So you’ve typed “The End” after months of working on your novel. You sit back, smile, and sigh, thinking you are just a few clicks away from publication. Just another time through ought to do it, right?
Slow down, and let’s do this thing right, lest your first review calls you out for repetitive phrases, misspelled words, grammar errors and other typos. You can fix the book later and resubmit it, but that review will NEVER go away.
Here are the steps I go through in an attempt at perfection. (I doubt any manuscript is truly error free, but you can get darned close.)
!. Read again with an eye to your story. Does it make sense? Does it flow well in increasing hills and valleys of tension? Are story lines you started tied up somehow–even if that means hinting at more to come? Is the ending satisfying? Are your characters consistent? Do they grow and change in some way, and is that way realistic? Are there places you could tighten up so they don’t drag? If this is the 2nd or 3rd book in a series, have you put in short reminders for important plot points and characters?
2. Read again with an eye to description. Have you given the reader enough in each scene to imagine the setting? Are your characters described when each first appears? Can the action be pictured easily from your descriptions?
3. Read again with an EAR to your words. Read it out loud, and really listen. This is where you will hear repetition you never noticed before and phrasing that sounds ridiculous or overwritten. Jot down descriptive words you are hearing a lot, so you can go back and analyze each instance to see if a different word would work just as well or better.
4. Do that word analysis on overused words and replace with alternatives.
5. Read it again with an eye toward punctuation. I think it is helpful to make your font larger for this read-through. You’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you’ll see just because it’s bigger. Force yourself to slow down and notice every bit of punctuation. Sometimes it’s even helpful to read it one sentence at a time BACKWARDS. That way, you can’t get caught up in the story.
6. Check for common mistakes. Do a search on every “there,” they’re,” and “their” to make sure you have the right one. I also check every “your” and “you’re”, “heal” and “heel”, “its” and “it’s”, “peel” and “peal”, “peek” and “peak”, “awhile” and “a while.” Yes, this is time consuming, but I ALWAYS catch mistakes this way. It’s worth your time.
7. Run your word processors spell check.
8. Turn on “non-printing characters” so you can find the extra spaces. (The new writing rule is one space between sentences, not two.)
9. Find 5-10 beta readers who will give you feed-back and check for mistakes and typos.
10. Fix those mistakes and typos, and any other story confusion they might find.
11. Format your book properly and order your proof copy. (I assume you already have a dynamite cover!)
12. Read that proof copy carefully. I GUARANTEE that even with all these read-throughs, you will still find mistakes.
13. After all this, are you happy with your book? NOW hit publish!