Self-editing and the indie writer-publisher
It’s always easier to see the errors in someone else’s writing and miss the obvious during our self-editing. For an indie writer-publisher, aside from making sure you produce quality work, your presentation can be the difference between making a living or not. It’s important to be critical. If you don’t have the luxury of anyone else around to pick out the clinkers for you, you need an extra sharp eye during your self-editing.
Depending on how you’re publishing, you may be lucky and the online platform you use will convert your doc for you. Keep in mind, though, even these platforms can only convert what’s there and if there’s no consistency, it will effect the outcome. If you don’t have this luxury and you’ll be doing all the formatting and and converting yourself using something like Adobe Digital Editions, then it’s going to take some elbow grease to polish your master piece.
Being objective about our own writing is one of the more difficult tasks for any writer. One of the oldest tricks for catching more errors is to put your writing away for a while–weeks is good, months even better. This distance breaks the emotional attachment to those literary children we’ve spawned and allows us to not only see the errors, but be less indulgent about keeping them. Most working writers don’t have the luxury of that kind of time, though, since they’re working to a deadline.
The Self-Editing Checklist
Without that luxury of time, a checklist of easy-to-identify mistakes can help keep your self-editing on the right track.
This checklist takes into account that you’ve already gone over your writing multiple times. At this point, you’re down to getting the master copy ready for conversion before uploading to an ePub platform or to your own website store or similar. As you go through your document, if you find there are a lot of errors you missed, you may want to use my Editing for Awesomeness series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) to help you tune-up the mechanical parts before moving forward. Once that’s done and you’re happy with it, then go through the self-editing checklist before converting your document to other formats.
Having a distinctive or catchy phrase stuck in your head while writing can make you repeat it throughout your piece. During your self-editing, keep a sharp eye out for this kind of repetition and remove it. If a phrase seems familiar to you, you’ve probably used it more than once. Remember, if you noticed it, then the reader will, too.
Use the document find feature to help you pick out exactly how many times you’ve used the phrase. The rule is if you’ve used it more than about every seventy or a hundred pages or so, then you’ve overused it. However, if it’s particularly singular and stands out, you can really only get away with using something like that once. Think of something else brilliant to replace the repeats.
Once you’re in the habit of doing this as part of your regular writing, it shouldn’t be an issue, but you should still check for it. We’re all human, mistakes happen.
Ensure you’ve used the same number of spaces before and after your chapter headings and in your scene breaks. Making them all the same makes for a more professional, uniform presentation.
The spacing in the paragraphs of your fiction should all be single-spaced. Even without reading the document, a visual check as you scroll through will show up anything that doesn’t match this, so you can correct it.
Writer tics and crutches
Almost all writers have pet words or phrases and once you start to take note of yours, you’ll be able to eliminate them from your writing. Keeping these to a minimum keeps your narrative fresh.
When I was an on-air radio announcer, we used to record our break dialogue and then study it later to catch our own crutch words and phrases. You never notice them on the way out, but boy, can you hear them later.
The same holds true for writing. A good way to stomp these out is to catch them during your self-editing. Jot them down as a reminder to yourself if you have to. By doing this, you’ll become hyper-aware of their use and can train yourself to eliminate them from your writing overall.
Stray sentences not tied to anything else
Word processing programs are a necessary convenience for modern writers. Unlike typewriting, their ability to allow you to remove sentences in your unfolding work does sometimes leave you with strays.
During the initial writing, you may have been following a particular train of thought, but as soon as you typed it out, realised it wasn’t going to work and then removed some or most of the text on the fly. Doing that as you go does sometimes leave a few strays behind from those original thoughts. It happens, so don’t beat yourself up over them if you find them.
More important is that you do find them during your self-editing. Simply remove them before you convert your file.
If you have a lot of dialogue in your story (and you should in your fiction!) and haven’t had a lot of practice with this yet, target this during your self-editing. During dialogue, the punctuation goes inside the quotation marks.
If you have a tendency to switch back and forth between semi-colons and em-dashes, make this consistent. And semi-colons in general? Yes, for formal writing, but not so much for general consumption fiction. If you have a lot of these, you may want to consider swapping them in favour of the more versatile em-dash. Just a suggestion.
Doubled punctuation at the end of sentences has no place in your story, either. If you find double exclamation points or question marks, they need to go. Additional emphasis should come across through your word choice or sentence structure. If it doesn’t? You should rewrite a bit before you move on. The only exception to this rule would be for the non-standard punctuation mark interrobang (?!) which has two punctuation marks together. Only used in informal writing, even in that context it should be used sparingly, so if you find a lot of them, you’ll want to thin those out.
Formatting is the bane of my own existence and I know I’m not alone. What a tedious task. While there are general rules for formatting, the most important thing to remember is no matter what formatting choices you make, they must be consistent. Especially for later conversion to ePub format, simplicity is what you want, so best kept to a minimum overall.
During your self-editing, watch out for where you’ve italicized words. If you started off italicising internal thoughts, check for consistency the entire way through the piece. If you have words in other languages and italicised them, make sure you did the whole way through.
Chapter headings should have no formatting, since you’re going to mark them with the heading tag in your word processing program prior to conversion. Delineation marks between scenes should follow publishing standards like five asterisks–or five dashes or something equally simple–centred on the page and nothing more complicated than that.
Text size should always be uniform and font face should be something easy to convert. If you’re in the habit of using fancy or custom fonts in your word processing program, these can’t always be converted. Again, simplicity here is best.
Block paragraphs vs. indented paragraphs
If you used a consistent approach to paragraphs while you wrote, this shouldn’t be an issue, but still good to check.
Where I see this switch back and forth myself? Usually when I’ve taken a paragraph(s) I wrote in a different document or platform (because I had an idea at the time and wanted to get it down) and then pasted it into my manuscript document. Doesn’t always happen, as in when you remember to strip off the formatting when you paste it, but could be missed on a day you were rushing. As you run through self-editing your master document, these will stand out and should be corrected before you convert formats.
In general, block paragraphs have no place in a fiction book unless you’re doing it for effect. Certain types of academic books or reference books get a pass on block paragraphs. If you’re writing these type of books, sure, block paragraphs are fine, but again, check for consistency throughout including the number of spaces between the blocks.
Self-Editing = Polishing
Self-editing may feel like a chore, but when you’re fighting to make the best presentation you can, it’s a critical activity. Nothing will kill your legitimacy faster then having a crap-looking ePub book, no matter how awesome the cover and story may be. People judge based on the look. Making a better presentation helps get readers over the reluctance to pick up a book from a writer they don’t yet know.
Polish, polish, polish as you edit and when you get down to the master copy, do it some more. There’s no excuse for skimping on your attention here. Every writer should master the skill of self-editing, but it’s even more important for an indie writer where you’re solely responsible for the publishing output.
If you’re serious about making your mark as an indie writer-publisher, self-editing will go a long way toward making your work stand out for all the right reasons.