SELF-EDITING FOR SUCCESS
by Mary Embree
Whether you are getting your manuscript and/or book proposal ready to send to an agent, a publisher, or a book doctor/editor, the principles of self-editing are very much the same. Only the reasons are different. You are going to have a much better chance of finding a good agent and a publisher for your work if your presentation is professional-looking. And you are going to spend a lot less money on a professional editor if you do as much editing as you can first. Here are some important things to look for:
Present your work in the standard format for that genre. For example: query letters and synopses for a proposed book are single-spaced; the other parts of the book proposal, the sample chapters and the pages of your manuscript are double-spaced. There is a special format for television scripts for a half-hour taped series, a different format for a TV script for a "movie of the week" or a miniseries, and still a different format for theatrical film scripts. Do your research, get samples of these formats if you can, and pattern your presentation according to the standards of the industry, genre and entity to which you are making your presentation.
Always check spelling and word usage. Your computer's spell-check is helpful but has its limitations. Beware of the words it will not pick up, such as using their when it should be there, it's in place of its, affect instead of effect, emigrate when you mean immigrate.
As much as possible, check for grammar and punctuation. There are some simple guidelines in most dictionaries. If you are serious about doing most of your own proofing and copy-editing, though, you should use The Chicago Manual of Style.
Check for tense. If you are writing in present tense, be sure that you don't slip into past-tense from time to time. Once you decide on a style, stick with it. Style is defined as the rules of uniformity in punctuation,
capitalization, spelling, word division and other details of expression. They often vary according to custom. Textbook publishers require a different style from publishers of romance novels, for example. Knowing the styles they use and abiding by them will make you appear more experienced in that field of writing.
Once you have stated a character's title, described how she looks or what he does, don't do it again unless you have a very good reason. If you feel that it's important to remind the reader who this person is, say it differently. Repetitions of all kinds can be annoying. If you wish to repeat something for emphasis, put a new twist on it.
Flow, Continuity and Transitions:
In writing, flow means to proceed continuously, smoothly or easily. Continuity is defined as a continuous or connected whole. A transition is a passage that links one scene or topic to another. After you have done all the editing you can, read your entire manuscript through from start to finish at one sitting, if possible, keeping these guidelines in mind. Does it flow or are there words, phrases or ideas that cause glitches or create snags along the way? Do you keep going back and forth in time and, if so, is it really necessary? Maintaining a logical continuity helps the writing flow and makes it easier for the reader to follow. When you begin a new sentence or paragraph, is it jarring, does it seem to skip a beat or to make too big a jump in the storyline? Is it too abrupt a change of subject? Good transitions can cure that problem.
Being aware of the above principles and making the necessary adjustments along the way can help you make your writing more readable, interesting, and certainly more professional-looking.
~ Mary Embree, SPAWN's Founder, is a writer, editor, and publishing consultant. Mary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org