Scrutinize all prepositional phrases to determine if they’re needed or whether the sentence can be reworded to avoid them. If they’re redundant in any way, zap those suckers out of there! For example, saying “He put his hat on his head” could easily be shortened to “He put on his hat.” Where else would he put it? Economy of words for maximum impact should be your goal.
Always check your manuscript for over-used words and phrases, such as: so, just, in order to, therefore, or any of your personal favorites. It’s easy to fall in love with a newly discovered word, then use it so much it annoys your readers. Some of the words I’ve seen over-used are ubiquitous, baleful, and humongous. You’re probably not even aware of this on the first draft, so put it on your list as something to look for when you start to edit. Once you discover your favorite, learn all its synonyms so you can replace it with ease.
Always strive to be the best writer you can be. Reading books by established authors published by well-known publishing houses provides examples of outstanding writing and editing that you should emulate. Most indie writers are still progressing to their best work. Some will be less skilled than you are, others more advanced, but to grasp the industry standard, read those accepted by reputable publishers. It’s good for your ego to read books from beginners, but to improve you writing, study techniques employed by seasoned, experienced authors.
Suspense is essential in any story. If you don’t know what will happen next, that’s a good indicator your reader won’t, either. The more obstacles between the protagonist and what s/he wants, the better. When your character gets him or herself into such a mess you don’t know how s/he’ll get out, then you’re on to something. Be sure to let your character solve the problem in his or her own way.
Be original! If you’re going to rehash an over-used plot vehicle, give it a new twist. If your story is too predictable, you’ll lose readers. If you must use a theme that’s not original, such as zombies, vampires, space battles, or swords and sorcery, make sure your characters are real and interesting enough to carry the story. You see this in romance novels all the time. There’s nothing new about falling in love, but engaging characters who pull you into their emotions make it work.
If you write science fiction, don’t violate the known laws of physics without providing rationale for doing so. Invent new laws if you like, but make them believable. A lot of technical folks are likely to be in your audience and you’ll lose them forever if your science isn’t credible. Noises in the vacuum of space (like the explosions you hear in movies), earth-like gravity on a small asteroid, and unrealistic orbits are some of the things to look out for. If you don’t know something that relates to science, look it up or ask someone who does. Satires (such as “The Worst Man on Mars”) have a bit more latitude.
All fiction needs to be convincing and seem real. Create any possibility you want, just make sure the reader will be convinced. If you’re writing fantasy or science fiction, you need to build a world that your readers will believe is possible. Spend sufficient time creating your story’s environment to a high level of detail and it will pay off later, perhaps in even providing new plot twists.
If something throws you out of a story you’re reading, figure out why. Then make sure you’re not guilty of the same thing. You can learn from all writers, whether more or less skilled than you are. Typos are one thing that really jolt me out, though blatantly inaccurate science is a close second.
Read your work out loud as part of your editing process. If you find yourself saying something different than what’s written, consider rewording it accordingly. If it’s awkward when read aloud, it’s not the most natural wording. Even better, read it aloud into a recorder and then listen, especially if you’re an audio-type. This is very effective for catching redundancies.
Editing is essential, but it’s extremely difficult to edit your own work. Letting your work rest as long as possible before revising and/or editing helps view it more objectively. If you absolutely can’t afford an editor, arrange a beta exchange with another author, preferably one who’s seasoned, not just someone who will praise your work. Make sure both of you are skilled enough to do the job and clarify your expectations.