Manuscript Evaluation Christmas Cards

Gray Christmas CritiqueAre you struggling to find a perfect holiday gift for the writer(s) in your life? Send a some seriously supportive love to their mailbox this season! For the next month, I’m offering my new 50-page critiques with a special card you can have mailed straight to your literary loved one. You can choose from either a minimalist gray card or a bright, Looseleaf-green card.

Once they have the cards, writers can use the provided codes to schedule a critique whenever it will be most useful for them and their work.Green Christmas Critique

Order a manuscript critique today by visiting Looseleaf’s online store.


When Should You Hire an Editor?

As an all-purpose freelance editor, I field projects in all stages of development: brainstorming, developmental editing, line-by-line polishing, and the final spit-shine of proofreading. However, some individuals who contact me have projects that are not ready for an editor. If I take projects in all stages of development, how can any project be unready?

It depends on the project, and it depends on the author. First and foremost, before writers hire an editor, they should do enough work to make themselves proud. There are three main reasons why you should contract outside help with your writing, and the third reason doesn’t apply to everyone.

1. You have done all you can and you want your work to reach another level.

As per the Looseleaf editorial philosophy, I believe editors should help writers become better writers. That can’t happen if you, as the writer, throw down whatever comes to mind and chuck it at an editor. Chances are, you’ll chuck over a lot of stuff you could have fixed yourself, which means the editor wastes his or her time (and yours) fixing things you already know how to handle.

If you have 20 pages of a novel and a skeletal outline, you don’t yet need an editor: you need to write. If you have a manuscript with a chapter you know how to fix, you don’t yet need an editor: you need to revise.

But if you wrote the whole thing and tightened up all the chapters and sentences you could and you still want to take it up a notch, it may be time to bring in an editor. An editor can find what you couldn’t see yourself.

2. You have a specific change you want to make, and you’re not sure how to do it on your own (or that change would be many times easier for fresh eyes).

Many people rightly hire an editor when they have a specific task they want accomplished, but aren’t sure how to go about it. Some writers need to cut thousands of words but can’t decide what needs to go. Some researchers want to repurpose their work to reach a lay audience but don’t think they can see what needs to be changed. You might also need to condense a cast of characters, streamline your argument, or find where your plot won’t hold water.

This is a good time to get outside help. You have a specific task in mind, which makes it easier for the editor to help you.

This reason also applies to tasks like copyediting and proofreading, which are much easier for fresh eyes to do. For these types of editing, your specific task is taking out grammar, punctuation, and stylistic errors, and it’s easier for an editor to do that because he or she will not already be neck deep in your prose.

3. You’ve done all the work you’re keen on doing, but you need more work done.

The third reason most often comes up with researchers and businesses that are on tight deadlines. If you’re someone who needs to write to communicate, but you don’t pride yourself on your writing, then you might write the basics of what you need and have an editor to fix it up. Could you have done the task yourself? Maybe, but then again maybe you don’t consider writing your best work. Maybe your best work is the research, the ideas behind the business, or the conceptual work. The phrase-by-phrase writing doesn’t concern you as much, so passing that part to an editor or ghostwriter frees up more of your time for the parts in which you excel. You get to do more of the work that makes you proud.

I don’t recommend this reason for individuals who pride themselves on being writers. It’s rare for this reason to apply to a novelist, for example, because novelists are known primarily for their writing. Once you’ve done all the writing work you can, then you’re ready for an editor, and you can claim your own work with pride.

Looseleaf Proofreading

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is proofreading day.

What Is Proofreading?

Proofreading is a lot like copyediting, which I talked about yesterday, but with a few important differences. It’s still nuts-and-bolts editing, but it’s more restrained than copyediting. Proofreading is supposed to be the last thing that happens before a book is released (except fixing the errors found in proofreading, of course). This means that sometimes a proofreader will allow text through that isn’t ideal, but isn’t exactly wrong either. When I proofread I look for errors and inconsistencies that the author would change if he or she saw them, not for things I think should change. If it won’t make the author look like an idiot, at this point, it’s probably okay.

Proofreading also tackles an aspect copyediting leaves alone: formatting. Because I proofread on the final version of a manuscript, I make sure the final version looks the way it is supposed to. If there are font changes, I point them out for the typesetter; if there are words that are hyphenated in an unhelpful way, I suggest a different line break. I point out lines that are too spaced out, too cramped, or too short to stand on their own. I make sure page breaks happen at good points in the text and that there are no distracting patterns in the word spaces. (If you’re savvy to typesetting lingo, proofreaders look for bad breaks, widows, orphans, rivers, word stacks, and more.)

Proofreading is important for both print books and ebooks. Ebook formatting can get botched during creation or during conversion from one file format (e.g., .doc, .pdf, .indd) to another (e.g., .epub, .mobi, .amz), and it’s important to proofread the final version as it will be seen by your reader.

When Does a Manuscript Need Proofreading?

As you’ve probably gathered from my description of proofreading, it’s the very last thing you do. Proofreading should be done on manuscripts that have already been copyedited and that are deemed ready to be released. If you don’t have your manuscript in the final version for print or electronic distribution, proofreading isn’t for you yet. This can be an important distinction when you’re hiring someone. Most editors will be able to figure out if you’ve asked for proofreading when you actually wanted copyediting, but knowing the difference will help you search for the right editor.

How Can You Do Some Proofreading Yourself?

As with copyediting, I don’t recommend proofreading for yourself. That isn’t to say you’re incapable of catching the types of errors proofreaders focus on, but rather that when it comes to your own work it’s not advisable to rely on yourself. If someone has seen your manuscript before (unless it was a very different version), they’re probably the wrong person for your proofreading. I won’t proofread manuscripts I’ve already worked on; instead I choose one of my stellar editor friends, have them proofread it, and then review their work to make sure it’s in line with what the author and I have discussed in previous edits. This ensures that the author is getting the best editing possible. If I’m new to a manuscript, that means I’m the right person for the job. When it comes to your manuscript, you’ve seen it too many times to be qualified.

So instead of telling you how to proofread, I’m going to give you some tips on preparing to hand your manuscript over to a proofreader, whether you’re paying them or not. The best piece of advice I can give you is to make a style sheet. A style sheet gives your proofreader a map for how things should be, and it cuts down on the time a proofreader spends asking you questions. Here are a few things that should be in your style sheet:

  • How you spell and capitalize characters’ names, place-names, theories, principles, and objects unique to your manuscript. (It’s also helpful to write out any acronyms you use.)
  • What style guide you use for your citations (Chicago, APA, MLA, etc.).
  • What color your characters’ eyes, hair, skin, etc. are. (Other personal details that need to be consistent—like age—are also very helpful.)
  • Any facts that are particularly pertinent to making sure everything makes sense chronologically.
  • Your stance on any ambiguous language issues you feel strongly about (e.g., who / whom). This also includes any unique spellings you have that deviate from dictionary standards (e.g., writing lifewriting as one word instead of two).

If you have a style sheet with your opinions and needs for the manuscript on it, you’ll have one extremely happy proofreader, which is almost as good as proofreading for yourself.

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Looseleaf Copyediting

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is copyediting day.

Clean CopyeditingWhat Is Copyediting?

Copyediting is a nuts-and-bolts type of editing that focuses on grammar, spelling, punctuation, style, and consistency. When I copyedit I polish your work. I make sure your character’s eyes stay the same color throughout the book and that you capitalize words or phrases the same way from beginning to end; I make sure you get the I’s before the E’s (except when you shouldn’t) and that your pronouns agree in number and gender with whatever they’re standing in for. Copyediting is, essentially, what most people think of when they think of editing. It’s cleanup.

Sometimes copyediting isn’t necessarily a right-or-wrong type of thing.* There are a lot of language scenarios in which you have more than one option. For example, you might be using whom in a grammatically correct way and un-dangling your prepositions (“Willis needed to figure out to whom he should send the package”), but that might not suit your character voice or the tone of your book (and maybe “Willis needed to figure out who to send the package to” would be better). When I’m copyediting, it’s my job to make sure you stay consistent in your language choices and that they align with the message you’re trying to portray. (If you’re writing something scholarly, that means I’ll scour your citations and make sure they’re correct down to the spacing between the periods, because it’s important to your credibility.)

Copyediting goes a long way to increase your credibility, and nothing will hobble your street cred faster than a misspelled word, misplaced modifier, or missing quotation mark. Copyediting gives your work polish.

When Does a Manuscript Need Copyediting?

A manuscript needs copyediting after the content of the manuscript is completely satisfactory. (If you copyedit before your final revision, the copyediting becomes a little superfluous because your final changes are going to effect your wording, which means you’ll need to do the copyediting again.) When you’re sure your story, study, or article says everything you want it to say in the way you want to say it, you need copyediting to make sure all your words, phrases, and facts flow. Copyediting comes after you’ve deemed your work “done” and you’re ready for final touches.

How Can You Do Some Copyediting Yourself?

Copyediting is a hard thing to do for yourself, mostly because by the time you’re copyediting you’ve seen your manuscript too many times to count. It’s also hard because you know what you meant to say, so you might not be able to see that you didn’t actually say what you meant to. However, there are a few things you can do to help yourself.

  • Change the form of your manuscript before you edit it (print it out, put it in a different font, etc.) The more you can defamiliarize yourself with the text, the better you’ll be able to edit it.
  • Use electronic tools to search for a phrase and make sure it appears the same way throughout your manuscript.
  • Keep a sharp eye out for errors you know you’re prone to.
  • Be wary of homophones (words that sound like each other but mean different things): your / you’re, their / they’re / there, lead (metal) / led (past-tense of to lead), etc.
  • Read your manuscript backwards. This helps you see when you’re missing words in common phrases that you might not see otherwise.
  • Read your manuscript out loud.
  • Look things up. Use a solid online dictionary (like Merriam-Webster) or other resource. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a reference book or two on hand if you know how to use them (i.e., a usage dictionary or a style guide like the Chicago Manual of Style).

Overall, I don’t recommend doing your copyediting yourself, though it may be a good idea to have a friend or two look over the manuscript before you hire a copyeditor. The further someone is from your manuscript, the better they’ll be at catching little mistakes.

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* As an example, copyeditors don’t even agree on what to call themselves. Sometimes they’re copy editors instead of copyeditors.

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Looseleaf Substantive Editing

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is substantive editing day.

Railway TrackWhat Is Substantive Editing?

Substantive editing is also called line editing. That’s because for a substantive edit I go through a manuscript line by line and consider how each line could be better. This means it’s a lot more sentence- and word-based that developmental editing, but it’s still focusing on how the manuscript works as a whole. It can go as big as reordering paragraphs and as fine as tweaking a word to sustain your tone. When I do a substantive edit, I look at how the little pieces work together to strengthen your plot or argument, your character development, your theme, your structure, and your ability to reach your audience.

Substantive editing with me often involves some ghostwriting. By that I don’t mean that I insert sentences you have to include. What I mean is that sometimes the suggestions I make in a substantive edit are best communicated through examples. If you need a transition between two paragraphs, I may write one. Then I’ll leave a comment explaining why I did what I did and asking you to look over the change. I may pull a sentence from the end of a paragraph and put it somewhere else, but I’ll want you to make sure I didn’t change the meaning from what you intended.

This means that substantive editing involves a lot of tweaking, reordering, and decision-making from the author—which means that even though a substantive edit may involve grammar-related changes, it can’t stand in for a true copyedit. By the time the edit is done you’ll have changed a lot of text, and any time you make lots of changes you need to go back and make sure the details of those changes are clear and consistent.

When Does a Manuscript Need Substantive Editing?

Your manuscript needs a substantive edit when you think your story or argument is solid, but you want help with the details. A substantive edit won’t overhaul chapters, scenes, and arcs the way a developmental edit will; it will make sure every line is serving the structure you’ve already set up and keeping your ideas on track. So if you’re satisfied with your setup, but you want something more in-depth than an error-hunt (i.e., a copyedit), you should be looking for a substantive editor.

How Can You Do Some Substantive Editing Yourself?

Before you can do a substantive edit, it’s important that you have a concrete vision for your book. If you aren’t sure whether you want a dark tone or a darkly humorous one, you’re going to have trouble doing the fine-tuning the book needs (some of you won’t have any trouble with this, but some discovery writers may need to think about it). After you feel that you understand your structure, you can ask yourself questions. The more you do on your own before hiring an editor, the more that editor’s feedback will help your writing, because the editor won’t be telling you things you already knew.

  • Does this line communicate my purpose to my audience?
  • Would this sentence be more effective earlier or later?
  • Does this word suit the tone/character/viewpoint? Is there a better word?
  • Does this dialogue match the character’s purpose in the book?
  • Does this sentence contribute to my argument, or is it distracting from my main point?
  • Is this action consistent with the character I’ve created? Is it stereotypical or cliché?
  • Is this bit of dialogue didactic or stilted?
  • Does this transition show the logical progression of the plot or argument? Does it leave a gap the reader has to bridge? How can I transition better?
  • Does this element of the book support or erode my theme?

Some of these questions are similar to those you ask in a developmental edit. The difference is that in a substantive edit you’re focusing on smaller things—smaller errors and smaller opportunities. These small things are the ones that take your manuscript from being good to being excellent.

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Looseleaf Developmental Editing

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. Today is developmental editing day.

Editing ScaffoldingWhat Is Developmental Editing?

Developmental editing is also called story editing, book editing, or book doctoring. It’s large-scale editing in which I make sure your book doesn’t have any lapses in logic, character consistency, plot plausibility, argument rationality, or tone. It means digging into the meat of your manuscript and finding where it can be better. Maybe you can get more tension out of a character relationship or you can make a stronger point by refuting an opponent’s argument. I make sure that scenes and sections are happening in the most effective order; that characters’ dialogue is organic, engaging, and consistent; and that the choices you’re making as a writer are the most effective for communicating with your audience.

Essentially, a developmental edit looks at the same things as a manuscript evaluation, except after I grasp the overarching idea of your story, I dig into each chapter, scene, and paragraph and comment on how to make each one more effective for the whole. I do very little on the sentence level unless something is repeatedly problematic (i.e., a character always uses words in a weird way or there’s a consistent tendency to grammatically obscure your point).

Developmental editing normally requires multiple passes. Because the fixes I recommend are larger, sometimes a change will either introduce new problems or uncover smaller issues that were hidden by the larger one. After you make your changes, it’s a good idea to run it past me again.

When Does a Manuscript Need Developmental Editing?

A manuscript needs developmental editing if you’ve received a lot of feedback that says something about the manuscript “just isn’t working,” and you want help making it work. Often copyediting and substantive editing will not help a story or argument that isn’t working on a larger level.

Developmental editing is also a good idea if you’ve gotten manuscript evaluation–type feedback and you want help applying it throughout your manuscript. If you want to work closely with someone who knows your work and understands your goals while you’re developing your story, initiate an editorial relationship and dig in.

How Can Authors Developmentally Edit Their Own Work?

Hiring a developmental editor is a big commitment: this type of editing tends to be the most expensive and it usually involves more passes than other editing types. So before hiring an objective eye, you may decide to use your own first so the editor you hire isn’t telling you things you could have figured out yourself. Here are some questions to ask yourself while you’re editing:

  • Does this section/scene/chapter communicate my purpose to my audience?
  • Would this paragraph/section/scene/chapter be more effective earlier or later? What would I gain from a change?
  • How can I communicate this character’s personality better?
  • Does this scene or section do double duty? (For example: In a narrative, is the scene showing character as well as moving the plot? In instructive nonfiction, is this section communicating new ideas and reinforcing what readers should take away from the book?) How could it be made to do double duty?
  • Is this scene/section/chapter consistent with the tone of the book? (A humorous chapter could be great on its own, but farce in the middle of a tragic book may ruin the book’s effect on a reader.)
  • Is this action consistent with the character I’ve created? Is it stereotypical or cliché?
  • Is this bit of dialogue didactic or stilted?
  • Is this a logical progression of the plot or argument?
  • Does this element of the book support or erode my theme?

Many of these questions are hard to answer on your own because you will be close to your manuscript and might be blind to the problems. But the better your manuscript is when you hand it over to an editor, the more useful the editor’s feedback will be.

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Looseleaf Manuscript Evaluations & Critiques

This week I’m going to look at each of Looseleaf’s editorial services and tell you what they are, when you need them, and some tricks you can use to do some editing yourself before you hire it out. I’ll post about one service a day, in the order a manuscript typically undergoes them in a full publishing process. That means today is manuscript evaluation day.

What Is a Manuscript Evaluation?

Manuscript Critique ScalesWhen I evaluate a manuscript, I read the whole thing in as few sittings as I can manage—usually I’ll have it done in one to two days once I start (that is, if the rest of my schedule is clear and the book is under 100,000 words). This allows me to look at how the book functions as a whole: the plot arcs, the character arcs, the promises the writer made at the beginning, whether or not those promises paid off in the end, etc. I look at repetitive quirks the writing has (do you always use –ing phrases?), consistency in the dialogue, and anything else I can think of.

I do not edit grammar (though if there is a grammatical error the author consistently makes I’ll make a note of it), I don’t consider whether single sentences might be better placed differently, and I don’t tighten the wording. All that is for later, more fine-tuned editing. Manuscript evaluations are for grasping the big picture and making judgment calls about it.

When I’m done reading and making notes to myself, I write up a multi-paged letter (the length depends on the length and quality of the manuscript I’m evaluating) in which I respond with things that work well, things that don’t, recommendations, and cautions about where you need to be careful about the fixes you employ.

When Does a Manuscript Need an Evaluation?

There are three times when you might want a manuscript evaluation: early, late, and in a special case.

Early. If you’ve finished your manuscript and you’re about to dig in and do heavy revisions, you might want a manuscript evaluation to give you some guidance. A manuscript evaluation will point out the things you should keep and the things that need tweaking, so that editor letter can come in handy as a road map for getting started.

Late. If you’ve been querying and submitting and people are asking for your partial or full manuscript, but ultimately they’re passing, you might consider a manuscript evaluation to figure out why. Sometimes you won’t get detailed feedback from the people you’re querying; you will get it from me. This can help you hone a manuscript and get it past a brick wall.

Special Case. If you have something specific you want to do with your manuscript, but you’re not sure how, a manuscript evaluation can again give you the road map. Maybe you need to cut a substantial amount from your manuscript but you’re too close to the work to see what can and should be cut. Maybe you’re trying to popularize a scholarly work for a general audience and you’re not sure if what you’re doing is effective. Whatever the special case may be, announce that purpose in your request for a manuscript evaluation and I can focus on that purpose in your editor letter.

How Can Authors Evaluate Their Own Manuscripts?

If you’re early in your revision process, you may choose to evaluate your manuscript yourself or use free alpha or beta readers. When you’re doing evaluations, keep a few questions present in your mind:

  • Who is your audience? Are you communicating to that audience?
  • What insights are you communicating? Do you communicate them well?
  • Does your tone change a lot over the course of the manuscript, or in unpleasantly unexpected ways?
  • Are your characters flat stereotypes or fleshed-out people? Are they consistent and competent? Are their arcs believable?
  • Is the dialogue didactic or stilted? Does it feel organic and unique to each character?
  • If you’re writing informative nonfiction, is the takeaway explicitly linked to what you’re saying, and is it apparent what you want the reader to take away? (This is also relevant to fiction and creative nonfiction, but subtlety is more advised in those genres.)
  • Are there any sentence constructions or errors that are repeatedly problematic?
  • Are there any lapses in logic or plot holes?
  • What is your theme? Is the theme present throughout? Is that theme useful to your target audience?

More questions will likely apply to your manuscript, and you’ll have things you want to ask yourself throughout based on your individual story or purpose. But these basics can get you started in the right direction. As always, the more objective you or your beta reader can be, the closer you’ll come to an editorial opinion.

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