Too often, writers send editors manuscripts that are no better than rough drafts. By giving your article a final objective reading, you stand a better chance at making a sale and getting future assignments from a grateful editor.
The “polishing” phase in manuscript preparation occurs—if you’re fortunate and have time on your side—several days after you’ve finished what you consider to be your final draft. By letting the article cool off for a while, you will be able to look at it more objectively. You may not always be able to wait that long, but waiting even a few hours will help.
Expect the polishing process to take as long as several hours, depending on the length and complexity of the article you’ve written.
While there are many components involved in each manuscript, the following are some of the more common problem areas to look for when putting the finishing touches on your story.
Length: Many writers purposely write a longer draft than they need to. During the polishing phase, they hone their story to the word count the editor wants. The closer you come to the desired word count, the happier your editor will be.
Other writers routinely write longer stories than requested—and submit them at that length. Many editors have a word for those writers: lazy. Cutting can be difficult, and it can be especially painful when you’re slicing away at your own creation. But you’re far better off feeling the pain yourself than inflicting it on an editor who may never give you another assignment. Sometimes you can cut entire paragraphs or sections. You can also tighten the story by rewriting to eliminate details that aren’t as interesting or as relevant as they seemed when you wrote the original draft.
Wordiness: Get rid of unnecessary words. This will affect the length, sometimes significantly. Look for cumbersome constructions such as “in order to,” which can often be replaced by the word “to.” This may seem like nitpicking, but this step can make a big difference in the flow of your article.
Adverbs and Adjectives: They’re often unnecessary. Whenever possible, let the context of the sentence do the work of these two parts of speech.
Quotes: Few things are as frustrating to an editor—and to readers—as inane quotes. After you’ve spent valuable time interviewing your subject, don’t waste a quote on information that is better paraphrased. Example: “I was born in 1952,” he said, “and grew up in New York.” Yawn.
What you place between quotation marks should be the very best the person has to say—something that is enlightening about him and the topic you’re writing about. Also, get rid of redundant quotes—two people saying the same thing in different ways. Usually, one of the two quotes is unnecessary.
Anything that Just Doesn’t Belong, No Matter How Good It Is:This is what author and Guideposts editor Elizabeth Sherrill refers to as the marble that falls to the floor. If it’s not part of the sculpture you’re creating, you have to chip away at it and let it go.
The Obvious—Spelling, Punctuation, Typos: If your story is good enough, a few small errors will probably not kill the sale. But the less an editor has to do to your work, the better the chance for future sales.
Never rely on your software’s spell-check function. For example, your finished manuscript may describe a choir as singing in the “baloney”—a correctly spelled word but hardly a synonym for “balcony.”
Final Read-Through: Read your article through at one time, out loud if possible. Place a check next to anything that stops you—a typo, an awkward sentence, a poor transition, something that just doesn’t feel right. Go back and correct the problem. Then read it through one last time.
By now, your story should shine.