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What to Do Before Hiring a Professional Editor

When you think you have finished your book and it is ready to be published, think again. No matter how good the plot line, if your manuscript is filled with typos and grammar errors, it will greatly reduce your chances of getting a publisher or agent to take you seriously.

Perhaps you are intending to self-publish and so believe it is not so important because your average reader won’t notice, or if they do they won’t mind – wrong. I read a great deal and recently made a conscious decision to read some titles by new self-published writers. Whilst some of the plots have been excellent and definitely of a standard to rival the market leaders in their genre, they have been let down very badly by the editing – or lack of it. I am not just referring to the incorrect use of hyphens, which may go unnoticed by some readers. There are in fact more noticeable mistakes, letting down good novels, such as:

•    a character’s name changing from Kurt to Karl, and then back again
•    the spelling of the name Rachel as Racheal in some parts of the manuscript
•    typos such as out instead of our; form instead of from; quiet instead of quite, and
•    coat hanger spelt hanger and hangar on the same page.

At The Writers’ House UK, we always try to impress upon authors that it is too difficult to edit your own work and therefore recommend using the services of a professional editor. It is well known that as long as the first and last letter of a word are correct then the mind automatically reads what it wants or expects to see. It is also very unlikely that you can be completely objective about your own work, in that you may be overly critical or so in love with it that you can’t see past your image of its perfection.

We understand that keeping the cost down may be an important factor and so the following will help to reduce the amount of work the editor is required to do, in turn reducing their charges:

•    When the first draft is complete, print a hard copy of your entire manuscript then read it again as if you were reading a novel. Highlight any unnecessary scenes that do not move the plot along or add significant value and edit them out once you have finished reading the entire book.

•    Next, read it again on screen; this time you are looking for inconsistencies or obvious errors. For example, some of the more common ones are spelling variants such as realise in some parts and realize in others; capitalisation inconsistencies or misuse; hyphenation issues; abbreviations with no explanation; overuse of exclamation marks, brackets, asides/parentheses, pointers or ellipses; ensure the correct word/spelling has been used e.g. their/there/they’re; check for overuse of slang, clichés, stereotyping; ensure there is no bias, slander or liable issues; factual errors; a character’s eyes or hair suddenly changing colour without good cause; apostrophes; use of first/second/third person; is your hero/heroine (just to prove we aren’t biased) tweeting in the 1960s?

•    Then print it again and read it out loud to someone else. If you don’t have anyone to read it to, read it to the room or a photograph. The important thing is to hear yourself reading it, as when reading it out loud you are less likely to skim over the words. Mark any places where the text does not flow or the wording is confusing.

Other techniques:

•    Read each sentence individually, even backwards, to see if it makes sense when read on its own or if it’s stilted.
•    Read the last sentence, then the second last, etc.
•    Try sliding a ruler down the page to isolate the line being read from those that follow.
•    Always put your work to one side for a period of time before attempting any of the above.

Coaching Tip:

If you have always miss-spelled a word such as ‘accommodate’, you will unwittingly misspell it again. This is owing to a split second of inattention, for the mind works faster than you type or write. You have to doubt every word in order to catch every mistake.

Generally, you ‘fix your eyes’ on the print only three or four times per line, or less, taking in the words between your fixation points with your peripheral vision, which gets less accurate the farther it is from the central point. The average reader can only take in six letters accurately with one fixation. This means you have to look at almost every word you have written and do it twice in longer words, in order to proofread accurately.

You have to look at the word, not slide over it. It helps to read aloud because this way you are forced to slow down and you hear what you are reading as well as see it, so you are using two of your senses. It is often possible to hear a mistake, such as an omitted or repeated word that you have not otherwise seen.

Now, it is time to have it professionally edited ...

This article was written for us by The Writers' House UK.

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Editing, editing, editing

What to do after the first draft's done

What to do after you've finished your book