For obvious reasons, you’re not the best person to edit your own book. Even spotting spelling mistakes is a struggle, let alone evaluating its quality and effectiveness. However, if you don’t have the money to hire an editor, then here are a few suggestions to help you self-edit more effectively.
Use your computer
Word comes with spelling and grammar tools. These are often set to pick up, highlight and even autocorrect mistakes as you go along. You can also run a manual scan to check each suggested error in turn. You’ll find the spelling and grammar tools under the Review tab in Word for Windows and under Tools in Word for Mac.
Don’t expect these to pick up every mistake. Even the most advanced spell checker still leaves you ‘wondering around’ in a ‘dessert’ with ‘sweet running down your back’.
In my experience, grammar checkers are even more unreliable. They have the habit of completely misunderstanding the structure of any sentence more complex than ‘The cat sat on the mat.’ As a result they offer some rather bizarre corrections. Always rely on common sense above automated suggestions.
Spelling and grammar tools won’t tell you if you’re consistent. For example, do you have single speech marks in one place and double in another? This is where the Find and Replace box comes in. It’s located on the far right of the Home tab in Word for Windows. On a Mac, a handy search box on the top right hand side of the screen fulfils the Find function. Use the drop down menu by the magnifying glass to open the Replace panel.
Using Replace All, you can automatically alter a word or symbol wherever it appears, correcting hundreds of mistakes with just one click. If you need to be more circumspect, the Find Next option will take you to every instance of the word in turn for you to replace it with your chosen substitute or edit it manually. You can specify further options, such as whether you want Word to make changes regardless of capitalisation or not. To do this, select the More button (bottom left of Find/Replace pop up box) in Word for Windows and the cog (in the Find/Replace panel) in Word for Mac.
A further, ingenious tip I’ve just been handed is to listen to your work using text-to-speech software such as Natural Reader. This can be helpful to root out right spelling/wrong word mistakes such as ‘sweet/sweat’ along with a multitude of other minor errors often missed by the human eye.
These tools are invaluable when ensuring consistency and accuracy but on their own, they’re not going to give you a polished, professional-level manuscript. For that you need the subtlety of the human eye.
Reread your work
To increase your effectiveness, try some of the following tips:
- Allow some time between writing and editing. This should help give you a bit of distance.
- Print your book on your home printer. For long books this will cost you in ink and paper but most people notice errors more easily on the printed page than on a screen.
- For the copy edit, set your line spacing nice and wide at 1.5 or above. This makes mistakes easier to see and allows you plenty of room to add corrections. Obviously, this won’t be possible for your proofread where the book is already set out exactly as it’ll appear in its final form and line spacing fixed.
- Circle every punctuation mark and then go back and check for consistency and accuracy (oh fun!).
- To increase your chances of spotting spelling mistakes, read your work backwards. This should help you focus on the letters in words rather than automatically tripping along with the flow of the sentence.
- Reading aloud can be helpful for spotting flow, sense and grammar issues.
Get friends and family to help
You can, of course, get friends and family involved. However, even if they’re good spellers, remember editing is a highly skilled profession. It’s all too easy for the average mortal to miss errors, particularly if the subject matter interests them. As for a reliable critical assessment, you can pretty much forget it. Most people simply don’t want to offend you by offering constructive criticism.
Even given these reservations, it’s undoubtedly true that the more people who read your book pre publication, the better. Each one will bring a fresh opinion and offer suggestions, some of which might even be helpful. At the very least, half a dozen people reading your work should help eradicate some of the worst typos and spelling mistakes.
Ask an expert
If you’re writing about a specific subject (whether that be fiction or non-fiction), try to persuade people in that field to read your manuscript. A simple internet search will help you find hobbyist, support groups and professional bodies. For example, if one of your main characters suffers from Alzheimer’s, find a support group and ask if anyone would be willing to read your novel. A carer will immediately pick out something that doesn’t ring true and may have valuable insights which could help you improve your work.
If you’re writing a history, see if there’s anyone in the field who could read your book and offer suggestions/pick out obvious mistakes. Assuming they have something nice to say, this could also be useful for finding endorsements or even a ‘shout line’ to put on your front cover.
Another option is to network with other self-published authors writing in the same genre as you and offer an editing exchange. Obviously you’re at the mercy of someone’s good nature here. You may end up putting in many hours’ work while they just skim read your book. However, if you can agree ground rules, it could prove a mutually beneficial arrangement.
Plagiarism and piracy are not, in reality, huge issues for self-published authors. However, if sending out drafts of your book makes you nervous, attach your manuscript to an email and send it to yourself or a trusted friend. In the event of a dispute, this will prove that your ownership of the book predates anyone else’s.
Next time: Hiring an editor