Self-Editing Tips to Keep Costs Down

So you’ve finally finished your manuscript and you’re ready for an editor to take a look, but you have a tight budget and wonder if there is a way to keep the price tag to a minimum. Of course there are sites where you can hire freelancers for very low wages, but there are other ways to cut down on the cost of hiring a professional. Here are a few tips:

1.) Learn and follow a style guide. A style guide sets standards and rules for the creation of various documents. There are numerous style guides and manuals available; choosing the correct guide will depend on your intended audience, the purpose of your piece, and whether or not the outlet where you are submitting your piece has a specific style guide (perhaps even their own) that they follow. This list details many of the available style guides and who should use them.

In the US, most fiction and nonfiction book publishers generally follow the Chicago Manual of Style while adding on their own tweaks and preferences. You do not need to memorize or strictly follow CMoS as long as you stay consistent in your choices. For example, did you use a serial or Oxford comma in the first half of your manuscript? Then make sure you continued to do so throughout the entire piece. Consistency, above all else, is key.

2.) Clean up your manuscript. Give yourself a week or so away from your work and return to it with fresh(er) eyes. Read it through looking for inconsistencies, misspellings, awkward sentences, and incorrect or questionable grammar. Spell check and grammar check programs can be somewhat helpful, but keep in mind that they often miss things and are even sometimes incorrect.  Use an online dictionary like Merriam-Webster to double check spellings of compound and hyphenated nouns or to check usage. Add your unique character’s name to Word’s dictionary to make sure you haven’t misspelled it anywhere.

The fewer errors you have in your manuscript, the less time it will take your editor to read through it and make corrections. Ensuring you are handing in a clean manuscript will save you money, especially if your editor charges by the hour. If your editor charges by the word, you will still potentially cut costs by lowering the level of editing that your manuscript will require.

3.) Find some beta readers. An additional way to save on editing is by finding interested readers to go through your manuscript and give you feedback. Good beta readers can be a great help by providing you with constructive comments about your character development and plot. If you can work out any of these big picture kinks before engaging an editor, you will likely not need a developmental edit and go straight to copyediting and/or proofreading.

When looking for an editor let them know what services you are hoping for and alert them to any budget constraints. After reviewing your manuscript, many will be able to offer you a few packages to choose from. How much you are willing and able to invest in your writing business (and yourself) is ultimately up to you. Presenting a potential editor with a clean, well-developed manuscript will go a long way in saving you time and money.


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Style Choices: the Oxford Comma

You’ve likely seen one of the various memes addressing comma confusion. A popular example demonstrates the difference between eating eggs, toast, and orange juice versus eating eggs, toast and orange juice which could conjure images of orange juice-covered toast. The former version uses the Oxford, or serial, comma for clarity, but doing so is not a rule; it is a style choice.

As in the example above, the Oxford comma comes before the conjunction in a series of three or more elements. The Chicago Manual of Style strongly advocates for using this style, while the AP Stylebook does not require it unless omitting it would reasonably cause confusion. For example, writing “I put a book, pencil and pen in my bag” is clear without placing a comma before “and.”

I personally prefer to use the Oxford comma unless a client prescribes to a style guide that says otherwise. For me, always using it is a simple way to ensure that readers will not stumble over the sentence or be confused. Others prefer to cut commas wherever they can without changing meaning. This is also an acceptable choice. Whichever style you choose, the most important thing is to maintain consistency throughout the work in question.


Dialogue Formatting Tips for Fiction

How to format dialogue is a topic I encounter again and again in the editing and writing community. Questions about where to put the quotation marks, how to indicate interruptions, when to use capitalization, etc., abound.

Here is a quick tip sheet to refer to whenever you are writing. I’ve provided a downloadable version below.

Dialogue Formatting Tips for Fiction

Direct Dialogue

  • Direct dialogue should be enclosed in quotation marks.
  • A change in speaker should be indicated by a new paragraph.
  • Punctuation of the spoken sentence should be enclosed in the ending quotation mark.
  • If using dialogue tags to break up the sentence, the second clause does not need capitalization unless the first word is a proper noun.


“It’s so hot today,” said Jane. “Did you bring the beach umbrella?”

“Yes,” Michael replied, “it’s here.”

Long Dialogue by One Speaker

A speech that spans multiple paragraphs requires an opening quotation mark at the beginning of each new paragraph, but a closing quotation mark is only placed at the end of the final sentence of the final paragraph.

Interrupted or Faltering Speech

  • Use an ellipsis to indicate faltering speech.
  • Use an em dash to indicate interrupted speech or abrupt changes in thought.


“I . . . I mean . . . it’s fine. It will all be fine.”

“Are you sure? Yesterday you—”

“I said it will all be fine. Just drop it!”

Unspoken Discourse

  • Internal dialogue or thought may be written with or without quotation marks. Whatever the author’s preference, consistency is key.
  • If a thought begins midsentence, it should begin with a capital letter.


“Why,” I wondered, “did I choose this book?”

Why, I wondered, did I choose this book?

She wondered, Why did I choose this book?

Numbers in Dialogue

  • Most numbers should be spelled out when writing dialogue.
  • Numerals for years, trade names such as 7-Eleven, and phone numbers may be used if it is deemed more practical.


“I have two hundred thousand dollars to invest in this business.”

“Please call me at 555-302-5588.”

Click the link below to download and save this document for future reference.
Dialogue Formatting Tips

I hope you find these tips helpful. Happy Writing!

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