New writers are frequently advised to get their manuscripts professionally edited before querying/self-publishing.
At face value, this seems like sound advice. The market place is competitive and it is absolutely imperative that you make your work as good as it possibly can be.
The problem is that editing services can cost a lot of money, which is fine if you have disposable income or savings, but not every writer can afford professional editing services.
So if you don’t have the budget for a professional editor, what options are there for whipping you manuscript into shape?
Firstly, there’s books that can help you. I use “On Editing” by Helen Corner Bryant & Kathryn Price, and “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers” by Renni Browne & Dave King. The advice is practical and easy to apply and I highly recommend both.
As well as books on editing, you can use free online tools to check grammar and spelling. Most word processing packages have an in-built spelling and grammar check, but these don’t pick up everything.
Instead, the last thing I do before submitting any piece is to run it through Grammarly’s free grammar check (There is a paid-for premium service too, but I don’t use this).
A word of warning.
Don’t accept every change Grammarly (or any grammar checker) suggests.
Read each suggestion carefully and in the context of the larger piece. Only change it if it improves what’s written.
Of course, there are some grammar rules that must be followed (e.g. when writing he or she said after dialogue, there must be a comma inside the closing speech mark (,”) unless you’re using an exclamation mark or question mark).
Outside of these, consider any suggestions against what you’re trying to convey.
Grammarly has its supporters and detractors but I recommend it because using it was the final step to cracking a magazine market I’ve been subbing to for years, and it’s led to my biggest writing success to date (more details in a future post).
My third big tip for self-editing is to enter competitions that offer a critique. You may have to pay a few pounds more, but the advice they give can be invaluable, not just for the piece in question, but also when considered against other pieces you have written.
Writers’ Forum magazine run a monthly short story competition. Basic entry fee for non-subscribers (at the time of writing) is £6, but for a further £5 you can get a critique from the head judge. Esther Chilton, which covers both the spelling & grammar elements of fiction and also plot and characterisation.
Editing is a skill that can be developed, much the same as plot, character and description. It requires you to be honest and, dare I say it, ruthless with your work.
And while having the luxury of hiring an editor is possible for some, not everyone can afford to do that.
This year has been my most successful in terms of acceptances and publication. It’s purely and simply down to the improvements I’ve made to my editing skills by using the tips above.
I hope they work for you. Feel free to comment below and share your own editing advice.