Monthly Archives: May 2017



One of my authors sent me this week a photograph of his manuscript as he is editing it: cut into strips of paper, each paragraph sliced into a free-standing piece of writing to make it easier to rearrange and rewrite as necessary. I’ve heard tell of other writers using this tool, too, as well as countless other editing techniques.

Editing is an essential part of writing. From concept to publication, writing, editing, and rewriting are fundamental to getting your work published. As if making good writing weren’t difficult enough, editing your own work and then rewriting it can be an excruciating exercise in torture. It’s mentally exhausting.

The truth is that it is really difficult to edit your own work.
But it has to be done.

That doesn’t mean that yours should be the only eyes that see your work before you submit it for publication. Getting a professional to take a look at it—a manuscript critique or a full edit—really can make the difference between publishing work that’s just okay and work that really shines. But you certainly should do as much editing of your own work as possible, before sending it off to an editor for hire (which will save you some time, money, and heartache), to an agent, to an editor, or to a publisher.

In addition to literally chopping-up your printed manuscript into tiny bits and rearranging it, here are seven easy-to-use tips for editing your own work:

Give It Time
Many of us edit as we write, hitting the delete key just about as often as we hit the space bar. That’s okay. Each of us writes in our own way. We all have our own methods. If you want to edit as you go, do it. But once you’ve gotten to a point where you actually have a fully written first draft, stop editing. Step away from the document. Put the pen down. Turn off the laptop. And give it a rest. Whether you can give it thirty minutes or thirty hours or thirty days, it’s important to step away from the manuscript so that you can edit it with fresh eyes—even if, and perhaps especially if, you’re on deadline. A rushed manuscript is a manuscript full of mistakes. So take some time away from your work so that you can edit it with a clear, more objective mind.

Read It Aloud
Whether fiction or nonfiction, short or long, read your manuscript aloud. Be sure to take your time reading—don’t breeze through it just because you’re so familiar with it. Instead, pretend you’re reading it to someone who is wholly unfamiliar with it. When reading aloud, you’ll be in a good position to catch awkward phrasing, inconsistencies, and choppy writing that mar your manuscript.

Have Someone Read It Out Loud to You
If you can bribe someone with some beer and pizza or wine and chocolate or whatever to read your manuscript aloud to you, do so. Listen carefully for that same awkward phrasing, those inconsistencies, and the choppy writing that you would catch when reading aloud yourself. But also take special note of whether your mind starts wandering while you’re being read to: If you’re not fully engaged, chances are your readers won’t be, either. If your thoughts start drifting, it’s a clear sign that your manuscript needs some work. Same thing goes with your guest reader: If your work can’t hold his or her attention, it won’t hold the interest of agents, editors, publishers, or other readers, either. (If you can’t find someone to read your manuscript to you, tape yourself reading it aloud and then listen to the results. Once you get beyond how much you hate the sound of your own voice, you’ll have an entirely new impression of your writing.)

Read It in Print
As easy as Word or Google Docs makes it to edit online, there’s just something about reading something in print (aka hard copy). Seeing it in print makes it more real. So print your document and read through it, using your trusty red pen to edit as you go, preferably after you’ve spent some time away from the manuscript, whether a few hours or a few days.

Read It in a Different Font
Most of us editors like to see manuscripts in 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced, first line indented 0.5″, with 1″ margins. It’s a bland, innocuous format that makes for easy reading. When editing your own work, though, try messing around with the formatting and typeface, which will give your manuscript a whole new look. This alone will help you look at it with new eyes.

Go Beyond Spellcheck
First, of course, you have to actually run spellcheck. I’m amazed at the number of manuscripts I get where it’s obvious the writer has not undertaken this simple step. So, yes: Run spellcheck. And then put your copy-editor hat on and do a run-through on your manuscript for grammar and punctuation. Read your manuscript for verbal tics that keep creeping into your work—i.e., for those throw-away phrases that you use too often (e.g., in fact, indeed, and then, and so, with that, nevertheless, furthermore). Search for commonly misspelled words (e.g., embarrassed, mischievous, privilege), homonyms (e.g., there/they’re/their, its/it’s, principle/principal), and mistyped words (e.g., asses instead of assess, brian instead of brain, pubic instead of public). Once you’ve cleaned-up your manuscript for these annoying errors, you’ll be in a better position to edit for the big-picture stuff like tone, voice, flow, structure, plot, and so forth.

Edit Like You’re a Book Reviewer
Admit it: Like most writers, you edit pretty much everything you read while you’re reading it. From cereal boxes to blogs to newspaper articles to full-length books, we writers find it hard not to rewrite and edit just about everything we read. Give your own work the same treatment. This is where it can really pay off to give yourself a break from your work so that you can come at it with fresh eyes. And I mean really come at it—hard. Review your own work as a critic would, purposefully and ruthlessly looking for where it stumbles, where it falls apart, where it just doesn’t work. Go at it with the assumption that it’s crap, that it’s no good. Challenge yourself to find something—anything—that’s really works at all in the manuscript. Mark it up with abandon. Then set it aside again, coming back to it later, less harshly, and see what your devil–angel editorial review has revealed.

There are any number of tools and tricks writers can use to edit their own work. It’s not easy—we tend to be either too cruel or too forgiving on ourselves, hating every word or loving every word, thinking we’re terrible hacks or creative geniuses. But editing can—and should—help you become a better writer, as long as you learn from your mistakes and listen to what the edits tell you. With each manuscript you edit, fiction or nonfiction, short or long, you have the opportunity to become a better writer.

May 17, 2017

“You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”
—Arthur Plotnik





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The old axiom is that you should write for yourself. That’s true. You absolutely should write for yourself. There’s no sense slogging through a manuscript that you really don’t care all that much about. So do write for yourself. But you should publish for your readers.

Connecting authors to readers isn’t as easy as one might think. Discoverability is an eternal challenge, despite the plethora of social media platforms, online communities, and myriad other venues through which authors can connect to readers. With hundreds of thousands of new books published every year, making sure that your book finds your readers is a real challenge.

You simply cannot expect that thousands of readers will somehow discover your book and stampede to the bookstore to buy it. (Heck, with the average self-published book selling a mere 250 copies, you can’t even expect that hundreds of readers will somehow discover your book.) Instead, you must reach out to your readers—well before your book is published and long after it’s hit the shelves. You must find your readers where they are.

And, so, where are they? And, not only that, but who are they?

Let’s tackle this second question first. I often hear from authors who tell me that theirs “is a book for everyone.” This is a bad marketing ploy. Not only is it naïve, but it tells me that the author doesn’t know who his reader is. As the old publishing trope goes, a book for everyone is a book for no one—meaning that, if you don’t know who you’re writing for, you also don’t know who you’re publishing for, and so you don’t know who’s buying your book. Translation: You don’t know who your readers are.

So before you can figure out where your readers are, you have to figure out who your readers are. It’s not always easy to do this, but there are a few ways you can at least get an idea of who your fans and followers are. All the people who are following you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, and so on make up your community, your audience, your potential readership. Learn more about them by engaging with them. Use social media platform analytics to determine who these people are. Twitter analytics, for example, has a handy tab that shows audience data, noting age group, areas of interest, country and region of origin, and gender. Take a look at all these data. Are you writing for the people who are part of your community?

For instance, let’s say you’ve written a business book geared toward C Suite executives, VPs, and board members—essentially high-level professionals. If your social media data analytics show that the preponderance of your followers are 18-to-24-year-old females who enjoy mystery and crime, are you communicating with your existing audience? Will your existing audience want to rush out to buy your book? Or are you just hoping that you’ll somehow be able to connect with your intended audience?

If, say, you’re writing a YA title about a time-traveling werewolf working with zombies to magically forge a new utopia out of a post-apocalyptic America, but the work you’ve been publishing consists primarily of narrative nonfiction and self-help essays in popular magazines like Cosmopolitan or Esquire, are you building a community of readers who are going to rush to the stores to buy your new book?

Are your readers among the target audience of Cosmopolitan or Esquire? Are they following the same hashtags that you’re using? Are they reading the kind of material that you’re writing? Are they going to the same WhateverCons that you’re going to? Are they attending Meetups with like-minded individuals?

Much of discovering who and where your readers are speaks to building your platform, which is very much about building your community. Are you finding your readers on Amazon? on Goodreads? on Riffle? on Authors Den? on GoRead? Are you communicating with your readers via videos on YouTube and podcasts on Apple Podcasts?

Don’t forget the old-school routes, either. Indie bookstores are great places to meet readers—customers and booksellers alike can help you build your community and gain word-of-mouth sales. Same with libraries. Today’s local libraries are more than just book depositories; most offer all sorts of programming and are thrilled to welcome authors who will discuss their books with readers. My local library, for example, hosts more than seventy different book clubs. That’s a lot of readers who are constantly looking for new books to read.

Look beyond as well to other institutions such as history museums, community colleges, and other community centers. Tap into writers groups. Organizations like this are always looking for programming and frequently host authors who discuss their books.

Also, be sure to work your relationships with people who are connected to readers. Book reviewers, features writers, events planners with literary organizations—all of these folks can help you reach potential readers who will help you build your community and buy your books.

It’s really all about knowing your readers, finding them, and connecting with them—and realizing that literally thousands of other authors are competing for their time and attention as well. Plain and simple: The authors who do the best job at finding their readers where they are, connecting with them, and building relationships with them will sell the most books.

But you simply cannot wait until your book is published to start doing this—by then it is much, much too late. I cannot stress this enough. Too many authors, both newbies and established writers alike, wait much too long to begin promoting themselves and their work. You cannot wait until pub day to begin building your community of readers. You really have to connect with your readers way before that, finding them where they are and sharing your work with them, communicating with them, building a relationship with them.

Today you can do this more easily than ever. By taking advantage of social media analytics, you can get a strong sense of who your readers are. By using social media to engage with your readers, you can connect with them in a way that you never could before. By doing some legwork and tapping into readers and bibliophiles through bookstores, traditional media, and various brick-and-mortar institutions, you can have high-quality, real-world face-time with readers who will want to buy more of your books the more they get to know you.

You can do it! And you have to. Because although you might well be writing for yourself, if you want someone other than your mom and your best friends to buy your book, you have to publish for your readers. Because, in the end, it’s really all about the readers. Without them, our writing would go nowhere.

May 2, 2017


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