After long months of writing, you finally finished your book. After taking a day to celebrate, you might be tempted to ship it off to your editor, to let her put the polishing touches on your words. You'd be wasting both time and money if you do this right now. Most editors may charge by the word, but the price goes up depending on whether you need light proofreading or a full editorial makeover on your book. You don't need great expertise to do most editing jobs, just some basic common sense.
Find Your Favorite Words
Every author has a favorite word they like to overuse -- "that," "very," and slang words are common culprits. Run a universal search on your manuscript to highlight these words. Every time you find one, replace it with the same word in capital letters. This will make them easier to spot. Reread the entire manuscript and decide whether to replace or delete each instance of your word.
Check Your Word Count
Each genre has an average word count that most readers are comfortable with. Stephen King notwithstanding, most horror readers will pass by books with 1,000+ pages. Find the average in your niche and edit accordingly. Almost every story can be broken up into four structural parts. Make sure each break comes about 25 percent of the way further through the book.
Build Up Your Structure
Do all the mysteries get solved? Do you hint at things behind the scenes but never resolve them? Do your characters move logically through your story environment? Fix these basics if they're lacking.
Look at Character Arcs
Characters should begin as flawed human beings and improve in some way before the end of the book. Things should change and your people should move forward in some way. That doesn't mean you always have a happy ending, depending on the genre you write, but it does mean your characters learn something about themselves or the world they live in. If you're writing a book series some characters may not have every problem fixed, but there should be hints he's moving in the right direction.
Listen to Your Story
Once you've corrected the problems with the story as a whole, use a text-to-speech program to hear your book spoken out loud. This will show you the rhythm of the book, the ebb and flow of words. You may have a run of choppy sentences or three paragraphs that run on forever. Listening to the words is a great way to find these problems.
When you think of editing, you may actually think of proofreading. Fixing grammar mistakes, correcting misspelled words, and making sure the main character's sister has the same name in the first chapter as she does in chapter 14. They're all important details, but ones that can wait until the story structure is in better shape.
Keep the Faith and May the Force be with You!