentences are all strong and grammatically correct. In some cases, writers need copy editors or substantive editors. (Sometimes these editors are called different things. Here is a post that describes some of these editors and another post about how to work with an editor.) You will definitely need a proofreader when the editors have completed their jobs; this person catches any left over grammatical mistakes or typos.
About the Author
Nina Amir, the Inspiration to Creation Coach and author of How to Blog a Book and The Author Training Manual, transforms writers into authors. She inspires people from all walks of life to create books that positively impact readers and to develop careers as authors, achieve their goals, and fulfill their potential. A nonfiction developmental editor, proposal consultant, as well as a sought-after author coach, book coach, blog-to-book coach, and results coach, some of her clients have gone on to sell 300,000+ copies of their books and to land deals with major publishing houses. She writes four blogs, has self-published 12 books and is the founder of National Nonfiction Writing Month, aka the Write Nonfiction in November Challenge.
Photo courtesy of joebelanger | Stockfresh.com
D.G. Kaye says
Hi Nina! Happy to report I’ve done 12 of the 13, I didn’t read backwards 🙂
Nina Amir says
Good for you, D.G.! Reading backwards is a drag, but it’s amazing what you catch. I don’t do it unless I a really concerned…I’d rather hire a proofreader at that point!
Julie Luek says
Great tips and gratified to know I do many of these, although am always so slow to expose my writing to actual readers. (yikes!) Another one I do is load my piece into a PDF and let a screen reader read it out loud. It’s halting but helps me catch errors or flow I don’t like. I need to get a bit braver with sharing my pieces with others, for sure.
Nina Amir says
Great tip! I’ll add that one for next time. What screen reader do you use for that, Julie?