Professional editing is the sine qua non for serious authors. So how do you get the most out of the process? At Inkwater, we have three suggestions.
First, make sure your manuscript is ready for editing.
When is a manuscript “ready” for editing? When you’ve made it as good as you can.
Many authors have a voice in their head that says, “It just needs to be ‘good enough’—the publishing process will take care of the rest.” That “good enough” voice usually kicks in when you are almost finished. Writing a book is exhausting, and you may be tempted to move on when fatigue sets in. But while there is always a point of diminishing returns, there are usually ways to strengthen your work even when you are in that grueling almost-there phase.
For example: check for consistency (e.g., read scenes featuring one character . . . scenes occurring in real time . . . turning-point scenes). Read your manuscript out loud. Compile a list of overused words and do a find/replace to deal with them. Just take some extra time to look for the things you’re still blind to. This requires brutal honesty about your own writing, and although you won’t catch every issue, you can usually come a lot closer than you think.
Once you have hit the point of diminishing returns, share the manuscript with a beta-reader or two. Hopefully you have been soliciting feedback all along, workshopping pieces of your manuscript in a critique group or partnership. But beta-readers are your test audience for the entire work, and they can be invaluable.
What makes a good beta-reader? Look for someone who is more than a well-read friend, a college English professor, or a supportive family member. Beta-readers can be those things—but they should also “get” the genre you’re working in. And it helps to know how they read. If your beta-reader favors labyrinthine, dense fantasy, she might not be able to give you useful feedback on your sparely written detective novel—even if she enjoys it. Basically, you want to know where a beta-reader is coming from, so you can determine which feedback is relevant for you.