As you near the completion of any fiction or nonfiction writing project—book, article, essay, e-book, short story, or blog post—you want to ensure you turn in or publish your best work. What needs to happen before what you’ve written gets sent out to a literary agent, acquisition editor, or publication editor, or before you publish it yourself?
As a journalist, blogger and self-published author, I constantly have to think about the quality of work I send out or self-publish. This does not just mean the quality of my writing. It also means whether I send out material that has been fact checked, proof read and formatted correctly. I have to ensure I’ve met word counts, sent along photos, quoted people correctly, and spelled names and companies correctly as well—not to mention that I have to be sure I’ve made sense and gotten my point across succinctly. On top of this, I have to self-edit my work to guarantee I’ve used strong sentence structure and produced a grammatically unflawed piece. Of course, I also have to produce writing that people want to read, which means it must offer value on some level.
If you can afford to hire an editor or proofreader before you say “finished,” that’s always best. However, not everyone can do so, and even I don’t always have the time or money for that for many of my projects or blogs. For this reason, over the years I’ve come up with a check list of things all writers should ask themselves before they actually say their projects are finished and turn them in, send them off for consideration or publish them. The checklist doesn’t provide a foolproof methodology, but it reduces about 95 percent of the errors you would have otherwise.
Nina Amir’s Finished Work Check List
Prior to sending out your manuscript, read it and then ask yourself the following questions.
1. What is it about?
2. What promises did I intent to make to the reader?
3. Did I fulfill those promises?
If you can’t say what your piece is about in 15-50 words, what you have written probably isn’t well focused. If you haven’t fulfilled your promises to the reader—such as offered them solutions or benefits, your manuscript has no purpose. While this holds especially true for nonfiction, even fiction and memoir can (and should) offer value to the reader.
To improve your writing one-hundred fold, do these two steps:
4. Search out every passive verb in your piece and changed it to an active verb, or change the sentence construction to allow for an active verb and stronger sentence construction.
5. Tighten each sentence by cutting out unnecessary words.
If you don’t understand passive verbs, get a good grammar book or look on Google. This one lesson will save you tons of editing fees with a good editor. (If passive sentences remain in your work, it remains flat and uninteresting. Strong writing equates to writing that employs active sentences.)
Next, ask yourself these questions:
6. Have I said what I meant to say?
7. Have I written as concisely as possible?
8. Have I written as simply as possible?
9. Can every reader understand the terminology I have used?
10. Have a used the style appropriate for this publication?
11. Is the article or book the correct length?
12. Are all the names spelled correctly?
13. Is my conclusion as strong as my lead or introduction?
14. Is the manuscript formatted correctly?
If you have done these things, your manuscript should be in good shape.
To catch any mistakes or typos, do the following:
15. Read it aloud to find errors you might miss when proofreading or editing on the hard copy or on the computer screen.
16. Let it sit for a few days or more, and then reread it to help you edit with more perspective.
17. Run the spell check function.
Finally, do these two additional steps:
18. Read the piece with a critical eye—the eye of someone really looking for errors and problems with the piece.
19. Ask someone else—maybe two or three people—to read your piece.
If you go through all 19 points on this check list, you’ll submit much more “finished” work than you would if you didn’t bother to take the time to do so.
I include this last step because I’ve rarely found a finished work that couldn’t be improved in some way—a word changed or one typo fixed.
20. Forgive yourself when you find a mistake in the work you’ve turned in or published.
It’s not the end of the world. You might still land the literary agent, get the publishing contract, receive the article assignment, or win the writing contest. We all make mistakes. Most of us still succeed, and so will you. If your work comes back, correct the mistake and send it out again.
Lauren Zalewski says
This was incredibly helpful as I am currently beginning to edit my very first non-fiction book. I love this article and you were very clear and concise. The information is invaluable to a newbie author like me. THANK YOU! (oops! I type in all caps and exclamation points! Yikes!)