Manuscript Development

When Error Proof is finished with your manuscript, publishers and literary agentsDSC_4037-1024x68 4 will know you’re a serious writer worth their attention, allowing your story and unique voice to truly shine.

If you ask writers what they hate most about writing, the majority will say editing. It takes a long time, is less enjoyable than writing the first draft and involves thinking about a lot of things at the same time: grammar, punctuation, spelling, capitalization, logical progression of ideas, point of view, mood, theme, target audience, word choice, tense, headings, subheadings, font style and size, paragraphing and line spacing—to name just a few.

No wonder editing is associated with eyestrain, headaches and feelings of frustration and hopelessness.

To make this process less painful, writers may hire a freelance editor to help them get through the difficult stages. As you gain experience editing your work and develop a relationship with your editor, the process will become shorter and easier. The goal is to go through each stage only once, with as little help as possible.

Below you'll find an explanation of the various editing stages all good writing goes through before it's ready for publication.

If this is the first time you're reading this process, it might look quite daunting. The fact is, being a writer is tough; being a good writer is tougher; getting published is even tougher; and being a great, published writer is one of toughest challenges you'll face. Anyone who says otherwise is either lying, doesn't draft their work (usually because it's only a hobby, which is fine), or has a ghost writer.

We will explain this process in small, manageable chunks of information that shouldn't melt your brain. While we use a novel as an example, the process is much the same for shorter fiction, and non-fiction and technical writing of any length.

First Draft

The author writes a chapter at a time, with minimal feedback from a fellow writer, writing group, or mentor. The key here is to get the story down as organically and seamlessly as possible with only the faintest amount of conscious thought and self-criticism. Some writers call this free writing, but we think it’s best to keep the end product and target audience in mind at all times, reducing the chances of going too far off track and having to throw out slabs of text that took hours to write.

When this first full draft is complete, you have the groundwork for a novel: a manuscript. Congratulations!

Some writers let family and friends read their manuscripts, but most of these people aren't regular readers, will say a lot of nice things and have very little to offer in the way of constructive criticism. This is great for a writer's motivation, but does little to improve the story and your skill base.

If you’re serious about getting your novel published, and don’t have a team of credible people behind you, you can take advantage of our manuscript appraisal service.

Your appraiser will identify, among other things, general problems with the voice, point of view, tense, amount and believability of characters, chapter structure, themes and plot development. They'll explain what works and what doesn’t and suggest resolutions to those problems and where to get more information.

The changes are usually applied by the author in this stage, or by an editor in the next.

Second Draft

The second draft involves moving the text around to get the structure right: scenes, chapters, plot points, character relationships, themes, back-story, setup, main conflict, climax, resolution, plot holes and mix of setting, dialogue and narrative. Obvious punctuation, spelling and formatting errors can be corrected, but the finer details are covered in later drafts.

This is usually where most writers need professional help (pardon the pun) and is where many give up. Little do they know, emerging authors usually have help from a mentor, agent or other person with authority in the field. Publishing houses usually assign contracted authors a specific editor, or various editors, who works very closely with them through this stage. The more prolific and popular the author, the more editors they'll have behind them—not that they'll ever tell you. Lucky aren't they?

Some editors call this structural or substantive editing and charge a lot for it; we call it Structural Editing, but charge our same great rate.

By the end of this stage, your manuscript will be a good read, something to be proud of. The story will flow in a logical and entertaining fashion. The plot points will be in the right place. The voice will be engaging and reasonably consistent. There'll be just the right amount of characters and they'll be believable and compelling and be doing what you want them to.

You've put a lot of hard work into your manuscript and should pat yourself on the back for hanging in there.

If you hope to sell your novel to a publishing house, which we recommend you try at least a few times—they might offer you an advance—we can help write your chapter summaries, pitch and synopsis. This will give you a well deserved break from editing and keep you focused on finishing the novel.

If you choose to work on your manuscript alone, or with someone other than a professional editor, you might find it gets rejected by agents and publishers without much explanation. Please keep in mind that hiring an editor doesn't guarantee your manuscript will be accepted by the first publisher you approach, especially if you submit it to a bigger one, but it will definitely help. And any literary agent willing to reject a well-structured manuscript with minimal errors and not provide a reason is not worth your time.

Third Draft

The third draft, which may be anywhere from the fifth read-through, is called copy editing.

It's time to work on the intricate details: voice, paragraphing, sentence structure, progression of thought, depth of detail, tense, point of view, pace, tension, spelling, grammar, capitalization and word choice.

Reputable publishing houses have a team of editors who work through manuscripts a number of times at this stage. Most self-published authors hire a freelance editor to do it for them. While many emerging writers spend very little time here and just print the damn thing.

We believe your work should be as polished as possible before being released to a wider audience or submitted to a publisher. Publishers won't be as willing to invest in your manuscript if it needs a lot of work. And, if a reader pays for your self-published book, you want to give them the most enjoyable experience possible.

Bad copy editing lowers a book's readability and drags readers out of your story, deterring them from finishing
your book and buying the next.

Anything with your name on it should be as error proof as possible. This will create a positive image of you as an author and create a standard of excellence. Establish yourself a skilled writer and you will gain credibility. A good reputation will lead to a wider readership and publishers will be more willing to invest in your work.

Fourth Draft

Proofreading involves reading the work line by line, word by word, a character at a time and teasing out the last of the spelling, punctuation, grammatical and formatting errors. Most of the obvious errors will have been resolved by now, so this stage is quite brief and may only take a few hours, depending on the author’s ability to implement previous drafts without introducing new errors. A few are inevitable. A lot can be quite time consuming to resolve.

Our proofreaders are the sharp eyed eagles of the writing business—almost nothing escapes them. They can spot extra spaces between words and lines, indented paragraphs that shouldn’t be, back to front apostrophes, missing full stops and commas, hyphens that should be en or em dashes, incorrect capital letters and many other errors missed or introduced during the editing process.

If a single editor has worked with you until this stage, you will be assigned a separate proofreader—the fine details are very hard to see for someone who has had to skip over them in previous drafts.

As a general guide, we can proofread between two thousand five hundred and three thousand five hundred words per hour, depending on the amount of errors encountered.