Monday, August 18, 2014

10 Things to Do Before You Hire an Editor

There comes a time when every writer needs to hire an editor. If I told you that you could save yourself a certain amount of cash and time if you followed my advice, would you do it?

The following 10 things may sound trivial to you, but doing them could mean the difference between additional hours of work and the cost of a substantive edit vs. the cost of a copy edit (the latter being cheaper). Doing these things will also increase your skill as a writer, and you will look more like a pro than an amateur in the eyes of your editor and the agent/acquisitions editor. If you're a writer limited in budget or time, or you just like to appear intelligent, here are 10 things to do to your manuscript before you hire an editor:

1. Look for your pet words. These are words you love to use, but you may not realize it. Some examples of pet words are: just, instead, very, beautiful, cool, and starting sentences with and or but. Read your descriptions to find pet adjectives. Are your characters always smiling or sighing? These are all types of pet words.

2. Look for inactive verbs. Have you used was and were a lot? If she "was going to the store" she "went." If he "was laughing out loud" he "laughed out loud." If they "were partying until the break of dawn" they "partied until the break of dawn." You can search was and were to find these, but beware. You won't want to delete every was and were you find. Some are necessary. Use them with discretion.

3.  Look for ellipses. There is a time and place to use these, and it's rare. They are not a replacement for the common comma, but a lot of writers (especially beginners) tend to use them as such. An ellipses is used when someone trails off their conversation (not for an interruption--that's an em dash). They can also be used to show hesitation in speech. "Honey, I ... I need to confess something. Some days I feel like a ... monster." These are the only two times I would like to see an ellipses in a manuscript.

4. Look at your comma usage. If you're unsure of how to properly use commas, research the rules. I see a lot of sentences like this: Alycia went to the zoo, but didn't see the monkeys. (I wish I could make a buzzer sound here.) Wrong! "Didn't see the monkeys" is not a full sentence. It's missing a subject. Alycia went to the zoo, but she didn't see the monkeys. Do you have a list in your sentence? If so, you need a serial comma. Hannah loves horses, anime, and singing. Only AP style and web writing leaves out the serial comma. (And I find those sentences to be confusing at times. I guess I'm just old-school when it comes to serial commas.)

5. Look over your descriptions. Are you describing every last minute detail of every person, setting, or prop? If so, you're boring your reader. Leave some room for their imaginations to play. That's what makes reading so much fun. Don't tell them everything. Hint at some things, describe others. Give one or two details at a time. And again, try to use different adjectives. Which leads to my next point...

6. Look for repetition. How many times have you told us his eyes are blue? We only need to know that once or twice. And the second time should be as a reminder because we're halfway through the novel and forgot. Readers don't want to hear that your character suffers from depression in every paragraph of every chapter. That depresses us. We put your book down. Give us something else to focus on in the character's life. Bring up the depression on occasion, but spread it thin.

7. Look for adequate conflict and tension. If your character is walking through his or her daily schedule and nothing out of the ordinary is happening, there isn't enough tension in your book. First, we shouldn't be getting the play-by-play of their daily routine. Great reads contain constant interruptions in the character's daily routine. Exciting or traumatic interruptions. Not just a phone call. A phone call from the drunk who just hit Ann's husband on their way home from the club and wanted to apologize. A phone call from the daughter who ran away with her lover ten weeks ago and has discovered he's got a split personality and she wants you to pick her up and bring her home. By the way, she's in Brazil.

8. Make sure you're showing your reader your story. There's a time to tell us some things, but we don't want you to tell us all the details of your story. "She had beautiful eyes." That's nice. What did they look like? Give a detail or two, but don't overdo it. "Her blue eyes sparkled like a lake in the morning sun." Much better. "The forest was dark and scary." How does that affect your character? "Tom's hands shook as he drew his sweatshirt tight around his chest. He stood still, unable to put one foot in front of the other as he faced the towering pines, shadows against the blackening sky." I want to experience your story, not just hear it.

9. Make sure you aren't head hopping. Pretend your character is wearing a video camera on their forehead. They will only be able to see what the camera would see. Unlike your mother, they don't have eyes in the back of their head. They will only be able to hear what is within the range of their hearing. If the door is closed and the walls are insulated, they won't hear what's going on in the room next door. Or on the next floor. Or out in the barn. Or down the road. Or on the other side of the tracks when a train is coming. And, unless you're writing sci-fi, your character probably doesn't have the ability to know what someone else is thinking or feeling, and they probably don't have x-ray vision to know what's in someone's pocket or purse. If you need to switch to someone else's point of view, use a hard break and pass the camera.

10. Make sure your manuscript is formatted properly. Whether you're writing fiction or nonfiction, use Times New Roman 12-point font, double space lines (but don't put two spaces after the period at the end of your sentence), and indent all paragraphs except for the first one in a chapter or after a subheading or hard break. Don't put an extra space after paragraphs, either. Use one-inch margins all around your page. I see a lot of manuscripts that have more than one font, lines after paragraphs, and double spaces after periods. Formatting is as important as writing if you want to appear professional.

Tweetables:

Readers want to experience your story, not just hear it. 10 Tips from editor @AlyciaMorales http://tinyurl.com/psmw2ja

#10Things you can do to save money on edits. #amwriting with @AlyciaMorales http://tinyurl.com/psmw2ja

What about you? Is there anything you do before you turn a manuscript over to an editor, agent, or acquisitions editor? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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