Whatever you send to an editor or agent, should be perfectly edited and polished – whether it’s an initial query letter, synopsis, proposal, sample chapters, or the complete manuscript, since you will be judged on how you write as well as on your content. And both editors and agents tend to be sticklers for good writing. So if your letter or other material is peppered with errors, you might not get past first base on your way to a writing home run.
If you don’t have the time, interest, or ability to do this fine editing and polishing, hire an editor or ghostwriter. However, don’t explain in your query letter that you hired a professional ghostwriter or had your manuscript professionally edited. This mea culpa sounds like the sign of an amateur, since an underlying assumption of making a submission is that whatever you are submitting has been edited – and it doesn’t matter by who. So don’t call attention to your lack of expertise. It a different situation if the outside writer or editor is a named co-writer or “with” writer. Then, do mention the collaboration, but don’t refer to the editing of the manuscript.
The only time to mention what has or hasn’t been edited is when you are including some edited chapters in the proposal but have additional chapters that haven’t yet been edited. Then, it’s fine to explain this and point out that these unedited chapters will be polished up when you prepare the book for publication — this way you prepare the editor or agent for the drop-off in the quality of the manuscript in the additional chapters compared to those in the proposal. Or you can mention the unedited manuscript when you submit a proposal that doesn’t have any sample chapters and the editor agents requests some chapters or the whole manuscript. There may be a few other exceptions where the editor or agent knows the manuscript isn’t yet fully edited but asks for it anyway, and you send it out unedited in the interests of time. But normally, expect to have your manuscript fully edited and polished when you send it in.
Here are some basic guidelines for doing an effective edit and then correcting the manuscript accordingly.
– Check for spelling and grammar errors and correct them. While Spellcheck or the grammar corrector in your Word program can help point up likely errors, just like a GPS in a car, it isn’t infallible and can steer you wrong. For example, Spellcheck will not identify those cases where you have spelled something correctly, but it’s the wrong word, and Spellcheck will incorrectly claim some proper names or new expressions are wrong because they aren’t in its dictionary. Likewise, the grammar checker can sometimes wrongly suggest there should or shouldn’t be punctuation and may miss many popular shortcuts in modern writing. So, yes, do use Spellcheck and your grammar program if you have these when you edit, but also check the document yourself.
– Unless you have a time deadline or want to edit something as quickly as possible, edit off the computer initially and then enter your corrections. This way, you’ll see the manuscript in a more global, comprehensive way, like an ordinary reader rather viewing it as a linear series of pages on a computer. Doing this off the computer review also enables you to more easily compare pages, such as if you are checking for previously written material that is similar in concept though not written the same way, since a “find” command on a computer won’t pick this up. Then, too, when you can look at the pages off the computer, you can easily move things around if you want to make changes. Later, you can enter all of these edits into the document on the computer.
– Besides looking for the obvious spelling errors, typos, and grammatical mistakes, look for overlong sentences you can break into two or three sentences and any writing that is unclear. As necessary, change any pronouns, whether subjects or objects of sentences, such as he, she, it, and they into the name of a person, company, or character, so it is clear who or what the pronoun refers to. Also, be careful to use the same tense, so you don’t switch suddenly from present to past or vice versa, and check that the singular and plural forms of the subject and verb agree.
– Streamline the manuscript by cutting out any unnecessarily repetition, such as reiterating the same idea in several different ways or duplicating the description of something after the initial introduction.
– Where possible, change any passive constructions to active constructions (such as saying “he did something” rather than saying “something was done to him by,” or saying “a great upheaval occurred” rather than “there was a great upheaval.”
– If you are working with another author or co-writer who is reviewing your manuscript, a good idea is to submit your initial draft for feedback, and explain that you have not edited the material yet. Then, you can incorporate any changes based on this feedback when you do your final edit and polish. This way you don’t edit and polish the manuscript a first time only to have to make changes again after you get this feedback when you do a second edit and polish.
– Finally, recognize the difference between a line or copy editor and a developmental editor or writer doing a rewrite. In the first kind of edit, you are largely looking for the most obvious spelling and grammatical mistakes, plus breaking up overlong sentences and clarifying thoughts. In developmental editing or rewriting, you are not only doing a line edit but revisions and reorganizations, too.
So now happy editing – or if you don’t want to do it yourself, find an editor, and choose the right kind of editor for the amount of editing you need. If you only want line or copy editing, choose an editor who only does that, since your cost will generally be less.
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Gini Graham Scott, PhD, writes frequently about social trends and everyday life. She is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients and has written and produced over 50 short videos through Changemakers Productions. Her latest books include: TRANSFORMATION: HOW NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY ARE CHANGING YOUR LIFE and THE BATTLE AGAINST INTERNET BOOK PIRACY