Congratulations! You’ve completed your manuscript. That’s the hard part out of the way. Now it’s up to your editor to clean it up, fix all your mistakes, and turn it into a bestseller. That’s their job, right? Wrong. You should never send a manuscript to your editor without first running through several (at least!) rounds of editing yourself. Your editor’s real job is to make suggestions that will strengthen the core ideas of your piece, not to spend hours fixing amateur mistakes that you should have caught yourself. It’s best to do some basic reviewing first to tighten your manuscript before sending it to your editor.
If you send an unpolished manuscript to your editor, you’ll be wasting time and money on easy fixes that could have been prevented by thoroughly editing your work yourself. You also risk having your editor chuck your manuscript in the garbage because she can’t see past the awkward, unclear writing to your amazing ideas.
To that end, here are ten key ways you should fix your manuscript before sending it off to your editor.
#1: Take a Break!
After you’ve finished your manuscript, it can be really tempting to want to send the work off before it’s ready to go. However, you should always wait before submitting. And, for that matter, revising.
Take time between finishing and revising to think about something besides your book. When you return to your book, you’ll have fresh eyes and can more easily identify potential problems. That means that you shouldn’t conduct your three re-read and revision rounds back to back – try to spread them out by at least a couple of days to adjust your perspective.
All that means that you won’t be sending your completed manuscript to your editor within the first few days of finishing – it’ll likely be a few weeks before your book is ready for its next phase.
#2: Read, revise, and repeat
You need to read and revise your manuscript multiple times before sending it to your editor. As the old adage goes, “The book is written in the edits.” You’re not finished when you’ve typed the last word of your first draft; in reality, you’ve just begun.
Re-reading and revising your own work gives you a great opportunity to identify glaring errors (in grammar, style, and content) before you bring your editor on board. By re-reading you can spot everything from gaping plot holes to missing commas. You may discover that you want to rework a certain character or shore up a particular argument with more evidence. You might even realize that you forgot to capitalize a certain name every time it appeared in the manuscript.
You should re-read and revise your manuscripts at least a few times before sending to your editor. By doing so, you’re ensuring that your editor is truly receiving your best work – and then, he or she can do their job and make it better.
#3: Get Outside Feedback
Your editor should never be the first person to see your manuscript. Make sure you get a second (or third, or fourth) opinion from someone like a writing partner before you send it over to your editor. If you’re nervous about sharing your work with someone close to you, like a spouse or parent, don’t worry! There are plenty of writers’ groups out there where you can safely find a kind stranger to read through your work and offer their feedback. Writing Bad, for instance, offers daily inspiration and the understanding that everyone “writes bad” at one point or another. Writer’s Group, on the other hand, offers the opportunity to post your work for group critique.
Look for readers who will give you solid advice, not just tell you what you want to hear. When looking for a beta reader, try to find someone that has experience reading the style and genre of your piece.
#4: Run a Revision Tool
If the idea of revising your own work makes you nervous, don’t worry! There are plenty of tools out there that can help you find and implement necessary edits in your work.
Revision tools are more in-depth than the grammar and spell check included in your word processor. You’ll be able to receive reports on everything from, yes, grammar and spelling to overused words, repeating phrases, and more.
Use an editing tool like ProWritingAid. It offers 25 different reports that cover everything from transitions to sticky sentences to plagiarism. A revision tool can drastically improve the quality of your writing in just a few hours.
#5: Clean Up Your Formatting
Having your editor clean up your formatting wastes time and money. As I mentioned before, your editor should primarily be focused on the content of your piece, not on fixing errant added spaces.
Before you submit your manuscript, check it for the following:
- extra spaces between words
- extra tab spaces
- extra (or missing spaces) after end punctuation
- curly quotes
These simple fixes can add up to hours of your editor’s time (and dollars from your wallet).
#6: Vary Your Sentences
On your revision reads, check your sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Are they starting in different ways? Are they different lengths?
It can be easy to fall into the trap of starting every sentence with a pronoun (I was hungry. She said she was too. We went to dinner. Snooze! ).
Similarly, while you’re writing, you may find that every paragraph is exactly four sentences long. Variety, as they say, is the spice of life, and the same is true for writing. You can use an overused words check, a sentence length check or a repeats checks to help make sure that your sentence construction is varied.
#7: Ensure Your Citations Are Correct
If your manuscript is nonfiction, you should take the time to add and format your citations before you send your work to your editor. Ideally, you should be citing as you go, as inputting citations after you have finished your draft can be tricky and time-consuming. That being said, you should at the very least decide how to handle in-text citations and your bibliography before passing them over to your editor.
Ensuring your citations are accurate is as simple as consulting a style guide, such as AP, MLA, or Chicago, and implementing their formatting throughout your work.
#8: Check Your Headings
Headings are another place where it’s easy to make costly formatting errors. While you’re revising, check that your headings and chapter titles are consistent in:
- font size and type
- level (e.g., Heading 1, Heading 2, Heading 3)
- title case or sentence case
- formatting (e.g., bold or italics)
Chapter and heading checks should take no more than an hour of your time, so it’s easy to avoid this costly mistake on the back-end.
#9: Capitalize Correctly
While we all know to capitalize the beginning of our sentences and proper nouns, capitalization errors can still sneak into your manuscript. Perhaps the first name of a secondary character was auto-corrected with a lowercase first letter. Perhaps you’ve forgotten to capitalize the first word in some dialogue.
Whatever the case, even the most grammatically proficient writer will make capitalization errors. You should run a spelling and grammar check on your manuscript to catch these mistakes, as well as read through the text yourself to find any errors your checker’s algorithm may have missed or incorrectly identified.
You can also use a consistency check to make sure that if you capitalized “Yoga” in your first paragraph, you also capitalized it in the second one.
#10: Send The Correct File Type
The vast majority of editors will edit your file in Microsoft Word. You should send your file as a .docx, not a PDF or Scrivener file. While correcting a miss-sent file type is an easy fix, ensuring you send the right file the first time is just another opportunity to make the editing process smoother. If you’re confused about what kind of file to send your editor, you can ask him or her before you send.
Edit Before Your Editor
Finishing your book is a great accomplishment and you should be proud and excited to enter the editing phase! However, the editing phase isn’t just about shipping your new work off to an editor. It’s about spending the time and effort to polish your manuscript yourself before you invest in a third party’s perspective.
The better you make your manuscript now, the more painless (and less expensive) working with your editor will be. Don’t overwhelm your editor with sloppy and easily fixed mistakes – allow them to spend their time and effort on the content and other high-level issues that will truly make your work great.
Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer. She loves writing content that's engaging and informative for the ProWritingAid Blog. Bonus points if it's about Star Wars.