I work hard to make my manuscripts as polished as they can possibly be. What does that mean to me? I think of it as trying to make my books "shelf-worthy." That means if I write a book, it should be good enough that when someone reads it, they feel like they just pulled it off a shelf at their local bookstore. It's really hard to do alone (especially when you're not a professional editor!) so my very first tip for getting your manuscript polished to a gleeful shine is to use critique partners and beta readers.
My second tip is to get an aerial view of your manuscript.
Make yourself an outline: not of what you want the book to look like but of what it actually looks like. This will allow you to see the big picture and how all your scenes, chapters and subplots hold together. This should also help you with pacing. Examine the big picture. Does anything look out of place? Are there parts of the book that could be re-ordered to make it flow more naturally? Are you giving out too much information in the beginning and not enough in the end? Or are you not giving any information until late in the book? Do you have a bunch of shoot-outs and car chases (or other equally exciting things) right at the beginning and at the very end but nothing pulse-racing in the middle? That makes for a saggy, boring middle that might lose the reader. Does your book peak too early? Does it peak too late? Is there a super-important character who doesn't show up till 3/4 of the way through? You want to look at your overall structure and examine it for any potential problems.
So once you've done that, you want to go through your manuscript scene by scene, paragraph by paragraph and ask yourself the following questions:
1. Is this relevant to the story?
2. Does this advance the plot?
3. If I took this out, would the book still make sense?
4. If I had to argue for keeping this paragraph or scene in the book, could I argue successfully in its favor?
In his book, On Writing, Stephen King says you must murder your darlings. That means you have to cut. You have to cut and you have to be ruthless. That means all those scenes that you've written that are just right, that feel like the best thing you've ever written may need to go.
Cut. Cut. Cut.
Being exceptionally long-winded, I run into this all the time. In my second book, Aberration there was this awesome sub-plot that I tried desperately to keep in the book. To me, it fell right in line with the theme of the book. It was entertaining and gripping and I felt like it really added to the book. But when my agent suggested revisions and I had to drastically reduce my word count, I had to take a long, hard look at it. What I discovered was that while it was somewhat relevant in that it had to do with bullying which is a theme in the book, it did not advance the plot and taking it out of the book made no difference at all. I mean sure I had to re-order some things and rewrite the ending a bit so it would make sense without the subplot but once I took it out, the book was so much better. In fact, it was my struggle to keep it IN the book that made me realize that it had to go. I kept trying out arguments that I could approach my agent with for keeping it in and none of them worked. I simply could not justify it remaining in the book.
That Book On a Flash Drive In My Nightstand. In it, one of the characters, Brenda reunites with an ex-boyfriend. I wrote five paragraphs setting up this reunion where I briefed readers on every relationship she'd had before the ex. During revisions, I realized that the reader doesn't need to know all that. What is really relevant? Her relationship with the ex. Her other relationships had no bearing whatsoever on anything. All that stuff, while I really liked it, had to go. Yes, you want to give your characters depth and you want them to be relatable and likeable but at the same time, you don't want to overdo it. Cut whatever can be safely cut.
Go through your entire book asking these questions for each subplot, each scene and each paragraph. Tighten it up.
Next go line by line checking for overly-long sentences and/or awkward or clunky wording. That means sentences where we are using five words when two will do just fine. Or we use three verbs when one is all we need. For example, if you've got the word "and" in one sentence three or four times, you probably need to break that sentence up a little. Or we have words hanging on the ends of sentences that don't need to be there. Or we over-describe things.
Here's an example of some of the above from my WIP:
First draft: Jocelyn and Caleb reached the car, sliding into their seats as tension grew in the air around them.
Next draft: Tension filled the car as Jocelyn drove Caleb back to police headquarters.
Look at your sentences: Read the sentence out loud. Does it seem to go on a beat too long? It is so long that you could break it up into more than one sentence? Could you take some words out and still get your point across while being grammatically correct?
I could go on and on but these are the main things that I do when I'm trying to polish my manuscript. How about you guys? Have any great tips to offer?