Please note (April 21, 2016): Though the images of AutoCrit’s system are old, the same workflow still applies. In fact, AutoCrit has improved over the years and is even better than when I wrote this. I still copyedit all of my work using AutoCrit!
The process of bringing a book to readers is arduous. You have to have an original idea, write it eloquently, figure out all the things wrong and make them right, get test readers, revise, more test reading, more revising. You get my drift, right? It’s not something that happens in a few months. It can take years! And if you decide to get an agent and then get traditionally published, the process can take even longer.
Let’s say you get to your 8th or 9th draft, you’ve revised, you’ve beta tested, you’ve workshopped, and now you want to self-publish (the idea of getting an agent or traditionally published doesn’t appeal to you). Your novel is awesome! And you want to put it out there, right? Have you line edited your manuscript yet? Copy edited? Do you know what that means?
Line editing is the process of evaluating your manuscript for tone and style. Honestly, I’m going to assume that by the 6th, 7th, 8th or 9th draft, you have this down pat. You have a writing style, and you use it consistently. If you feel that you don’t, you may want to ask for help here because line editing is a bigger issue than I can deal with in this post. If you feel that your manuscript is consistent, your last two steps before publishing will be copy editing and proofreading.
Copy editing is the process of formatting a manuscript’s grammar and language accuracy. Plenty of writers are great storytellers but don’t know shit about grammar. Commas misplaced. Wrong idioms used. Sentence fragments everywhere. You can completely turn off a reader from your story by getting these things wrong, so you’ll get them right, right?
I’ve broken this process into three phases. It’s up to you which of the first two phases you conquer first. They can be switched. This is my personal preference.
Let me point you to a few sites you should memorize and get to know before copy editing:
And here is a list of some other random articles I looked up while revising this last book:
Ok, that’s how to get started. Evaluate every sentence (yes, I know that’s tedious, but it’s only the beginning). Once you get the hang of seeing the dependent and independent phrases and the conjunctions, you’ll start writing cleaner in your first draft instead of your 10th draft.
Once you’re happy with sentence structures, it’s time to save and backup your manuscript and move onto phase 2 of copy editing.
I’m recommending something that costs money, and I know many self-publishers are on a tight budget. It’s worth it. Get yourself a subscription at AutoCrit.com. I have the Platinum membership because I like to plug in a chapter at a time for analyzing. It’s only $77 per year! That’s nothing. I’m sure you can make that money back in no time.
AutoCrit’s name is misleading. It is not a critique of your manuscript. You should have done that already. NO ONE WRITES IN A VACUUM. If you haven’t let other people read your work and give you critiques, you shouldn’t even consider publishing your work. My first novel, REMOVED, has been through 10 drafts. It has been read and critiqued by over 40 beta readers. It was agented. It was on submission! I wouldn’t dream of putting it out there without feedback. All the other novels in the series have been read by outsiders too. If you need critiques, get a critique group or a crit partner who is willing to give you real feedback.
AutoCrit is going to do something for you most human beings can’t do, it’s going to show you overused and repetitive words and phrases, sentence length, pacing, cliches, and a whole host of other details you may find useful. These are all items the human brain tends to skip over but begin to nag at the reader’s subconscious after a while, pulling her out of the story. She’ll be two or three chapters into a story and wonder why the author keeps using the same phrase over and over! Boom! She’s out of the story, back to reality, and that’s no good.
Let me show you what happened when I plugged my first chapter into AutoCrit. This was draft NINE.
Clearly, I have a love for the words “that”, “just”, “it/there”, and a few other things. All of these items are words that can be removed from your manuscript to make the writing stronger.
Let’s start from the bottom:
There are more things AutoCrit will call out to you, but I managed to stay within an acceptable limit on those items. Many writers will just change “saw/see” to “notice/watch/observe” and AutoCrit will catch those too. Sneaky! Once you’re done fixing everything in red (you can turn the items on/off with checkboxes if you want to do them a pass at a time), run your new text through.
See, I didn’t eliminate everything. I got them down to what I felt were acceptable levels within my style and story and called that portion of copy editing complete.
BUT YOU’RE NOT DONE! There are other tabs along the side to look at. Sentence Variation is nice. It’ll show you the length of sentences, and you can decide to chop up longer sentences if you have many in a row. Or maybe combine some shorter sentences to vary things? It’s up to you. I like my chapters to flow in and out, like a wave.
The next most helpful tab is definitely the Repeated Words & Phrases. This is what my chapter looked like before I edited it.
Look at that! I see plenty of things I can change in there. I can rewrite a sentences to eliminate “while” which I used in two adjacent paragraphs. I can use my thesaurus to describe the kimono better and eliminate at least one use of “orange.” This was just a snippet of text. The whole chapter needed a sweep through.
You’ve completed Phases 1 and 2!You’ve gone through every chapter, fixed sentence structures, and then used AutoCrit to get rid of overused and repetitive words, added variation to sentence structure, and analyzed the pace. You’re done, right?
Get a different set of eyes to proofread. Have someone who is not you, and you trust to be an eagle eye (I ask my mom and an English teacher friend) read everything over and make sure you didn’t accidentally delete a word or punctuation or a paragraph. This is important! By now, you are probably sick of looking at your manuscript! You need a break! Get outside help. Pay them in coffee, cookies, yarn, what have you.
Now, go out there and make your manuscript go from great to stellar!