Self Publishing - Is your Manuscript ready to be Published?


Now that we've talked about some of the cost you need to consider before jumping into Self-Publishing, we can move on to the next major topic. Before you can publish anything, you have to have a complete and polished manuscript.

That sounds pretty obvious, but sometimes in our haste to get that book out, we forget about all the steps we should take to ensure it is ready to be out.
One of the reasons self-publishing originally got its dirty image was the lack of quality it was associated with. In the early days of self-publishing, access to quality editors was expensive. Authors who couldn’t afford good editing couldn’t produce a nice clean product. That reflected badly on the author and self-publishing in general.
Poor quality is the mark of death for your manuscript. So the first thing you need to do is make sure your manuscript has been through critiquing, beta reading, and proofing before you hire an editor.
That’s right, you still need to hire an editor, but only after you have completed all of the suggested steps.

Step 1 - Getting your work critiqued.
Once you’ve finished your first draft, it’s time to find a group of people to help you work through it.  Critiquing is generally a chapter by chapter review of your work. Partners in your critiquing group read each chapter and point out: parts to tighten, what doesn’t make sense, plots needing more development, pacing issues, character inconsistencies, etc…
Most critiquing groups work on a tit-for-tat basis. This means they critique your work and in exchange you critique theirs. This is essential as it helps you to learn from others mistakes while training your eye to catch them in your own work.
This is the phase where you will spend the most time. During the critiquing phase your manuscript should go through various drafts and rewrites.  It should look noticeably different from the original draft you started with.
Your manuscript should be put through a critiquing group at least once, if not more, before you move on to the next step.

Step 2 - Proofing your work.
After critiquing and rewriting your manuscript, you’ll want to take another pass at it to make sure it is clean.
1) Print it! I can't explain why, but seeing something in print somehow makes you look at it a little closer. I can spend hours staring at a computer screen, reading my work, and still miss things. As soon as I see it on paper, I find more errors.
Quick tip: Printing a 300+ page manuscript, is costly and wasteful. Try to print double-sided where you can but don't try to go single spaced. Trust me, your eyes will thank you for that.
2) Read out loud! When we read silently, especially our own work, our brain plays tricks on us. We know what we "meant" to say and our brain substitutes the correct sentence or words in for the ones we might have goofed on. Reading out loud, stops your brain from this sort of "auto correct" function. You'll find lots more errors this way.
Quick tip: Try having the computer read to you. Sounds kind of silly, but will definitely help you pick out any problems. Look for free software to help you do this like Natural Reader.
3) Have someone else read it! Hey, sometimes we're just blind to our own mistakes. A fresh set of eyes works wonders. When you have agonized enough over your own words, toss your work to a friend and let them read. I bet they still find things for you to fix.

Step 3 - Beta Readers
Beta's are a fresh set of eyes.  They are not an editor and not a critiquer. Think of them as your “focus group” for your manuscript. They are the final step before you move on to editing. These are the people who will tell you, after all the revisions, if the overall story works.
Don't rely on just one though. Not all Beta readers are alike. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses when it comes to reading. Some are better with flow and feel. Some are sticklers for the rules. Some are just good at responding (like laughing when they are supposed to. Think of them like the person screaming at the blond in a horror movie "don't go in there!! That's where the killer is hiding.")
Once you’ve been through this phase, you’ll probably have a few more things to clean up. After which, you can move on to editing.

Step 4 - Editing
In the traditional publishing world, editing is taken care of my multiple people.
1. Substantive/developmental editing. This editor reads the book and tells the author what parts to tighten, what doesn't make sense, what plot threads need to be developed, etc….
2. Line editing. This editor notes grammar issues, redundancies, punctuation issues, and awkward sentence structure.
3. Copy editing. This editor intensively edits for continuity as well as grammar and spelling.
4. Proof reading. This editor does a final read-through for obvious errors.

If you’ve followed the steps up to now, you’ll already have a few of these essential editing steps covered. That doesn’t mean you can skip the editing, it just means your manuscript is that much cleaner to start with.
A good critiquing group or circle can take care of much of 1 & 2. As I said before, critiquing groups generally work chapter by chapter and because they work slower, they are usually great for spotting the nitty gritty stuff. They'll call you out plot holes, character inconsistencies, etc...
After that you passed your manuscript through beta readers. They read your book and essentially proofed it for obvious errors, covering #’s 1 & 2 again.
After that, you move on to a freelance editor. This editor takes care of the final copy-editing. A good freelance editor will usually take a two-pass approach (at least mine does). They edit a section of the manuscript and send back editing notes. You go back and correct things based on the notes and resubmit. The editor then takes another look and makes final tweaks before sending it back. Then you move on to the next section and so on, If all goes well, your Manuscript should be very clean.

 Optional Step -5 - Final Proofing via Beta Readers
After the run with an editor, you could send to another Beta for another read-through which covers your final "proofing."

Once you have a clean and polished manuscript, you’re ready to move on to the publishing part of self-publishing. We'll discuss layout and formatting in the next two posts.

Comments

ardeeeichelmann said…
I am still trying to get a "clean" copy of my novel so as I read your information I have a hard time wrapping my brain around it all. I see the importance of each step. I just have a hard time plowing through all of the information. I am not dumb just overwhelmed. Thank you for the post, I think all of these steps will make me a better writer when I can get my head fully into the game.

Cheers,

Ardee-ann
MJ Mauborgne said…
I agree with you. My only question is: Where does one meet an ad hoc "critiquing group"?