Self-Editing: The Importance of Consistency

When you’re editing your own work for publication, one of the easiest ways to look like an amateur is by not being consistent. Character names, place names, capitalization, spacing, indentations, and general formatting can end up varying a lot when you’re working on a lengthy manuscript that takes months or years to complete.

Even though I’m an editor, I can’t always keep that hat on while I’m in theeditor creative process of writing. There are times when just getting the words out is the most important thing, and the detail work of refining must be set aside for a later time. But that later time must eventually come, and all of those little inconsistencies must be fixed for the sake of the work’s integrity.

To help you understand what I’m talking about in practical terms, here are some actual examples of inconsistencies I found (and fixed) when I got to the final editing stage of Ancient Voices:

    • The name of one of my minor characters had been spelled 3 different ways.
      An easy way to prevent this is to save all of your character names into your spell check. That way if a name gets redlined, you know you need to pay attention instead of just ignoring it. For some reason I hadn’t done that with this character’s name and it almost got past me…almost. 
    • I had sometimes capitalized Winter Festival (making it a proper name) and at other times left it lower case, indicating it was just a general description of the event. I had to decide whether or not to make it a proper name, then go back and adjust everything accordingly. I had done the same thing for words like Shrine and Troll.
      A simple find/replace will work if you have the “match case” box checked. 
    • Ok, so this betrays my age a little, but in High School Business class I learned to type on an electric typewriter. Back then, it was drilled into our heads that you put two spaces after every period and colon. This rule has since changed, but I can’t seem to re-train my fingers. I try for a while, inevitably lapsing back into hitting that spacebar twice after every period. I’ve kind of given up. But obviously I have to fix this before publication, and this involves thousands of minor corrections in a full length work.
      Thankfully, find/replace will correct this also. 
    • At the beginning of some chapters I had included the chapter numbers, and for others just the name was there. For one in particular I had changed my mind about the chapter name, changing it in the body of the writing, but not in the Table of Contents.
      Always make sure that your chapter headers are consistent in terms of formatting, and in content. Do a final check that your Table of Contents page matches up. 
    • Word’s grammar check is frequently dead wrong, but when you’re all finished editing and think you’ve fixed absolutely everything, run it anyway. It caught a couple of errors for me that I was happy to fix. In one place I had written “in” twice but not picked up on it. In another I had used the incorrect word…spelled right…but contextually incorrect. Simple mistakes, yet I would not have wanted them in the published book. 
    • Spoken words are always in quotes, whereas direct thoughts are in italics. I found several places where I had forgotten to italicize thoughts.
      Sadly there is no easy way to find this, you just have to be very aware when you’re proofing. 
    • When your publisher offers you the option of a printed proof or digital one, take the printed proof! Yes, you may have to pay for it. Yes, it will take time to get delivered. All of that is really annoying, when all you want to do is quickly scan through the digital copy and click that “approve” button. But considering how long you’ve worked on your manuscript, you can wait another week. 

Make sure your cover looks good in print and not just on screen. You may have reached the point where you feel like you can’t possibly read through your book one…more…time!  When you’re done having your mental temper tantrum, man up, find a comfy chair, and read it again anyway. Pretend you’re a reader who has just paid for this book and is hoping it will be worth the investment. I found stray errors in my printed proof that I did not see, or could not have seen, in my submitted file. Among other things, I found places with weird spacing and formatting from the conversion process, two places where closing quotes were missing, and not all of the italicized thoughts that I had so carefully looked for and fixed were showing up. I had to correct the ones that had not converted properly. I was extremely glad that I had taken the time to read through the printed proof.

All lessons learned, and I’m sharing them because I know from experience how easy it is to get tripped up by the little things. Self-editing is extremely hard—way harder than the writing itself, and harder than editing for someone else. I hope my book is perfect, but I can’t make any promises. Maybe some reader has already found a mistake I missed and snickered about it. But there are plenty of books out there from big publishing houses that end up with small errors in them, too. I’ve even found some in my beloved Narnia Chronicles collection. Nobody is perfect, not even publishing house staff editors. That doesn’t mean we give up trying, because when there are too many little problems in a book, that’s all the reader will notice and remember. It is a major hazard of self-editing, so if you have to go that route, be prepared to do a lot of extra work, and ask others around you for help. In the end, your creative masterpiece is worth the effort.

Want more self-editing tips?  Click here for another article on the subject from earlier this year.

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