The editing is done. Your critique partners have done their work, and you’ve torn things down and rebuilt them and finished all the fine detail work. You’ve buffed every word of your manuscript to a high gloss. You’re ready now. It’s time to send your work, the fruit of your extensive labors, to find its place in the world.
You just have to do one more thing. Print it – the whole thing – and then set aside a nice chunk of time and read it once more. Out loud.
I believe there’s a study out there in the Land of Studies that shows people catch more when they read from paper than when they read from the screen. You need to catch everything, so man up and print your manuscript. I know how much it costs to print something of any real length if you’re not using your own printer. I scored a laser printer ages ago and never looked back. They just don’t cost that much anymore, and you’ll go a long way before you have to refill the toner cartridge.
Reading out loud will force you to step back from the manuscript. You’re going to see it the way a stranger would see it. You will see long blocks of text on the page. You will identify odd sentence constructions because your tongue will struggle with them. Bad dialogue will identify itself; if it sounds weird when you read it, then people probably don’t talk like that. You will catch inconsistencies in spelling – you’d be very surprised by how frequently I catch characters’ names spelled inconsistently in a single manuscript. And you’ll catch those pesky homonyms.
Don’t underestimate the amount of time it will take to read your whole manuscript out loud. No matter how long it takes, you’ll reap most of the benefits if you read the whole thing in one sitting. Inconsistencies and repetition are most visible if you’re not putting the manuscript down very often. You don’t have to turn it into an audiobook recording, though. You could just read as if reading to yourself, in a barely audible subwhisper, letting your voice skim over the words. The results will be essentially the same.
I know that there’s an option in most software to have the computer read your manuscript to you. You know how I feel about having the machine do a human’s work, right? This is no different. The machine is not going to stop for homonyms. It doesn’t care about the huge block of text you have on page 46. The machine makes all the dialogue sound bad because it doesn’t inflect anything. Don’t let the machine do your job. This is difficult and time-consuming, but you know, no one promised us a rose garden.
Try to make it a good time. Pour yourself some water and make yourself the first consumer of your book. I promise, the first time you catch something this way, you’ll find it’s worth the effort.
**Freelance editor Lexi Walker will be posting on issues of grammar, usage, and style twice monthly. She knows that her firm approach to editing stings a little but prefers to think that the momentary discomfort means the process is working.