6 Cost Savers to Prep for Editing
Updated: May 1, 2020
If you’ve got a document prepped for review, congratulations! There’s nothing like the feeling of a job well done. But if you’re like most writers seeking an editor, chances are you’re not sure how best to make the editing handover go smoothly and keep costs in check.
The type of content you are developing influences the prep steps. However, you can apply many of the tips for prepping book manuscripts described below to finalizing magazine features and other content.
Revise, Revise, Revise
If you are developing a manuscript to be edited in its entirety (rather than seeking “as-you-go” editing of sections), an early consideration is whether the content truly is as ready as possible. When money is tight, spending added time developing text is a biggie. The truth is that writing well is all about rewriting; it’s simply tough to capture everything you want to at first blush. The muddier your text is, the longer it will take an editor to straighten out irregularities to ensure that sentences flow well, that word choices are grammatically correct, and much more.
Consider submitting a second or third draft for review to cut costs, using guides such as The Oxford Essential Guide to Writing to help think this self-editing process through. For spelling, capitalization and other considerations, you could start with merriam-webster.com (used alongside their collegiate dictionary by book editors), or, for magazine features or blog posts, a good option is the Associated Press Stylebook.
Self-editing could take two or more months for a book. If possible, pause between each editing round. Doing so allows big picture elements that are inconsistent or need altering to stand out, such as the fact that a person you highlighted as being important in chapter two is absent later. To keep your focus, consider reading the text out loud (which also helps catch clunky-sounding sentences). The added time spent with your text might also bring to mind livelier anecdotes to swap in, and more.
Seek Early Feedback
It's often tough for writers to gain perspective on their work, which is why even experienced ones tend to hire editors. But you can save some money up front by using a writing group or beta readers to road test your baby.
If you use beta readers, select ones who’ll give honest feedback; for instance, your life partner may be concerned about hurting your feelings. Using beta readers that will see the text from a variety of perspectives is also key. For a lay book about sustainable gardening, for instance, an author could benefit from a few beta readers who lack a green thumb, along with avid gardeners, and a professional horticulturist.
Regardless of review approach used, if your early reviewers are not professional editors or seasoned writers, look for patterns rather than necessarily assuming someone's comments about what needs fixing in text are accurate. That is, particularly if two or more people struggle with a section of content, take a closer look at it to see what could trip up readers. But be sure to ask questions to learn whether a reviewer may not be your best guide because they had an idiosyncratic response to the content, such as disliking a character who reminds them of an estranged relative. To make the early review process easier, investigate online sites such as ruzuku.com, which one of my long-term clients swears by for posting chapters and receiving beta feedback.
Scan for Energy-Sapping Words
Run a final spell check with your word processing software, keeping in mind that such software isn’t foolproof. For instance, it may miss that you meant to write “feat” instead of “feet” (that’s what editors help with). It’s also wise to do a final review for overused words or phrases, as too much repetition of certain words makes for dull reading. To address this, search for a favored word like “but” and swap out every third or so instance for a synonym such as “however.”
In addition, search text to replace filler words — that is, words like “thing” that you had used whenever you lacked the right word. The helpful motto, "show, don't tell," is all about ensuring readers can easily get what you mean. If your brain protests at yet another manuscript review to search for glitchy words, try reading the content from the last sentence to the first.
Check Basic Formatting
Despite what you may have learned, there does not have to be two spaces after a period —really! Use the "Find and Replace" option on your word processing software to swap in a single space after periods so your editor doesn’t take time doing so. Along the same lines, if you know how to adjust paragraph settings, it will help if you've set up the document to automatically have a 0.5 inch indent at the start of paragraphs, rather than using the tab key or space bar to create indents. This indented paragraph approach is traditional with memoirs and historical fiction, for instance.
A caveat: Some non-fiction authors prefer no paragraph indents to match the convention of their genre. To make these "block paragraphs" distinct, leave a line space between each paragraph; the first paragraph of chapters in a book, and the paragraph after a subhead in a chapter, usually lacks an indent too.
Discuss Add-Ons Such as Style Guides
A style guide helps you see how an editor approached words when more than one way of punctuating or spelling them exists, and it gives you insight into the rules an editor followed in marking the manuscript as part of elevating the quality of your content. A guide saves you time in the long run. I've developed these guides for content such as a three-book memoir of a self-published author, and the annual report of a geological sciences unit of a university.
Ask about File Preferences
Because MS Word has been developed over decades, it has editing options that often make documents in Word better to work with than pdfs and applications such as Google Docs. Longer manuscripts can also slow down so much in Docs once edits are added that working with content becomes incredibly slow. Ask your editor what format they prefer to receive a manuscript in, and if there’s anything else that will help them dig in quicker. What’s easier for them, after all, is often cheaper for you.