Before you send off your manuscript to an agent or publisher, you must participate in editing, also known as “pulling out one’s hair,” “screaming and crying as you continually hit the wrong keys,” and “repeatedly beating your head against the desk while yelling obscenities.”
Many writers have given up at this point.
First, send your ms off to beta readers. Their job is to read the story—THE STORY. Not to edit, not to proofread, but to read. You know, like a book.
I’ve covered this in other posts, and in my marketing book. So, once you get comments back from them, you might make adjustments to the ms. Or not. Up to you.
Second, run MS Word spelling and grammar check. Yeah, I know, it’s nearly worthless. Some of the time. But you can make adjustments, like adding words to the dictionary (for example, I’ve edited books with Gaelic and Hebrew lines; thanks, Debbie!); or perhaps you have a character name with an odd spelling.
You can also set options in Word to keep things consistent, like ellipses and dashes and hyphens and spacing—as in between sentences. If you justify that right margin, the ms looks a lot cleaner. And more professional.
Third, go over that ms line by line, word by word. Say stuff aloud if you have to; some recommend reading the entire thing aloud, but I think that might be overkill. Pretend you’re a regular reader. If you notice something weird, so will your readers. Fix it.
You may notice that you repeat the same mistakes, over and over again. A reader will see them too. Or maybe you use the same word, over and over again. Yes, a reader will catch that too. If you think you’re doing that, do a simple “find” in Word and see how many times it comes up. You might be surprised. You might be embarrassed . . .
The fourth thing you could do is send it off to an editor. Please, please, make darn sure that editor is actually competent. I can’t tell you how many mss I get that are FULL of errors, basic mistakes like two spaces between sentences and periods outside quotation marks, the wrong words capitalized, italics used incorrectly, etc., etc.
Before you pay someone, make sure you’re getting your money’s worth. In order to accomplish this, of course, YOU have to know the mechanics of writing. Otherwise, you won’t see the problem.
The last thing to do is check the submission requirements and make sure your ms complies. It doesn’t matter if you think those recommendations are silly, the agent or publisher does not, I assure you. They are there for a reason, and you may not know the reason. Doesn’t matter. Make.Sure.It.Complies.
Writing is an art, a craft. You don’t just sit down and type something, not even 80K words of something. I’ve had people ask me why writing a book takes so long; they figure they can type 120 words a minute, so a book should only take a week or so, right?
And then you have to fix it, aka, self-editing.