I’m a self-confessed grammar geek, which is a dangerous thing to say in a blog post like this.
Whether you are lucky enough to find yourself an agent and publisher (i.e. the traditional route) or have decided to self-publish, the quality of your writing matters. Self-publishing frequently involves paying someone (or some company) to prepare and publish your book, which is a reasonable choice for any author who does not have the necessary technical knowledge. Don’t assume that your book will be proofread and corrected if you go this route – not unless you pay for it.
In any event, the responsibility for producing a clean and readable manuscript lies with the author no matter what help they get along the way. Like many others, I cannot (yet) afford to pay for editing, copy editing, or proofreading. It’s my job – there’s no way out.
If you can’t get an editor, the one thing you must have is beta readers. These are often friends or family, but if you can find strangers, so much the better. Friends and family are liable to be too forgiving. Whichever you get, prepare a comprehensive list of things you need to ask them when they have read the book. This might involve opinions as to characters, pacing, plot, and setting. If they are up to it, you might ask about structure readability. You need feedback on how the book hangs together. Don’t ask them to proofread it at the same time. They won’t read the book properly if they’re looking for typos.
It’s hard to proofread your own work. The first thing you need is some distance – wait as log as you can afford to after finishing your last complete draft. Creating that final draft involves (for me) reading the entire book at least once and making the more major changes. It’s usually a long time since I read any of the first three quarters of the book, so I often find structural changes necessary there. Once I have that real final draft, I move onto copy editing/proofreading, which I tend to combine.
This, too, involves more than one pass. I first read it on my PC, but I read the chapters in the wrong order – just tick them off as you go along. The second pass is done on my phone. I create a Kindle or ePub book to do this. Kindle lets you take notes, which is useful. (I think ePub does as well, but I haven’t tried that yet.) I find the small screen makes grammatical and spelling errors stand out.
The last proofread is on a paper copy. I put the book up on to Amazon Createspace and order a proof. I then go through it with red pen and mark up all the changes I find. Be careful when correcting them that you don’t make more mistakes. It’s easily done.
Once that’s all done, I do a few passes with an editor looking for various things, such as:
weasel words and phrases (as defined by C. S. Lakin in her book Say What? The Fiction Writer’s Handy Guide to Grammar, Punctuation, and Word Usage). These are the little words that we all put in by habit. Examples (for me) are just, only, began to, very, rather, really, and quite.
I also do a pass for words ending in -ly to root out those dreaded adverbs, along with checks for it was and there were to oust the passive voice.
I don’t remove all instances of these words. They are sometimes useful, but I find them peppered throughout my manuscripts in such profusion that the vast majority get deleted.
I found one book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King, to be immensely valuable in helping me understand how to edit a book.