• Elzevera Albada Jelgersma

5 Reasons to Self-Edit, Even If You Don’t Self-Publish

If you are like many writers, you may associate self-editing with self-publishing. Because when you go the traditional route, the publisher takes care of everything once you get a book deal, right?

Right. Except to get that book deal, you need to spark the interest of an agent or publisher. Research plays a big part in that–making sure you contact the right publishers for your genre and target audience and making sure you comply with submission guidelines. However, something that’s just as important to increase your chances of getting a book deal is often overlooked: presenting the best possible version of your manuscript.

The best and most rewarding way to create the best possible version of your manuscript is to self-edit.

Self-editing will help you stand out, show your potential publisher that you’re serious about what you’re doing, and boost your confidence in yourself and your writing project along the way.

So if you want to go the traditional publishing route, consider these five reasons to self-edit before submitting your manuscript.

#1 – You’ll stand out in the slush pile

The quality of the vast majority of unsolicited manuscripts a publisher receives is extremely poor. If you take the time to self-edit your manuscript, the editor who receives it will probably breathe a sigh of relief.

When an editor goes through a slush pile and looks at each manuscript, the question that arises each time is: “Is this worth my time?”

What it comes down to is: You want your story to be on its best behaviour when it meets the editor for the first time. Washed and polished, and charming yet professional.

If you submit a manuscript that’s riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, it will probably take the editor only a few seconds to decide that it is most definitely not worth their time. It’s one of those cases in which a clean, error-free text won’t win you any bonus points, but a document with many obvious grammar mistakes can be your downfall.

Beyond the spelling and grammar, self-editing will ensure your world and your characters stand out. Many slush pile manuscripts are very early drafts with underdeveloped worlds and two-dimensional characters.

By bringing your world and your characters alive through self-editing, your writing will be engaging, which increases the chances of the editor deciding maybe this manuscript is worth their time.

#2 – You’ll show the editor/agent that you care about the quality of your work

Picture this. You’re a recruiter looking to fill a position, waiting for the next candidate. When she enters, you notice she’s put eye shadow on one eyelid but not the other. Her hair is in disarray. The ways she’s dressed is a complete mismatch.

She may have proper credentials, but would you be able to look past that first impression when there are plenty of other candidates out there who would be a great fit as well?

The same thing applies to your manuscript in a slush pile. If you submit a manuscript that shows you didn’t put in a lot of time and effort to make it shine, it paints a gloomy picture.

After all: if you don’t care enough to put time and effort into your manuscript, why should the editor?

Self-editing your manuscript and making sure it leaves a positive first impression shows you’re willing to work hard to make your book a success. This, in turn, will make an editor more likely to consider you vs someone who seems like they will be challenging to work with.

#3 – You’ll get to know your strengths and weaknesses

Self-editing is a great way to discover your strengths and weaknesses when it comes to writing. When you know your strengths, you can emphasise them. When you know your weaknesses, you can ask for help to compensate for them.

This allows you to present yourself as a well-rounded writer who is capable of self-reflection and who will be ready to consider an editor’s feedback.

When you blatantly ignore your weaknesses, you present yourself as someone who wants others to do the hard work, which can be a turn-off for an editor or agent.

Knowing your strengths will help you when it comes to your cover letter or query as well because you’ll know what to focus on to show off your skills to your potential publisher.

#4 – You’ll impregnate your writing with your own, unique voice

Just like writers, publishers have a specific voice they adhere to. A particular feel that’s reflected in all of the titles they publish.

This means that an editor may take a fancy to part of your story, but not another. They may be interested enough in that specific aspect to invite you over for a conversation, in which they may propose some changes to the story so it’ll be a better fit for them.

In itself, this is not a bad thing at all. In fact, the show of interest is fantastic!

However, you don’t want to regret making changes you don’t really support just to get published. You want the book that’s distributed to be something you can be proud of, something that’s yours, taken to the next level by the publisher.

When you self-edit before submission, you’ll get to know your world and your characters inside and out, and you’ll have instilled your writing with your own, unique voice.

It takes time to develop that voice, so if it’s present in the first draft at all, it’ll be a lot weaker than it will be after a few drafts, by the end of the self-editing process.

When you have a firm grip on your own, unique voice and the aspects of your story that make it you, it’ll be a lot easier to decide which changes you’d be willing to make for a book deal and which changes you’d regret later down the line.

#5 – You’ll feel in control of your story

Aside from allowing you to develop a strong writing voice, self-editing helps boost your confidence. Your confidence as a writer and your confidence in your writing project.

When you feel in control of your manuscript and know you’ve improved it as much as you can with the tools you have, it’ll feel less like a gamble to submit your story.

Of course, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’ll get a book deal, but that confidence will make it a lot easier to go through the submission process.

When you get a rejection, you’ll have a better feel of whether it’s because your manuscript just wasn’t a good fit for that publisher or agent, or because it needs some more work before re-submitting.

And if you get a book deal, you’ll know it’s thanks to the hard work you put in to present the best possible version of your story.

What are your thoughts on self-editing before submitting to an agent or publishing house? Share them in the comments!

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