Five final steps before sending off a draft by Gillian McAllister
A series of guest articles from Sunday Times bestselling author GILLIAN McALLISTER on getting agented and published. This week, five tips before sending off your full manuscript.
When writing a novel we become blind to its flaws. An author friend and I like to joke that we would and also really wouldn’t like to erase our memories and read our work afresh.
In the absence of memory wiping, here are five ways I ensure there are as few typos as possible at the point when I press ‘send’.
ONE. A line-by-line edit
This usually takes me about three to four weeks. It’s an easy enough time; I’m doing nothing structural, and am just reading my draft. I read about 3,000 – 4,000 words per day, every day, and it takes me about an hour, maybe making up some time at the weekends. It’s frustrating to add three weeks onto the end of a draft when you feel ready to send, but this is the most necessary step.
TWO. A read through
Then, I do a quicker read through, usually on my kindle but sometimes printed. I try and read 20% of my novel per day, usually in bed at night (though it sometimes leads to late-evening crises of confidence…). I always always always find at least ONE HUNDRED typos at this stage, so do not miss it out!
THREE. A spell check
It is extremely tedious, I know, to be told repeatedly by Microsoft Word that your novel is full of ‘fragments’ or that ‘petrichor’ is not a word, however, the plus points to running a spell check outweigh the bad. I always find something, usually a forgotten space after a speech mark, a double comma or a non-capitalised ‘i’. It’s so worth doing even if it involves clicking ‘ignore all’ for half an hour.
FOUR. CTRL + F is your friend
I always run some strategic searches. If I have deleted a character, I search for their name. If I have changed a character’s name, I search for their old one. I also search for the worsts ‘just’ and ‘seem’ because they tend to water down meanings (and I overuse them in drafts…), ‘ly’ (to catch adverbs) and any other words or phrases I’ve made a note to search for that I felt I was over-using as I drafted.
FIVE. Print preview
The final step is to preview the entire document and scan it. I look for any gaps (page breaks do sometimes produce entire blank pages), any bits of text that aren’t justified, etc. I also press CTRL + A and check that the font is the same (if the font bar goes blank, this means you have a different font somewhere in your manuscript).
Gillian McAllister is a former lawyer and Sunday Times Top 10 bestselling author of Everything But The Truth, Anything You Do Say, No Further Questions, The Evidence Against You, How to Disappear and That Night.
She lives out in the countryside with her husband, son and dog. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram @gillianmauthor. She also blogs at www.gillianmcallister.com. [Bio updated May 2023]
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