In an ideal world us independent authors would all be able to afford an editor. And ideally of course, we all should employ an editor. But there is no way in this world that I can afford an editor, so I have had to employ other means to get my books to the best possible standard for publication. These are my top tips for editing the hell out of your book without paying for it.
1) First write your book. Write it like no one is watching and no one is ever going to read it. You can edit as you go if you like, but personally I don’t. I just get it all out. It’s one big messy splurge. It’s up and out and done. Then, breathe.
2) Go back to the beginning and do your first edit. Wherever possible amend your grammar, spellings and so on. This time you can imagine that a really good friend is going to read this manuscript at the end of this edit, so it needs to be reasonable enough for that. Check for plot holes, inconsistencies in characters, believable dialogue and so on. For me, this first edit is usually a bit like a read through. I remind myself of the whole story and get to experience reading it in one go.
3)Do your second edit. This one is more ruthless. Continue to check for typos and mistakes in formatting. Be ruthless and cut out anything that does not absolutely need to be there. Try to imagine someone else wrote it and this is your first experience of the story. Does it make sense? Does it waffle? Is every chapter gripping or do some wander? Does the narrative get repetitive? Do the characters sound flat or cliched? Imagine yourself with a huge knife and keep slashing until things are neater, faster and have a bigger impact.
4) Fourth edit. Repeat the steps above. Eliminate those typos, for you will continue to find them. Check your grammar and spelling. Change the story if you need to. Rewrite if you feel the need, but you should ideally be cutting out, not adding. Check for clunky, slow areas. Get rid of anything that does not propel the story forward.
5) Hand it to you first reader. This must be someone who reads a lot, someone educated to a higher standard than yourself if possible. You want this person to pick up grammatical mistakes and typos that you missed and will keep missing. They will make notes on each chapter, what works, what doesn’t, where it is slow, where it is good, what confused them, what excited them and so on. They should send each chapter back to you one at a time with their notes. Get them to give their honest overall opinion. This person must be someone who is not afraid to hurt your feelings and you must not be too precious about your work at this point. Lay yourself bare, put your pride to one side and listen to everything they have to say.
6) With notes to hand, go through every chapter one by one. Again, eliminate those pesky typos. Check it is formatted correctly. Check the plot holes are filled in. Loose ends are tied up. Every chapter grips the reader enough to make them want to read the next as fast as possible. This is the sixth edit and you will be sick of it by now.
7) Send it to someone else. In fact, even better, send one copy to the person who has already helped you and another copy to someone else. If you can rope in a few more beta readers, then great. They should all be prepared to be completely honest with you, and again they should all help eliminate typos and obvious mistakes.
8) Take a break from it at this point as it will inevitably be doing your head in! Work on another project until this one calls you back. Only go back when you are ready to. You need to want to do it.
9) With all the beta readers notes, criticisms, amendments and suggestions to hand, now do the eighth edit of your book. Make final changes if you feel the need. If not, just make it as tight as possible. Keep the pace and the flow and make sure from a readers point of view, there is nothing glaringly terrible in it that will let all your hard work down.
10) This is now your finished manuscript. If you are feeling brave you could send it to one more person to check. Hopefully they will not find anything to amend. Hopefully your gut feeling as an avid reader yourself, is that this is the best you can do and it is finished.
I am not saying that all of these steps can possibly replace the skills and experience of a professional editor. Of course not. Maybe one day you will be able to afford one, and what a great day that will be. But until then, these steps should at least make sure your indie manuscript is good enough to go out there and fly the flag for the indie cause. It won’t be perfect. No doubt it will be a bit raw, perhaps a bit rough around the edges. Perhaps every now and then you will feel the urge to pull it in once more, just to check it.
And one more thing before I go. My biggest tip to anyone when it comes to writing, editing or proofreading your own book? Read. Read a lot. Read every day, whenever you can, as much as you can. Read good stuff and terrible stuff as this is the only way you will be able to recognise what is good and terrible about your own writing. Writers, in my opinion, should be readers first and foremost. The more you read, the more you will be able to do justice to the craft of writing.