Remember that optimistic estimate I had that it would take me three hours to finish the manuscript? It was a lot closer to five. The biggest problem that I faced was bringing things to the correct reading level.
When I write for Red Line, I use the ATOS grade level calculator. My goal for this book was a reading level of 7.0 to 8.5. I don’t test the entire manuscript, preferring to test each chapter. I do it this way because my Red Line editors are really good at spotting reading level problems. If one chapter is off, they will catch it. I’d much rather spot the problem without any help.
Yesterday I had finished the hard copy edits and just needed to make the changes and then test each chapter. The first one was 8.8. The second one was 9.0. Thankfully the third one was 8.5.
How was I so off in one chapter. In part because it had a section on Colin Kaepernick. It wouldn’t be so bad if his last name was Colin because I could use that throughout most of the section. But oh, no. Kaepernick. Kaepernick does frightening things to your reading level. Not as frightening as Maya place names but bad enough.
I’ve seen some people recommend substituting Bob for such a name. Bob is a nice low reading level. The problem is that Kaepernick is going to be in the book. It has to work with Keapernick in the manuscript.
Fortunately, there are several ways to bring down the reading level.
First things first, look at your sentence structure. No semicolons. None. Break down compound sentences. Phrases are okay but don’t join two perfectly legitimate sentences with AND or BUT. You don’t want the entire manuscript to be composed of simple sentences but if you can get rid of a complex sentence per page, that will drop the reading level by .2 or .3.
Second, don’t forget to look for passive construction. That tends to make your sentences wordier. “The boy hit the ball” vs “The ball was hit by the boy.”
Third, simplify some of the vocabulary. Look for multisyllable words that can be replaced by shorter words. Want replaces prefer. Use takes the place of operate.
Of course, if your reading level is too low, you do the opposite, except for the semicolon (publisher’s preference).
And whenever you’ve been tinkering with the reading level, reread the section out loud. You want to be certain it is still a smooth read.