By Lisa Amstutz
Finishing a story you’ve worked hard on is something to celebrate! Now it’s ready for submission—right? Not so fast! You’ve missed an important step: the self-edit. Once a few days have passed and you can look at your manuscript clearly, take time to revise before sending it out. You’ll want to do this again and again as you continue to get feedback from critique partners and others.
Below are six
steps I always take when editing my own work, along with that of my critique clients
and mentees. Hopefully they will help you too!
1. ASSESS YOUR ARC. Before you worry about tweaking words here and there, look at your story as a whole. Is the story arc compelling? Does it evoke some emotion in the reader? Has your main character made several unsuccessful attempts to solve their problem before succeeding? Does the main character solve their own problem? Is the main character relatable to your intended audience?
2. PEP UP YOUR PACING. Once you’ve nailed down the story arc, look at the pacing of the story. Have you rushed through some parts, or spent too much time on others? For a picture book, break down the story into spreads (facing pages). Make sure you don’t have too much or too little text on each spread.
3. STUDY YOUR SCENES. Are your scenes complete and visual? Do they have a character, setting, and action or turning point of some kind? If it’s a picture book, can you envision different illustrations for each one? This is important for visual interest.
4. POLISH YOUR PROSE. Polish your language and make it really sing. Replace passive verbs (e.g., was walking) with active ones (e.g., walked, strolled, sauntered, etc.). Look for adverbs and adjectives and replace them with stronger nouns and verbs whenever possible. Find and simplify “double tags”—places where you’ve used both a dialogue tag and an action. Only one or the other is needed. Look at ways to make your reader want to turn the page in a picture book, or start the next chapter in a longer book.
5. READ IT ALOUD. Reading the text aloud is extremely important for picture books, which are intended to be read aloud, and for rhyme. It can also be helpful for longer books. Listen to yourself: are there any places you stumble? Sentences you could make more lyrical or exciting? It may be helpful to have someone else read your text aloud as well.
6. PROOFREAD! Before you send your manuscript out, be sure to proofread it and check the formatting. You want to present yourself as a professional, not as someone who will create extra work for their editor or agent. While an error or two will probably not affect an editor or agent’s decision, a manuscript riddled with spelling and grammatical errors will reflect poorly on you. If you use Word, review your spelling and grammar settings. Not only can the program flag potential spelling errors, but you can also set it to catch things like passive voice and extra spaces between sentences (one space is now standard). If grammar and spelling aren’t your strong suits, or if you are not writing in your first language, ask a friend to review the manuscript too.
Self-editing can only take you so far—at some point, you’ll want to get feedback from critique partners or a professional editor—but it will give you a solid start, and learning these skills will help you at each step along the way.
Lisa Amstutz is a freelance editor and the author of 150+ books for kids. For information on her editorial services and mentorships, see www.LisaAmstutz.com.