Hello!

Thank you very much for signing up to receive this editing guide that you can use to hone your own work before hiring a manuscript evaluator or copyeditor. First, I’ll give you some useful guidelines that you can put into practice right away in your work. Then I’ll talk about manuscript evaluations and how they work. I’ll finish up with a short description of the copyediting process and what exactly copyeditors do.

A little about me: I am a professional writer with six books in print. I have edited/copyedited nearly a dozen titles with Canadian publishers, and I have been running a successful manuscript evaluation/copyediting business for three years. If you like, you can find out more about me by clicking any of the links at the top of this page.



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Let’s jump right in!

Here’s a bit of text that I’ve made up to give you a few really quick tricks as to how to edit your own work before submitting it to an evaluator, copyeditor, publisher, or agent.

“Rosa felt sad. Her grandmother’s death had brought out feelings she didn’t realize she had. But she remembered her duties in the funeral preparations. She needed gas, so she pulled her 2004 blue Toyota Tercel up to the pump at the Esso station, grabbed the nozzle, and filled her tank.

As she pumped the gas into her car, the tears rolled silently down Rosa’s face as she remembered her grandmother’s easy laugh, her half-smile and the way a certain light entered her eyes when she was feeling mischievous. When Rosa misbehaved, her grandmother would turn on her heel and leave the room to let Rosa know she was in trouble and had displeased her grandmother. Rosa tried very hard to always please her grandmother.

After filling her gas tank, Rosa put the nozzle back in the holder, grabbed her purse from the car, and went inside to pay for her gas. She felt depressed as she thought about the funeral later that day. She knew she had to pick up the flowers by 2:00pm, and it was already 1:00. She only had an hour. Sighing heavily, and with a half-laugh remembering her grandmother’s insistence on punctuality, she got into the car and headed for the florist where the funeral flowers were waiting.”

I invite you to copy, paste, and print off those three paragraphs in a document of their own. Now, using your editorial eye and a pen or pencil, work through it to see how it can be honed, shortened, and made vastly more interesting. Don’t worry; I’ll guide you through it after you’ve given it a go.

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Let’s start at the top: “Rosa felt sad.” We’ve all heard, “show, don’t tell,” but how exactly do we do that in our writing? “Rosa felt sad” is a clear-cut case of telling. I would much rather read that she’s been carrying Wet Wipes in her glove compartment to dab away her mascara when it runs while she’s crying in the car. That
shows me how Rosa’s sadness manifests, rather than simply telling me she feels sad.

Similarly, we have the word “feelings” in the second sentence. “Feelings” is a word that has come to mean nearly nothing because it’s so broad. Murderous intent is a feeling, but so is profound sympathy for a spider you’re trying to help escape from your home so that you don’t have to kill it. Rosa could find herself weeping while she drives. This is perhaps something she never thought she would do. It’s new to her, and far more interesting to the reader than hearing about her “feelings”.

Let’s carry on: “She needed gas, so she pulled her 2004 blue Toyota Tercel up to the pump at the Esso station, grabbed the nozzle, and filled her tank.” Here, we can do some really effective editing work quite easily. In 99.9% of cases, anyone who drives a car pulls up to a gas tank for one reason: they need gas. There are those who pull up, clean their windshields, and drive off, but for the most part, when people pull up to gas pumps, it’s because they need gas. It therefore becomes unnecessary to tell us that Rosa needed gas.

Next are the details of the car. If this is just her car and it never becomes important later what kind of car it is, this car could simply be “her Tercel” or even “her car.” We need nothing more. We don’t need to know what gas station she’s at, and we don’t need to see her lift the nozzle and fill the tank. When what the character is doing is the only thing she could possibly be doing in that moment, it generally becomes unnecessary to mention it.

Now let’s look at the next paragraph: “As she pumped the gas into her car, the tears rolled silently down Rosa’s face as she remembered her grandmother’s easy laugh, her half-smile and the way a certain light entered her eyes when she was feeling mischievous. When Rosa misbehaved, her grandmother would turn on her heel and leave the room to let Rosa know she was in trouble and had displeased her grandmother. Rosa tried very hard to always please her grandmother.”

We already know that Rosa is pumping gas into her car, so the first part of this sentence would be more interesting if we changed it to something like, “As she waited for the tank to fill” or “As she watched the dollars rack up on the pump”. The next sentence incorporates a common tic that a lot of writers (myself included) use without really seeing. Tears are silent by nature. There can be quite loud weeping or laughter associated with them, but no tear ever has made a sound rolling down a cheek. Here’s what follows: If Rosa is standing up (as we know she is), there is nowhere else those tears would roll than down her cheeks. We can effectively delete the words “silently” and “down Rosa’s face” and lose nothing from the narrative.

Let’s talk about grandma’s half-smile now, and her habit of turning on her heel. I’ve never met an author (myself included) who would agree with any other author what a “half-smile” is. Nor have I met one who could convincingly produce one, the meaning of which would be immediately clear. I’ve also never seen a single person (outside of perhaps military marches and parades) turn on their heel to leave a room. It’s an amazingly clumsy thing to try to do. I’ve often stood up with rooms of authors and we’ve all turned on our heels, literally. It’s a gong show with people losing their balance, stumbling, getting their heels caught in the carpet, and always ends with the authors in various stages of laughter and promising never to write those words again. Additionally, there are four uses of the word “grandmother” in that paragraph, and I’ll suggest a way to fix that a bit further down.

If, as a writer, we are unable to make a certain look or light appear in our eyes, the meaning of which would be immediately clear to another person, it’s often best not to write about steely glints, certain lights, or anything else the author cannot produce in her/his own eyes.

Now let’s look at the last paragraph: “After filling her gas tank, Rosa put the nozzle back in the holder, grabbed her purse from the car, and went inside to pay for her gas. She felt depressed as she thought about the funeral later that day. She knew she had to pick up the flowers by 2:00pm, and it was already 1:00. She only had an hour. Sighing heavily, and with a half-laugh remembering her grandmother’s insistence on punctuality, she got into the car and headed for the florist where the funeral flowers were waiting.”

What do you now see (after editing the last bits) that could go immediately? Does the reader need to know about Rosa paying for the gas? I’d say no, because unless we are at a full-service station (which we know Rosa is not), we pay for gas in two ways: at the pump, or we take money or a credit card inside and give it to a cashier. In a normal, self-serve gas station open to the public, those are the only two ways to buy gas. It doesn’t matter how Rosa pays for her gas (narratively speaking), because we all know exactly how it’s done. Even if we’ve never filled a gas tank on a car in our lives, we know the basic procedure about how to buy gas. A little later in the paragraph, we can effectively cut the sentence, “She only had an hour.” We’ve been
shown that more effectively in the previous sentence. It’s 1:00pm and she needs to pick up the flowers by 2:00.

“Half-laughs” are a lot like “half-smiles.” No one really knows what they are. Rosa could sigh, certainly, but she needn’t sigh “heavily” as most sighs are heavy by nature: certainly heavier than a normal breath. We can then trim the last sentence. We know there’s nothing else she could possibly be doing next besides getting into her car. Those words can go. She can head for the florist, but we already know that’s where the flowers are.

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Now, I invite you to look at your document where you edited the passage by hand, and note the changes you’ve made, whether or not they incorporate my suggestions. If this were a text I was editing, when I was done with a first pass at revising it, it would read like this:

“Rosa pulled a Wet Wipe out of the pack in her purse on the passenger seat to wipe away her smudged mascara. Her grandmother’s death had caused her to cry at the most inconvenient times: driving, for instance. But she remembered her duties in the funeral preparations. She pulled her car up to the pump.

As she watched the dollars rack up, she let her tears slip as she remembered her grandmother’s easy laugh and her mischievous ways. When Rosa misbehaved, her grandmother would leave the room without a word to let Rosa know she was in trouble and had displeased her.

The thought of picking up the flowers made her cry again, but he knew she had to pick them up by 2:00pm, and it was already 1:00. With a sigh and a laugh, she remembered her grandmother’s insistence on punctuality. Rosa headed for the florist.”

Not only have we cut around 75 unnecessary words from the original passage, we’ve shifted its focus from the details we don’t need to read about to Rosa’s relationship with her grandmother, which is far more interesting.

Notes:

- If the activity the character is engaged in is the only one they would be reasonably doing in that moment, it’s not necessary to explain it: in this case, paying for the gas.

-Tears do not make noise.

-Adverbs usually aren’t your friends.

-If an author cannot replicate with her/his own face and vocal gestures something they’ve had a character do, it’s likely best not to write it.

-If the central moment of the passage (in this case, Rosa’s emotional remembering of her grandmother) is overshadowed by details that don’t matter, it’s those details that can usually be cut without hurting the narrative. In fact, cutting those unnecessary details actually
helps brighten the narrative and bring its important points to the forefront.

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These are tools that you can use right away to eliminate extraneous words or passages from your work before you hire an evaluator or an editor, or before you prepare your work for a press or an agent.



Manuscript Evaluation

In publishing and editing circles, there’s a conversation around what constitutes a manuscript evaluation, and what is considered editing. In my view, an author is best served to hire a manuscript evaluation when she/he knows that the work
will be of high quality, but she/he simply can’t see it any more, and isn’t sure what steps to take next. Authors become close to their work in ways that (perhaps paradoxically) make them blind to it. It’s similar to reading a medicine bottle. At a certain distance, it’s easy to read the type (depending on how your eyesight is). But the closer you bring the bottle to your eyes, the more blurred the type becomes.

The cleaner your manuscript is when it arrives in your evaluator’s inbox, the more in-depth and meaningful her/his evaluation will be. This never fails. If the evaluator you hire isn’t wading through the common challenges you’ve read about here in order to find your story under them all, the more time she/he can spend helping you make the work shine at the
narrative and structural levels.

The editing we just did with the short passage above is micro-level work. When we work through a manuscript evaluation, our focus is usually more on the overall narrative. Are the characters consistent? Does the plot follow a logical pattern (if there is a traditional plot)? Do we believe what the characters do or say? Are there areas where an author has over/under-described a situation? [For instance, all interrogation rooms at police stations and all prison cells look pretty much the same. Unless it’s Hannibal Lecter’s cell, I don’t feel there’s ever a need to describe one.] How does the whole thing hang together? And most importantly, where does the author go from here?

Before you hire a manuscript evaluator (this may seem obvious, but it seemingly is not to everyone), run a thorough grammar and spell check, and look at each suggested change with your eyes before accepting it.

My manuscript evaluation rates include all of these elements (with a focus on those which might need the author’s eyes the most), a 10-12 page letter of evaluation, some light editing suggestions on the document itself, and a two–hour brainstorming session with me following your receipt of the evaluation. Rates vary and are based on a standard reading/evaluation fee plus a per page charge.


Copyediting

Typically, copyediting will take place during the editing process after you’ve signed with a press to publish your manuscript. The press will initially want to receive the cleanest copy you can provide. Press people are only human, and a long week can be made even longer if a manuscript filled with errors and easily-fixed challenges crosses their desk first thing on a Monday morning.

Your manuscript needs to stand out, particularly if the press (or agency) accepts unsolicited manuscripts. Imagine how many piles of paper arrive at the office of any given Canadian press (which are often two-person operations) on a given day. The better you can make your manuscript appear, the better the chances of someone at the press reading it from beginning to end.

Copyediting is a specific and exacting skillset and though it does involve a good deal of work on grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, diction, and other elements, it can also include some fun little moments. My favourites: I once was paid to find the correct spelling of “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” Also on my list of fun fact-checks: is it Lazy-Boy, LA-Z-Boy, or Lay-Z-Boy? It’s none of the above. The correct spelling of that furniture brand is La-Z-Boy. Now quick, without running to your medicine chest and looking, is it Q-Tip, Q-tip, QTip, or Q-TIP? Once again, it’s none of the above. The answer is Q-Tips. That’s how deeply a quality copyeditor will go with your work.

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Now that you’ve got a little insight into how you might begin to edit your own work, and you’ve learned about manuscript evaluations and copyediting, please feel free to take a more detailed look at
my services (or simply click the Work with Me button above) if you find you’re interested in taking the next step with your work.

Thank you once again for requesting this guide, and I hope you’ve found it useful.

All best,

Kimmy Beach, BA (Hons)
kimmybeach.com
kimmybeach@mac.com
My latest novel (Nuala: A Fable) at the University of Alberta Press