Important First Step: Prepare Your Book
Before you do anything else, make sure your manuscript is ready for editing. If you've been pouring over it for months, put it away for about six weeks and don't look at it. Do something else. Don't think about your book at all.
After six weeks or so, take it out of the drawer and read it for enjoyment.
At this point, it's almost like reading someone else's book and anything jarring can be noted quickly. Keep reading until you finish the book. Now go back and fix the areas that need attention. Leave the book for a few days and repeat. Don't give in to the temptation to hasten the process. The distance of time helps you become more objective. Your first draft becomes your second, third, fourth or however many it takes.
When you think you have reached perfection, hand the book to someone you know and trust to give honest feedback. Listen to them and make necessary changes.
Now hand it over to a few more trusted people in your circle of friends. Remember, if you ask people who believe you can do no wrong, the feedback will be useless. Equally useless is feedback from close family or friends who are not supportive of your writing venture. Once your chosen group has read it, you may get conflicting opinions in some areas so average them out. If two of three friends love a particular passage and the other hates it, ask why. You have the option to adjust things a bit or go with the majority and leave it alone. Either way, you make an informed choice.
You may be a sobbing mess by now.
Don't give up. Honest reviews at this point will make your book better. Of course, if there is nothing anyone finds redeeming, find another hobby for awhile and do some reading.
Seriously. Read. Explore a variety of work by authors you haven't read before. Some you will like better than others, but you will grow as a writer by paying attention to other authors' language, pacing, and dialogue. If you are a genre writer, be sure to read successful authors in your particular genre, too. Often there are commonalities. No, you don't want your voice to copy someone else's, but you do want to learn everything you can about what makes a book successful and a pleasure to read.
If nothing in your book seems to work, don't throw it out. Put it back in the drawer to save for reworking later. There is a reason you were drawn to writing it in the first place. Who knows? It may inspire a much better book or short story a few years from now.
If your book passed through all these stages and came out looking pretty good, it's time to decide whether to submit your manuscript to a traditional publisher or continue along the self-publishing route. If you opt for traditional publishing, there is more preparation to do and the tutorials that follow are directed more towards authors who are doing it themselves. Since you are here reading this, it's probably safe to guess self-publishing is what you want to do. You can always change your mind at any point along the way until you hit the button to publish online.
The steps outlined above are important. Please don't skip them.
Some of the tools we talk about later in the editing tutorials may come in handy, but please keep in mind there is no substitute for honest feedback and a realistic assessment of what you have in your hand right now. You don't want to waste time trying to put lipstick on a pig. Harsh? Perhaps, but wouldn't you rather have a good book at the end of all your hard work? The self-publishing market is bloated with books that should never have seen the light of day and as a result, buyers are more reluctant to part with their cash for an unknown and unproven author. This is why it's important to polish your book so your reader has a good experience. (Yes, there are ways to get readers, but that's best saved for another discussion.)
We are going to start with editing to a point (the final edit should always be done by someone else and we'll talk about options), then decide how to format your book and show you step by step how to do it using some free tools, and finally to designing books covers. There is some work ahead and there's a learning curve, but every tutorial is easy to understand and we are here to help if you have questions.
Because some of the tools are useful while preparing your manuscript, we're going to start with editing. Many of the tutorials are bite-size videos so there you can work in small chunks of time and not feel overwhelmed.
Ready? You can do this!