With a completed manuscript in hand, it could be tempting to hire an editor immediately. The book’s done; editing is the natural next step, right?
Mostly right. You should start editing the finished manuscript (give yourself a little time off though), but don’t rush out and hire an editor! In fact, the first person who should edit your manuscript is you. Luckily, I have a list of things you should do before hiring an editor!
Being A Wise Self-Editor
Yes, you should hire an editor, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also edit your own work. The ideal situation would be to have your manuscript already worked over and heavily revised before a hired editor sees it! The more you can clean up, the less time your editor will spend on mundane corrections.
Self-editing is about getting the most value out of your paid editor. So let’s nail down that list so you can start working on your manuscript and lining up your editor!
#1 Use An AI Editor
Some writers will correct errors while writing. There’s nothing wrong with that. But once you’re done, open that file up and let a few AIs have a crack at it.
You can find a variety of opinions about which editor you should use. Personally, I think you should use multiple. Here’s my list of the 4 AI editors I recommend:
- Grammarly – Browser-based grammar, spelling, and usage advice.
- ProWritingAid – Highlights common errors and suggests style improvements.
- Hemingway Editor – Revise for concision and simplicity.
- AutoCrit – Nuanced editing for overused words and weak phrases.
The first thing to do with your freshly-finished manuscript is to run it through Grammarly or ProWritingAid. Get as many ‘simple’ errors cleaned up as possible. This alone will be a huge improvement to your work.
From there, I like to use Hemingway or AutoCrit to tighten up my writing. Hemingway is perfect for blogs or articles that have a general audience. You’ll find ways to shorten and clarify sentences, helping online readers stay engaged.
For longer works, AutoCrit is more powerful. It will help you reduce repetition and provide deep insights into tense and structure. When I do use AutoCrit, I often find myself using Hemingway to double-check particularly complex sentences or paragraphs.
Then—finally—I go back and give the whole thing another pass with Grammarly or ProWritingAid. This will catch many (hopefully all) typos and accidents made during the editing process.
#2 Edit By Hand & Ear
You’ve let a few AIs look over your work, now it’s time for you to give it a thorough review. I’ve been a fan of two methods for some time: printing a bound manuscript to edit by hand and listening to your manuscript using a text-to-speech app.
Edit By Hand
My personal favorite, I find so many otherwise-overlooked things when I edit a printed copy. I also find some parts that I get lost in, just reading and not even thinking about editing. That’s important too and a much more natural thing to spot when you’re reading a printed version.
Edit By Ear
I’ve had the most luck improving dialog when I use a text-to-speech tool. Your Mac or PC has a free text-to-speech tool built-in, so it’s incredibly easy to hear your work. Well worth the time to get that fresh perspective.
#3 Write A Synopsis
Summarizing your work is one of the most underrated writing exercises. Seriously, the imposed structure of a few hundred words to define an entire book forces you to focus.
I use summaries often when writing to help me see the evolution of my story. And more than once I’ve created a sentence or scene in a summary that was useful for the actual manuscript!
Once your book is done, you should write a thoughtful summary. Not only will this help you focus in on the main plot points of your book; it will also help your editor spot inconsistencies. It’s a quick and pretty easy task—you should absolutely take the time to write one (or several) summaries.
#4 Research And Define Genre
You’ve probably got a really good idea about your book’s genre already. Pin it down exactly. This is actually a great time to create categories using BISAC for your book. These don’t have to be the exact final categories you use when publishing, but they should be pretty darn close.
If you have 2 or 3 BISAC categories planned, add them to your synopsis, and be sure to provide this to your editor. It will be a huge help for them to know what you intend for your book so they can better refine your work.
#5 Get Beta Readers
From your mom to your significant other to your high school English teacher; you need eyes on your manuscript.
These beta readers are the non-professional reviewers you need to help finesse and refine the manuscript. Most likely you’ll get a few grammar edits and spelling corrections, but what you’re really after is their general sense of the whole book. Did it flow and hang together? Does the story fulfill the promise of your summary?
Friend readers are great too because they will offer their (highly biased) encouragement. They might not catch every mistake and inconsistency in your manuscript, but they’ll buffet you with the praise (and hopefully critiques) you need at this stage to get your manuscript ready for the editor.
#6 Determine Your Editing Needs
Okay, it’s finally time to set aside your manuscript! You’ve done rounds of self-editing, machine-assisted editing, and gotten some reader’s thoughts; the next step is deciding what kind of editing you need.
That’s right, there are a variety of editing options you can choose from. It’s important not to think of editing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ service. Some editors focus on content, others on spelling. Before you can hire an editor, you need to be sure they offer the services you require!
You’ll also want to take this opportunity to plan a budget for your editing needs. Find a balance between the editing you need to be done and your budget and you’ll be ready to find your editor!
#7 Vet Editors
Last step and it kind of goes without saying: research the editors you’re thinking of hiring.
Start by making a shortlist of likely editors. This can include anyone specializing in the specific editing types you need and meeting your budget. I would start pretty broad and don’t go too far into vetting these editors right away. Starting with a longer list is fine.
Once you have 10 or so editors you think might fit your needs, dig into their work a little. Review samples (if they don’t make them available on their website, request a sample or example from the editor) and references. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to ask (“how do you feel about Oxford commas?” is my go-to question for editors).
The goal here is to winnow your list down to 2 or 3 editors who fit your price range and offer the services you need. All that’s left is to pick the editor for you and contact them to arrange for their services!
It just does. Self-publishing may give you the means to publish without editing, but that doesn’t make it a good idea. Traditionally published books go through a thorough editing and review process; that’s why those books rarely have typos or plot holes.
As you strive to make your book as professional as you can within the confines of your own budget, these steps can help you save money on your editor and give them the best version of your work to edit. Don’t let pre-editing fool you either; just because you used Grammarly, read your story aloud, and had five friends read it does not mean you can skip a professional edit.
The best books—the ones with clean text, an exciting plot, and vibrant characters—are all the result of many (many) hours of editing and revision. When you’re writing, you’re really just teasing out the story. Editing is when you actually craft the idea into a coherent and enjoyable story that others will want to read.
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.