Lots of my readers are also writers, so I thought I'd devote today to a very important part of the writing process--self-editing. It can make the difference between hearing 'sorry' or 'sold,' so don't gloss over it thinking that's your editor's job. Believe me, she has enough on her plate.
Once the manuscript is finished, it's time to revise and polish. And let me encourage you to be brutal. This is your last chance to make the story as good as it possibly can be before you start submitting it. You only get one chance to impress an agent or editor. Make it count. If your prose sparkles, if the manuscript is clean (error free), you've made their job easier and given them a reason to trust you.
Start with the beginning of your manuscript. Does your opening sentence raise a question in the reader's mind, something to hook them into reading on? If not, work on it until it does.
Is your first chapter bogged down with back-story? Slash it now. Hit the ground running and don't look back. You need to know what's come before. Your readers only need the barest hint and then only if it's absolutely necessary for them to understand enough to continue. Keeping your reader slightly off balance, wondering why something is happening or why a character is reacting in an unusual manner is a good way to keep the pages turning. And that is your goal.
I always tell my DH he married a hooker. (Now, now, I'm talking about writing hooks!) These are tiny tantalizing bits of information that create a path for your readers. If you work it right, you can literally pull your reader forward through your story. This is what keeps readers up nights.
Check your prose. Are you using passive voice? Hope not. Lots of helping verbs? Weak. Circle every word ending in "ly" and cut them till there's no more than one or two per page. Use descriptive verbs and nouns instead of adjectives and adverbs.
Read your story aloud. You'll hear the echoes of over-used words your eyes may miss. Any sentence you have to take a breath to finish is too long. Cut it in half.
Look at your pages. How much white space is there? Are you too heavy on narrative and too light on dialogue? Do you need the tags on your dialogue or can you tell who's speaking based on their speech patterns? Do all your characters sound alike?
Can you smell your scenes? Have you engaged all the senses or are you relying merely on visual? Your reader wants to walk in the heroine's shoes. Give her enough to know where she is and how to feel about it.
Are you sticking with one point of view per scene or are you popping in and out of your character's heads so much you'll give your readers whiplash?
Do your characters have similar sounding names? Tolkien may have gotten away with Eowen and Eomer, but most readers prefer not to have to work that hard. Do your character's names start with the same letter? For the sake of clarity, change one of them now.
Use the spell checker. I mistrust the grammar checker, but the spell check is my friend.
When your story is polished till you're sick of it, turn it over to someone whose judgment you trust--generally not a relative or someone who wants to continue sleeping with you. Don't be defensive. Prepare yourself for requests for revisions. If you don't develop the hide of a rhinoceros, your stay in Writerland will be painful and brief. Accept their comments and consider them carefully. You didn't come down the mountain with the story carved in stone. Revise if you find you agree with them.
Once you're satisfied your manuscript sparkles, do your homework. Don't send it to an editor or agent who doesn't handle your brand of romance. Choose your targets carefully. Why set yourself up for a 'no?'
Print it up. Say a prayer. Submit to the agent or editor you're targeting and start working on the next book. Don't even think about contacting them for a response before three months.
As always, I'm happy to answer questions. Or if you have a self-editing tip to share, please leave a comment! I'm always looking for new ways to sharpen my prose.