manuscript copy editing hacks

How I copy edited my 30,000 word manuscript in a week


After reading 15 ‘must know’ content editing hacks for Indie writers I hope that you now have an idea about the editing options to choose and what to take up first. What I am going to talk about today, is a step ahead from there. Once you are done with content edit of your first draft or manuscript, you would move on to a more ground level edit, the copy edit.

Copy edit, as we shared earlier, is a very matter-of-fact editing service, where you check for punctuations, grammatical errors, formatting and such. Even though it seems to be a very easy task to do, believe you me, when you sit down to copy edit your own copy, it’s a different ball game altogether!

You have already tried doing it? In that case, chances are that you are extremely frustrated at the tedious nature of a copy edit, and want to know short cuts to complete it in a short amount of time, with the littlest possible work. Let me break this myth, copy editing is not an easy task; it cannot be done with little effort. But there are definitely a lot of things you can do to make it slightly less painful!

So I have here, listed down, some very interesting tips/hacks to help you along your arduous copy edit journey. These helped me set a discipline to my editing work, and hopefully will help you too!

1.       Get a grip on your work. Before you even begin to edit, divide your manuscript into parts that can be edited every day. This way, you have a steady amount of work charted out for you until a fixed duration. This can also be set as a reminder on your phone? No escape for you now! You can also make a mind map and pin it on your desk or workspace. Every day, take out an hour, religiously, no matter what, to edit. Your book is important to you, right?

2.       The basic of the basics of copy editing, is to use track changes. It is the most amazing tool you have at your disposal, free! Using track changes, does just that, helps you track versions of your manuscript that you can move between back and forth. It also helps when you regret any change made, but have forgotten what you wrote as the original version. Believe me, most of us, as writers get to this situation, sooner than later. And it is not funny when that happens and you do not have track changes on.

3.       Always copy the manuscript in another word document. Confused?  You have a manuscript. Now make manuscript_v1. And make edits to v1. This is also a trick I always use, when I am not sure when I set out to edit a document. Sometimes you may realize you don’t want to make any edits, oftentimes when you are half way through. Having another copy which is unedited will give you a perspective on how far along you have come. This is slightly easier than comparing track changes versions.

4.       Okay so that’s sorted. Now once you are ready to sit down to edit, the first thing to do, is skim your entire document, however long it is, and highlight the parts that look dubious to you in the first glance; rest assured there will be many. Even before you take up the full book, minutely go through these parts first. They will have the maximum loopholes for you to plug in. Done? That was easy, wasn’t it?

5.       Now we get into the nitty gritty of the grammar world. This, if you haven’t had an official training in the language will be tough. So do yourself a favour and buy yourself a good dictionary, or a thesaurus and keep it handy. You can of course also use tools such as Grammarly, or google too! Referring to the help books make it easy to change repeated words, or check on your usages without much frustration. I found this trick to also be very stabilizing, just the thought that I have something to fall back on, helped me immensely.


Also read: What editing option works best for your book?


6.       One trick that many of  first time manuscript editors AND writers can use, is sticking to a consistent use of tense throughout your book. Unless it is absolutely necessary, do not go back and forth between the past and the present, the present and the future, or the future and the past, most definitely not back to back. The same rule applies to active and passive voice. If you have too many back and forth instances for any of these two areas, it will make your manuscript that much more difficult to grasp, read and even edit, in case it ends up in a traditional publisher’s kitty. Got that? Super.

7.       Have you ever gorged on punctuations? Used triple exclamation marks when you are a little too excited, or over done with the comma or semi colon? We all have been there done that. That is okay for use in colloquial terms, in dialogue boxes or comic strips. In a manuscript it will just end up looking shabby and unformatted.  Go through the manuscript and remove any extra punctuations keeping the writing simple. At this point, you have already covered a major chunk of your copy edit work. Congratulations!

8.       Most of us think and love using big lofty words in place of simple ones. Don’t we? I am guilty of doing that myself from time to time, only to be reminded that the writing needs to be toned down a little. The truth is, readers like simple language. They read only to read, not to learn the English language. There are other tools for that. Do you agree? So now is the time, you will go deep into your work, and fetch out words that are way too big to be used in that particular instance, and replace them with simpler, easier words using a thesaurus.

9.       Okay, so now we have done most of the hard work. Only little things to be done next. Let us begin with a simple exercise. You will have to go back to your manuscript and check for any ‘-ing’ words you have used. She was skiing on the slopes. He was looking at her. And so forth. One of the most common Indie author mistakes we make, is literally translating some words from our mother tongue, to English. And the result of many, is an ‘-ing’ word. Wherever possible remove the usage and use a simpler sentence. She skied on the slopes. He looked at her.

10.   Use side notes. You can also make a third word document, that has your comments on a specific edit you made, and why you made it. You will love this when you are done with the first round of copy edit, are reading your manuscript again and don’t know why a certain portion of the book looks different. Side notes can be as large and as small as you want them to be. Edited the sentence because it wasn’t fitting into the scene. Is one example of a side note. This can also be achieved by using comments in the review mode of your word document. With comments the advantage is, you don’t have to make a third document and you can delete all of them once you are thoroughly satisfied with the changes you made.

You will not find many of these tips on the popular ‘editing hacks’ websites or articles. Why? Because these come from my personal experience of editing my 30000 word long manuscript. They aren’t the end-all of copy editing, but they will mean the world to you once you begin your editing process. I will try and come up with some more, later, if you are interested. Do comment on how you liked these hacks, or how you used them or changed them to suit your style.

Thanks for stepping in. Happy editing!


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