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Writing your manuscript

It might seem unlikely but the writing stage does have an effect on the publication process. For example, the software you use and the way you manage elements such as references and endnotes while you are drafting might cause complications later if you don’t think ahead. It’s a good idea to check that any software you use (e.g. Scrivener) will be compatible with other computer programs you want to use during the next stages of publication. Think about the ways you collect and manage footnotes or references, for example, so they can be easily organised in the final manuscript at the printing stage without having to go back and re-do all the numbering and page references for new formats.

Writing for publication

There’s so much advice around about the writing process and different writers will tell you different things about who you are writing for. If you write from the heart then you are writing ‘for yourself’ but if you decide to publish then presumably you want others to buy your book, enjoy it and recommend it to their friends, so you’re not really writing just for yourself any more. Who will be your audience? When you decide to publish, you might want to do some gentle editing or even make some major changes with your own readers in mind.

While I was editing, I sometimes felt confused about who I was writing for – me or my readers. There were parts of the manuscript I always said I would never cut or change because they were too important. As years passed, and I moved closer to publication, I thought more about what would be right for a reader other than me, someone who’d choose to buy the book even if they didn’t know me. I eventually rewrote some of those same sections. I even edited out the original ending, one of my own favourite parts of the whole book.

Tip: if you can leave your manuscript for a while and then go back to it after a few weeks, you return with a better chance of reading it as a reader, and not as the writer. Things that don’t work well will stand out but you’ll also recognise what’s good. Setting the writing aside can make the next edit easier and might also make you feel more confident.

Rewriting and editing

Editing can be very hard and cutting content can feel especially painful but if you’ve decided to publish, what your potential readers will want and enjoy suddenly enters the writing frame in a more obvious way. However attached you are to a particular paragraph, or even a whole chapter, you’ll need to be very honest with yourself about its contribution to the whole, from a reader’s point of view.

Editors and proofreaders

If you’re an experienced writer you might feel able to do both these tasks yourself, especially if you want to cut down on costs. An editor can do far more to help you than simply check the surface features of your manuscript, like spelling and punctuation. There are several different kinds of edit according to the kind of support or professional service you want. A full structural edit is an in-depth overview of your manuscript and gives you a new perspective on aspects such as plot, character and setting. The suggestions might include adding new information, removing chapters, changing the order of content or even dropping a character. A structural edit will bring any inconsistencies or repetitions to your attention. It can be a huge help but might also be hard to swallow if you don’t feel ready to make changes.  A copy edit would usually be done at a later stage and is a way of checking the content in some detail. Depending on the kind of edit you have asked for, the editor might make suggestions to improve accuracy or to clarify, such as breaking up a long, confusing sentence or even substituting a word.

I’ve done a lot of editing work before as part of my job but I’m not a trained editor. I decided to use a professional editor and I’m very glad I did because that feedback was high quality and good value in the improvements it made to the manuscript. My editor did a structural edit first and then a copy edit when I felt the manuscript was ready to be published. I also employed a proof-reader just before it went to the printer, knowing that some typos would have slipped past me, but I did my own checking of the printer’s proof copy.

Tip: I found that reading the text aloud and reading it in a different visual format (from computer screen to tablet or as hard copy) helped to highlight errors, especially word repetitions I hadn’t found before.

Tip: check the text again if anyone has been in a position to edit it even accidentally. The smallest change, just an unnoticed click that adds a single line, can alter everything, even shifting whole pages along.

Evaluating your own strengths

In getting the writing ready for publication you need to be honest with yourself about what you’re good at and where you might need help. You can reduce costs by doing things yourself or even learning a new skill but there will probably be important parts of the process that will benefit from the input of an expert. For example, even if your writing is very accurate and grammatically correct, that doesn’t mean it won’t be improved by advice from a good editor. Decisions about what’s worth paying for and what you might do on your own can have a big impact on the final quality of your book, both the content and the way it looks.

Sometimes the decisions are difficult but it helps to be sure about what matters most to you in the design and content. I wanted the maps to be hand-drawn, in keeping with the book’s historical context, and had already got the name of a local cartographer to do the work but we hit our budget ceiling. There wasn’t anywhere else I wanted to cut back on expenditure so Mike taught himself the skills he needed to create the maps himself. They aren’t the beautiful artworks they might have been but they certainly do the job they’re meant to do and we stuck to our priorities for the book as well as the budget we set.

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