I turned on the TV recently and heard a great line on Dancing With the Stars.
"If you want to shine, you have to polish."
This is fabulous advice for writers, because editing puts the shine on our work, and when we skip that step, we hurt ourselves. If you've ever sent work out you thought was ready and wasn't, or work you thought was good enough, raise your hand.
Yeah, most of us have done it.
So when you're taking that final peek at your work and deciding if it's ready to go or not, ask yourself:
1. Does the text read smoothly?
Read it to yourself. Read it out loud. Do you stumble over any spots? Feel a choppiness? Awkward sentences? If so, fix them, even if you think "oh, this one won't hurt me." In truth, one probably won't, but if you have one, odds are you have more than one.
2. Do you have any incorrect words?
They're hard to catch, and they're vs there vs their don't show up on spell check. A quick search can double check to make sure you're using the right version. Same with your vs you're. Other commonly goofed words:
- who vs that. Who is for people, that is for things.
- who vs whom. Try replacing the who with a pronoun. If you'd use "him" it's whom. "He" is who.
- affect vs effect. Affect is something that acts upon something else. Effect is the result of something.
- take vs bring. Take goes away from the speaker. Bring is brought toward the speaker.
- farther vs further. Farther is for distances you can measure, like three feet farther. Further is for abstracts, like further understanding.
- fewer vs less. Same thing. Fewer is for things you can measure, less is for abstract ideas. Fewer hours, less time.
This seems like a no-brainer, but with auto correct and simple human error, it's easy to have a correctly spelled word that's the wrong word.
4. Are you over using words or phrases?
I have favorite words I use a lot of, like still, just, only. Every book there are a few more than creep in for whatever reason. Check on the words you know you over use, and keep an eye out for ones you've used a lot of this time. Also look for ten dollar words -- they stand out and are remembered. Using them a lot in the same manuscript is more noticeable that you'd expect.
5. Is the back half as polished as the front half?
Either we get caught up in the story or we get tired, it's not uncommon for more work to go into the first half of a manuscript. Try starting the story in the middle and reading through. Does it read as well as it should?
6. Is everything consistent?
If you have special formatting, or a way of writing something is it the same throughout the book? (for example, I italicized drew and push in The Shifter to give a graphic representation of Nya using her powers)
7. Is there anything you don't like or is nagging at you?
Some self doubt is normal, but if there's something specific you're concerned about and it's bugging you, trust your instincts and fix it before you send it out.
8. Are all your names easy to differentiate?
Names that are too similar can be confusing. Looks for ones that start with the same letter, or have similar letters that can be easily confused. These things can be subtle, and even when you set out not to do it, it can slip in unnoticed. I never realized that Danello and Lanelle are the same name with two letter differences until the second book. Will anyone confuse them? Maybe, maybe not, but why take that risk when you don't have to?
9. Look for fragments that might be better as one sentence.
Conjunctions are the search word here, or common joining words like even, when, that, which, there. In fact, I edited a line in this post for this very reason. "If so, fix them. Even if you think "oh, this one won't hurt me." The full stop between them and even was awkward, so I made them one sentence. Sometimes you want the fragment, other times it reads smoother without.
It's a cliche, but "you only get one chance to make a first impression" is true. You want your book to sparkle so brightly an agent or editor can't wait to snap it up. You don't want to come across as someone who's almost ready for publication.