It’s Finished… or Is It?

We’ve all done it. We finish our manuscript, think we’ve done our self-editing, followed submission guidelines, we hit Send, and then…oops. We should have done__________.


I had a completely different post written out for today. One with lots of links to books, and workshops, and what to do and not to do, and it sounded patronizing–not the customer kind, but the looking down your nose kind. I mean, let’s be real. I think I’m a good writer, maybe even a great writer someday, but I’m no editor. Every time I go to send a query, send out my next novel, or write up a series synopses, I think I’m going to hyperventilate. Why? Because, I almost always forget something. I have an editing checklist, but it’s changed over the last couple of years, improved, and yet I’m realizing right now, I’ve never actually updated it. Most of the checklist is in my head and for me, that’s not the safest nor the most reliable location. So for my sake, and I hope this helps someone else, here’s a revised self-editing checklist. This is my list for end-of-the-line editing, not the content editing or even the full line-editing list. Maybe we can do those another time, but it’ll be a much longer post.

Basic Formatting:

  • One-inch margins
  • 12-pt Times New Roman font
  • Double-spaced
  • No spaces before or after paragraphs (check to be sure)
  • first-line indent
  • Header with last name/title/page #
  • Correct title page with contact information, Word count, and title done correctly
  • Chapter Heading one-third down the page with page breaks between chapters (but no blank pages)

My Particular problems:

  • No extra spaces between words/before paragraphs
  • Search and replace or delete over-used favorite words, like “just”
  • Check for improper usage of past and past-perfect tense.  (This became an issue when I read a lot of YA books with this problem, so now I especially check to make sure it doesn’t seep into my own writing–Thank you David Farland for pointing this out.)

Problems to watch for, learned from David Farland’s workshops:

  • forward and toward, not forwards and towards (That’s American English vs. British English)
  • Check usage of  “and, then, finally, felt, saw, look, that”  Get rid of them whenever possible
  • Use spell-check
  • Check “-ly” adverbs–There should be few, if any
  • Have I read the manuscript out loud, at least once?
  • Did I change the font and read the manuscript in order to catch less-noticeable errors?

And a few extra:

  • A basic spell-check
  • Re-read the publisher’s or agent’s specific requirements
  • Include appropriate letters (query, cover letter, synopsis)
  • correct postage for snail mail
  • proper formatting for electronic submissions
  • If I cut and pasted from another submission, change editor/agent name, word count, work’s title, name of magazine/agency, and all other details.

And NOW, it might be ready. This seems like a lot, but I think I’ve forgotten almost all the points on this list, or have almost forgotten them, at least once when sending to agents and publishers. I wish I’d put this together years ago, but then I don’t think I knew half the items on this list years ago. I hope this helps someone, and I’d love to add anything I’ve forgotten, so if you think of something please leave a comment.

Happy Writing!


6 responses on “It’s Finished… or Is It?

  1. Sarah Wynde

    Along with “just,” I have to look for “almost, probably, sort of, quite, really, actually.”

    I also do one last pass through the dialog, checking characters’ word choices against the character, especially for minor characters.

  2. Colette Post author

    Thank you for the additional words to look out for. I think I’ll add those to my list and see if they’re a problem I should have been looking for. I usually do the dialogue check earlier in my editing process, but I can see how one more pass before sending could be pretty important. Thanks for the comment!

  3. Joe A

    This is really important. There are so many people who finish their first book, revise it and then go, “Now what?!?”. This is quite informative. Awesome piece, Colette

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