Yes, I know – you’ve written the perfect book. There’s nothing that could possibly be done to make it better. Except there is! I have no doubt that your book has the potential to be a bestseller or Man Booker prizewinner, but at the moment it is an unpolished gem. It needs lots of further care and attention before it is ready for publication.
Stage 1: Spelling & grammar
First up, pass the whole manuscript through a good spelling and grammar checker. Lots of people are going to be reading this manuscript and you might as well make it as error-free as possible before sharing it. Invariably, some typos will still get through, but the odd typo is not that distracting. Having a typo every few sentences, though, is highly frustrating to the reader and they will get caught up trying to take note of mistakes and lose sight of your story.
When checking spelling and grammar, you need to decide whose grammar rules you want to follow. Rules and conventions can vary between American English and British English. For example, in American English, it is more common to use double quotation marks for speech, whereas in British English it is more common to use single quotation marks. While the final decision will lie with the publisher (which could be you), I recommend that you pick either American conventions or British conventions and then stick with these consistently throughout your book.
Stage 2: Reread & edit
Next, you need to reread the book in full yourself. Yes, you need to get feedback from other people, but you’re not ready for that just yet. You need to reread it to make sure the story makes sense, the characters are fully developed and there are no major inconsistencies (like someone dying on page three and then walking into a room on page ten!) Ideally, you should wait at least one month after finishing the book to do this, to make it fresh to your eyes when you reread it. I would recommend listening to it as well as reading it. If you save the document as a PDF and then open the PDF with Adobe Acrobat Reader, you can use the “Read Aloud” function to listen to the book. Have a printed copy to hand so that you can mark edits as you listen.
When you’ve completed your first reread, you need to make any edits needed into the manuscript. Then complete stages 1 & 2 above until the manuscript is “clean” – you can find no inconsistencies, and any spelling or grammar mistakes have been fixed. Only now is your manuscript ready to share with other people.
If you’re new to editing, I would highly recommend Self-editing for Fiction Writers, by Renni Browne & Dave King to assist you with your editing process.
Stage 3: Beta readers
You’re now ready to share your manuscript with your Beta readers – a select group of trusted readers who have an interest in the genre of book you have written. There is no point in sending a horror book to someone who only reads light romance. Don’t necessarily rely on friends for this stage – reading a full book is a big commitment and no matter how much they love you and encourage your writing, not everyone will want to take on the task. Try joining reading groups on Facebook or other online forums to find people willing to help. Do make sure you vet people before you send them your manuscript, though. I would recommend only sending manuscripts directly to Kindle devices and not sharing either PDFs or MS Word documents. Note, however, that no method is completely safe, and given that this is an unpublished manuscript you need to do everything you can to ensure your readers are trustworthy.
Once the manuscript has been sent out, take a deep breath and steel yourself for the replies! Not everyone will enjoy your book. That’s just a fact of life. Look at any bestseller on Amazon and there will be plenty of people who thought it was drivel. So if one of your Beta readers doesn’t enjoy it, try not to take it to heart. Even if a reader doesn’t enjoy it, they can still give you valuable feedback. Ask them why they didn’t enjoy it – was it too slow, was the plot too complicated, did they not like the characters, was it laced with mistakes, etc. It can be hard to hear anything negative about a manuscript you’ve put months or maybe even years into writing, but try to look at the feedback as a positive contribution to making your work better. You don’t have to incorporate all feedback into the book, but if several different people all tell you the plot makes no sense or is too farfetched, then you might want to consider the possibility that it is, indeed, too farfetched.
Stage 4: Collate feedback & edit manuscript
Having collated all the feedback, sit down and decide which elements should be incorporated into your manuscript, then make the edits. It is likely that some sections will change quite a bit. When the edits are completed, you need to repeat stages 1 & 2 above until the manuscript is “clean” again.
You are now ready for Step 3: Pick a publishing route.
For more about this post series, see here.
I have now amalgamated all the posts from my “5 Steps to Publishing a Book” series into a short ebook, available from just 99c!