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  • Writer's pictureSiân Smith

7 things to do with your manuscript before you send it to a book editor

Updated: May 26, 2023

Before you even Google ‘freelance book editor for self-publishing’ there are few tips I highly recommend you follow while writing your book (and they're all free, too!). If you’ve already finished your first draft, you can still apply each of these tips; it’s not too late 👍🏻 Most self-publishing authors are extremely pressed for time, so don't worry if this list seems overwhelming: I certainly don't insist you've followed this as a checklist before we work together 🤣 By following some or all of these tips, you'll be able to present the best possible version of your work to your editor.

The below advice mainly applies to self-publishing authors, but it is also worthwhile prep for those submitting to literary agents or pursuing the traditional publishing route. All the below tips can be considered or applied at any time during your writing process.

I say this a lot, but first of all, even if you haven’t written or finished your book yet, you need to know you are amazing for even thinking about it or starting it!

1. Read in your subject area

Although it can seem a little daunting to read other books that have already been published in your area (What if my book has already been written? What if it’s better than mine?), it’s a crucial part of the writing process.

  • It helps you discover what you do and don’t like about other authors’ writing styles so you can employ or avoid anything similar in your writing (but no copying, please).

  • You will probably surprise yourself with how your ideas differ: they may have the same objective, but you are bound to have either a different opinion entirely or at least a different experience of what they have written about.

  • Referencing other authors’ works is never a bad thing: it shows you have read widely around the subject matter before you published your book; you respect others’ opinions; and you are celebrating other authors.

A pile of 6 non-fiction books
Read widely in your subject area

2. Follow book coaches for their tips on writing

There’s a sliding scale here, depending on your budget:

  • Regular/monthly one-to-ones with a book coach or writing mentor during your writing process.

  • A one-off session to give you a boost, such as a power-hour or a group masterclass.

  • Follow their social media for regular tips and advice (and consider supporting them with their ‘buy me a coffee’ scheme if they have one).

My personal recommendations are Steph Caswell and Shelley Wilson.

3. Sort your references

I work with self-publishing non-fiction authors who include references and citations in their work. Your editor will LOVE you if you can organise your references efficiently before the editing stage (and it will cost you less to edit, too).

A book with the word 'REFERENCES' on the right-hand page, with a pink highlighter and a caucasian hand holding a pencil
Check your references

  • Make a note of EVERY reference you use, even ‘just’ ones where you are stating '1 out 4 people a year in England will experience a mental health problem.'[1]

  • The beauty of self-publishing is that you can choose which referencing system you want to use. Just make sure you stick to ONE. The most popular are: MLA, Harvard, APA, and MHRA. Read this summary of these four referencing methods and pick whichever one you like the most.

  • Any of these referencing systems are perfectly acceptable to use, but if you use the MHRA system (which uses footnotes or endnotes) make sure you use the Microsoft Word automated referencing system!

  • This is also worthwhile knowing even if you are using a parenthetical system, because there may be times you want to add a footnote to explain or add further information to a sentence or term without detracting from the body text.

  • In Microsoft Word: click on ‘references’ and then ‘insert endnote’ or ‘insert footnote’.

  • Endnotes go at the end of each chapter or the end of the whole manuscript; footnotes go at the end of each page. Most publications I read prefer endnotes at the end of the whole manuscript and use footnotes to explain terms within the text.

  • Using this automated system means that if you delete, add, or move any references, the program updates it for you, rather than you having to update each superscript number manually.

4. Read your work out loud

This is a great tip used by proofreaders and editors when they are editing any written content.

  • Read your work out loud at least at the end of every chapter and especially when you are working on a tricky part of your book.

  • When you read out loud you always read slower than when you read to yourself in your head, so you are more likely to spot errors like typos, repetition, or incorrect word usage.

A boy with blonde hair and a navy hoody has his back to the camera, he is typing on a laptop
Reading out loud always helps my son spot any mistakes in his latest story

5. Run a spellcheck

Even experienced editors and proofreaders use spellcheck (we’re just hyper aware of the commonly confused or misused words, so we take extra care to look these things up).

  • Again, make the most of any automated systems like Word’s spellcheck.

  • If you aren’t sure about a grammar rule or spelling, don’t be afraid to highlight particular words, sentences, or whole sections for your editor to look at. This will provide a great learning opportunity for you so that you know what to do for the next book or for anything else you are writing. This is also what your editor is for: we always appreciate it if a writer can identify particular aspects we need to pay even closer attention to.

6. Ask someone else to read your book

This is probably the scariest one to do, but it’s really important! Your best option is to find beta readers who reflect your ideal reader. They are more likely to provide honest and objective feedback. If you struggle to find beta readers or can't afford to pay for this service, your next best solution is to ask family and friends. HOWEVER, it's crucial you understand that their feedback may be far too forgiving. You may also want to give them a heads up if the book involves anything personal or includes recollections involving them (even if you've changed their names).

There are two approaches here, each with pros and cons. It's not unusual to use one or both, depending on what works best for you and your readers. With both of these approaches it’s important to consider whether anyone you’ve asked to read your book is your ideal reader (your 'target market'). Again, don’t worry if they’re not, as this is still worthwhile feedback: did they understand what you were writing about? But if you can find someone who has an interest in the subject matter then that will provide some really valuable opinions.

Approach 1: Ask someone to read each chapter as you finish it.

  • This provides constant feedback as you write so you can incorporate their feedback into the rest of the book.

  • This is a similar approach to developmental editing or working with a book coach.

  • You can discuss any concerns raised by your beta reader with your book coach (if you’re working with one).

  • This approach is less time-demanding: reading one chapter every few weeks is a lot less daunting than reading a 70,000-word book in one go!

  • It can, however, become distracting if you feel you are constantly going back to chapters you have already written, so you may want to let them know you will look at their feedback once you’ve finished writing the whole book.

Approach 2: Ask someone to read the whole book.

  • You may be writing the sort of book that needs to be absorbed in its entirety – perhaps you are interweaving various concepts or memories that are building up to a certain conclusion or the book needs to be read in linear order – and so you feel any feedback received needs to come from someone who has read the whole book.

  • Your reader can let you know if they felt there was too much repetition, whether some parts of the book didn’t make sense, and what they thought of your introduction and conclusion.

  • Some writers prefer to write a whole book and then go back and edit it, so that they don’t lose the flow of writing.

  • Bear in mind you will need to allow more time from whomever you ask to read the book as they will be fitting it into their spare time and reading speeds vary widely.

  • But the above point can also provide important feedback: how easy did they find it to return to the book and ‘pick up where they left off’? Did it feel like a chore to go back to the book and keep reading?

  • This is a similar approach to a ‘manuscript appraisal’ offered by some editors (a level up from a beta read but not as collaborative as a developmental edit).

An open book on a lap, in the sunshine, with a caucasian hand holding the book open
Make sure someone has read the whole book before you send it to an editor

7. Leave the final draft for a couple of weeks

  • This applies at two stages: when you’ve finished that very first draft BEFORE you give it to any friends or family to read and then again when you make any changes suggested by friends, before you send it to your editor.

  • I know, I know, once you’ve finished your first draft you just want to get it edited and published! But just wait. Leave this first draft for at least a couple of weeks and then read it again before you send it to any friends or family.

  • During that couple of weeks of rest from your manuscript it’s quite unlikely you’ll be able to stop thinking about it. Suddenly you’ll spot loads of references to the very thing you’re writing about. If you come across something you simply have to include, then make a note of the reference or write down the idea.

  • Time away from the screen will allow new ideas to flow or generate creative solutions to any tricky parts of your book.

  • You may find that you can’t stop thinking about a particularly troublesome part of your book: if you haven’t found a resolution to this after a couple of weeks then highlight this to your family, friends, and then editor – one of them is bound to have a solution!

  • After a couple of weeks (or more!) away from your manuscript, read through it again before you add any of those new ideas or references and think carefully about whether they are superfluous or necessary to the book.

  • Run a final spellcheck.

Working with a freelance editor

I just want to reiterate: you definitely don't HAVE to have followed all (or any!) of these points before you contact me about your manuscript. As a self-publishing author, your time and availability is extremely limited, and finally finishing the book may have taken up every single ounce of motivation and energy. Perhaps you just don't want anyone to read your manuscript until it's a published book – I totally get it!

I work with finished (or nearly finished) manuscripts. The amount of editing I apply to your book will depend on how much time you have before your ideal book launch date as well as your budget. Whether it's a light but thorough proofread or an 'all-in-one' editorial approach, I always work collaboratively with you so you understand the changes I recommend and you remain in control of the final editorial and stylistic decisions.

I’d love to know if there are any points I’ve raised that you’d not considered when it comes to publishing a book. If you’ve already published a book, which of the above points made the most difference to your finished book?

To find out more about how my different editorial approaches work if you're self-publishing, just email me:

A woman with blonde, wavy hair is pointing to a pile of 6 books in her hand
I can't wait to work with you!

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