Preparing your manuscript
to be self-published
Now that you know what self-publishing is all about, lets look at your manuscript.
First and foremost you need a completed novel manuscript, referred to as a draft. The hard cold truth is, you must have a finished draft that is complete with a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you get stuck while you’re writing you can hire all kinds of help, but we’re talking about publishing.
Be sure to do some homework on the formatting of your word doc. Line spacing, font size, font type, and margins are all very important. You don’t want one glance at your work to prove you’re an armature.
When you type the last line of your story draft and punch that final period, you are far from done. Editing is vital to refining a draft into a novel.
The first editor of your work is you! Reread everything multiple times. Reading out loud will help you find errors. When I sit down to write, I reread what I wrote the previous day. Not only does it help me get back into the swing of the story, but also I find missing words and typos. If you’re like me, your typing skills may not be top notch, so as the story comes out I get excited and fat finger keys.
I once read some fabulous advice that really helped me polish my writing. It said that once you finish you novel and you’re sure it’s perfect, put it away for a few weeks, maybe a month, then come back and read it again. This can be a real challenge, especially if you’re excited to get things moving, but it’s worth it. It’s amazing how a little time gives you fresh insight. This alone has been one of the best tools I’ve ever used to find and correct problems within my story. When you’re too familiar with your work you become blind to problems, kind of like sitting next to something stinky for a long time and you can’t smell it after a while. (Not that your work is stinky) Let your writing marinate, then come back for another look. Again, it’s about presenting the best product you possibly can.
Next comes the plot and character development edit. This edit helps you polish the story line and the characters. Much of this type of editing can come from family, friends, and reading groups (groups who meet locally or online). They will read your story and say things like, “I’m confused at this part” or “What are you trying to say here?” See if readers can pick out the turning points. Ask them questions about characters like “Can you feel how upset (sad, happy etc) she was?” or “Do you understand why he did that?” If you have a complicated scene, don’t fill them in in an advance, see if they can understand and picture the scene as they read it. This is the point you’ll get feedback such as “What ever happened to…?” or “I’m lost.” Feedback is fundamental to plugging the holes in your writing.
My early novels needed to be heavily edited. Even now, as I get a better grasp of my writing style, I still need a fresh eye to help me. As I write, I see the setting and characters in my mind’s eye, so I understand the motivation and thought process behind my character’s actions. I may or may not have done a very good job at portraying all that in a particular scene, and a developmental edit will catch this. Developmental edits will also help you monitor the “speed” of a scene, to see if you are rushing through a part pr skipping ahead, causing your readers whiplash.
A copy or line edit comes next to catch grammar and typos. Traditional publishing houses spend a vast amount of time editing, even the writing of the most gifted and popular authors. Every professional writer knows beyond a doubt, that professional editing is required. Unfortunately, since self-published authors are most likely paying for the process (and editing is pricey), they want to skip this step. It’s a well known fact that first time authors usually believe their work is super fabulous. In reality this opinion is based on inexperience. Your writing most likely isn’t a mess, not hopeless, just needs more work. Please believe me when I tell you, if you haven’t had a professional editor look at your work, you’re in for a shock. I’m not talking about friends or neighbors or family, the people who love you. I’m talking about someone who’s JOB is to find every little problem, who knows the industry and isn’t afraid of hurting your feelings. No matter how great your work is, it WILL need to be edited. Do not consider skipping this step.
For me a copy edit looks horrible when it comes back because the punctuation is all marked up. Don’t expect any high fives back from the editor, they are looking for even the tiniest of error such as the number of spaces after a period, and comma placement. This edit is the polish on your book. Again, edits can be a bit painful to the ego, but the more time and money you spend on edits, the better your novel will be.
Every time I send a piece of work to be edited, I have delusions it coming back with only notes of praise attached. The truth is that an editor’s job is to find problems, and they will. They are looking with a critical eye, in order to catch and correct errors or omissions, before your readers find them. And in the long run, I’d much rather get one or two scathing returns from a professional editor than disgusted feedback from a multitude of readers. Imagine how bad it would feel when you finally get your book finished and published and when comments come in from readers, they aren’t about the characters or the fabulous plot twist, but about typos and bad grammar.
A good editor will also immediately find your less favorite parts of the story; the parts that you rushed through or weren’t very “into” as you eagerly moved on to a more exciting part the plot.
A processional editor will mark up your word document and you will have the opportunity to accept or reject their changes with the click of a button. If you are being published the traditional rout, you will just see the work after the edit is completed, it’s not your choice what gets changed. (Some publishing houses are more considerate than others.) A self-publishing firm will want to be sure you approve the edits before they proceed because you own the writing.
Note that all computer files for both printed books and eBooks will be created based on your word document, so every space and return is important. You will only be able to make minimal changes to a few words once you have approved the word doc and moved forward. This is because the format of the print layout and eBook files are rigid, and if you try to change out a short word for a long word, for example, it may throw off the margin or footer. As far as punctuation, be aware that little things, like hitting return twice or more, or extra spacing, can throw off formatting software. These tiny errors in your writing can really gum up the works moving forward.
After you receive an edit you get to do a rewrite. This is where you stare at your brainchild and attempt to find a way to incorporate another person’s opinions and attitudes into your story. I once had an editor tell me that I was one of the best rewriters she’d ever worked with. I’ve never forgotten that rare compliment. She said I was very good at weaving in corrections and solutions without them feeling like a fix. As you work through an edit, always keep in mind that rewriting is a part of writing.
To add insult to injury, editing will be, by far, the most expensive part of self-publishing. Having said that, it is also the most fundamental for success. No one wants to spend money to be told their writing has problems, but be assured that your writing, like mine, needs to be edited.
Perhaps your cousin is an editor for a newspaper, or your mother is an English Lit professor. If so, you may be able to get quality copy editing for nothing. Just remember that friends and family likely have jobs and lives of their own and it may take them a long time to edit an entire novel.
Another option to save money on initial editing is to work with a writers group. Readers within the group will edit each other’s work. Just be advised that these are usually not professionals, and they can be opinionated or worse. There is a big difference between good feedback you get from a beta reader (someone who reads your unfinished work and offers you advice or support) and a copy editor. You want someone who won’t squash your “Voice” or style, but will help you understand what is expected within your genre.
Edits are very important because in all reality, our readers deserve the best books we can create.
So finally your manuscript is edited and perfect and ready to present to the world! How do you go about that? Read part three!