Self Editing: The Last Check List Before You Submit by Tere Michaels

Heir Apparent by Tere MichaelsI’d like to welcome Tere Michaels to Attacking the Page.  She is the author of  the Faith, Love and Devotion series.  She is a freelance editor. I also have the pleasure of calling her my friend.  Today she’s going to put on her editor hat and talk a bit about self editing.

Self Editing: The Last Check List Before You Submit

The last draft before your submission to an editor or agent is that razor’s edge between “so excited I could puke” and “so freaked out I could puke”. Basically – it is accompanied by a whole lot of nausea. You want your very best work to be read, the finest example of your capabilities to catch their attention and hopefully get your entire manuscript read.

So what can you do to cover all your bases?

Put the manuscript away for at least five days before going through this final checklist. It’ll give you time to forget the little details – because you need as clean a slate as possible. Look at it with fresh eyes.

Give yourself time and be honest! Better to find the holes and gaps instead of having an editor point them out.

Nothing is perfect – there’s no such thing. But give your story it’s best possible chance by presenting the best possible manuscript.

Ask yourself:

  •    Is the dialogue natural? (Read it aloud.) People don’t talk in paragraphs, they don’t use a person’s name repeatedly and they don’t use perfect grammar in conversation.
  •    Are the facts straight? Double check things like time zones! Don’t pull the reader out of the story with something you could have confirmed with a two second Google search.
  •    Does it open with a character waking up, flashing back or dreaming? Are they looking in a mirror and describing themselves? These are warning signs of a new writer. Don’t do it!
  •    Info dumps are the quickest way to turn off an editor. Parse out information about your characters and plot as naturally as possible, through dialogue and through actions. Ask yourself – what is the most pertinent information a reader needs to know about these people and this situation in the first three chapters? Then only give that information – because unless it’s integral to this opening, I don’t need to know the hero’s relationship to his first grade teacher or the heroine’s eating habits.
  •    True angst and conflict should evolve from the characterization. Don’t throw things into the mix just to up the drama. Contrivances will sabotage your story. Beginning a story with some drama or intrigue is a good way to hook readers into continuing – but a cheap trick (a false alarm, a situation that isn’t as dire as it seems) doesn’t build much trust with the reader! Give them an honest reason to continue.
  •    Are your characters too perfect? Too angsty? Extreme characters don’t endear themselves to editors. Make sure you haven’t loaded your characters with too much perfection or too much drama on the front end.
  •    Ask yourself this – is it more important to know the hero’s eye color or how he handles himself in an emotional situation? You are trying to build a connection between character(s) and reader – think about what details will help that along.
  •    Why today? Why is the story starting in this place? What makes this day different and how are things going to change direction?  If you can’t answer that question, you might not be starting in the right place.

The last question is this – how does this chapter make YOU feel? There’s a quote that sits on my desktop as a reminder to myself about what is truly important.

“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” Robert Frost

If you don’t feel something, you can’t expect your readers to!

Tere Michaels is the author of eight novels, including the popular Faith, Love and Devotion series and her latest book, Heir Apparent (all titles available at She frequently teaches writing workshops at various conferences around the United States. For contact information, check out

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