The process of polishing your manuscript can be just as time-consuming as writing the thing in the first place. And once you’ve gone deep enough to correct every typo and over-analyse every line, it can be hard to set the thing down and declare it to be finished. If you’ve done a little research online, you’ll probably know that many people submit their manuscript long before it’s ready, so it can be a little scary to call it a day, but you have to stop somewhere!
Today, I want to share a great five-step method on polishing a manuscript. You might do these things in a different order, but once you’ve completed every step, I think you can be comfortable knowing that your book is as good as you can make it.
Step One – Reading Aloud
I mentioned this method a couple of weeks ago in my Manuscript Polishing article and I suggest doing this step first as it will help you identify any major errors in flow or continuity. The benefit of reading aloud is that it forces you to slow down and really consider every word, rather than giving in to the temptation of skimming. It can be a very long process to read an entire novel aloud, so set some time aside to really do it properly; you won’t get the best results if you are rushing.
Step Two – Put it Down!
This could be the most difficult step. You need to put your manuscript away somewhere you won’t be tempted to look at it (get that shortcut off your desktop!) and leave it alone for a little while. 4-8 weeks is ideal but there are some people out there who swear blind that 6 months is the minimum. I’m not quite that brave. The problem you have right now is that you are too familiar with your work to find any more mistakes. Although you will never be able to go back to being an impartial reader, this break will provide some much needed distance.
To make this process a little less painful, I suggest combining it with…
Step Three – Beta Readers
While you’re taking a break from your work, find some beta readers to give it a test drive. As I’ve mentioned before, these people should be as impartial as possible, without a bias in your favour, and they should ideally be enthusiastic readers of your genre. If you’re writing for young adults or children, it can be useful to find someone from that age-group to read it, but I suggest that you find adult readers too as young people are less likely to find the picky, technical errors and may not be as detailed in their feedback. You may also consider Manuscript Assessment at this stage.
Once you have their feedback, it’s time to go back to your manuscript and decide what you want to change. But remember, you are not obliged to take advice if you don’t agree with it – your beta readers are not perfect.
Step Four – Line Editing
This is where you get down to the nitty-gritty. Once you’ve given your novel the once-over with your beta-readers’ comments in mind, you are going to need to go through line-by-line, considering smaller details like word choice, grammar and punctuation. This sounds boring and it is, but it truly makes a difference to the flow of your work.
Step Five – Final Read
A short break can help before you do this, if you have the time. This is where you, and possibly one or two beta readers make one last pass on your work. Read it through without stopping to make changes (note them down separately and go back to them later) to make sure you don’t lose the flow. If you are sending out your manuscript on paper, it can be useful to print it out first. Having your work in hard copy somehow makes it much easier to spot errors. But if you decide to change anything and need to replace a page, make sure you check that this hasn’t shuffled around the following page too. You may have to replace more than one sheet. Remember to recycle!
And that’s it. It’s important to make sure you don’t submit your manuscript before it’s ready, but it can be just as bad to keep fussing over it when there’s really nothing more you can do. Make sure you know where to draw the line, or you’ll drive yourself crazy.
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