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How to Self-Edit a Book

Have you found yourself asking “How do I self-edit a book?” No published book ever went from the first draft to the finished product without being edited. There’s no such thing as a “perfect draft”. No matter what type of publication method you choose (self-publishing or working with traditional publishing companies), editing is a stepping stone to getting a book published

Authors must be able to spot and correct mistakes on every page and edit their work with a fine-toothed comb. However, editing your own writing can be a big challenge. You’re not always going to be the best judge of what works and what doesn’t, so you might not exactly be thrilled and confident to do this.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to edit your own book in a way that makes it stronger so you don’t end up wasting your time and energy on work that doesn’t make it to the publishing house. 

Why Edit Your Book?

It’s not enough to just write a book; writers have to edit it to create a good one. Readers should not be burdened by structural problems and unnecessary clutter.

You will disappoint readers if you have a lot of typographical errors and if your content is not properly formatted. Your goal is to deliver a well-written book that’s engaging, compelling, and easy to read. You need to make sure that every line is necessary, concise, and clear because you’re asking readers to give their time to the craft you’ve created.

In short, the essence of editing a manuscript is not just to correct mistakes, but to create better content. 

Self-editing is an important part of self-publishing a book. It’s a process where you examine your draft manuscript, making sure it’s ready before you send it to a professional editor. Remember, even if it’s a vital step that an author has to go through, it’s not a substitute for editing done by a well-trained and qualified editor. 

Self-editing allows authors to remove the more glaring mistakes so that when the professional editor gets the manuscript, he can get down to the business of improving the overall content. 

In this article, we will focus on self-editing a book, and we will give you a walkthrough on how to do this. 

Now, you might be thinking that this can be an overwhelming and difficult task to do, asking, “Do I have to self-edit my book myself?” Well, you can consider the following methods, but be sure to take note of their disadvantages.

Other Options You Might Consider

Hire a Professional Editor Directly

Once you finalize your draft manuscript, you can skip self-editing and directly hire a professional editor to do the job. They will help you get a lot of workload off your shoulders along the way and can make a huge difference when it comes to the final product.

Professional editors can edit your work on different levels. And depending on their specialization, they might offer developmental editing, copy editing, or both.

A developmental editor recommends ways to improve the flow of your book by being able to spot any narrative structure problems. To ensure that your story flows smoothly from beginning to end, they might consult with you to see if there are any conflicts in the plot or characters’ motivations. 

A copy editor focuses on fixing the mechanics of your text; they might work with you to ensure that you use the best words to tell your story. They will go over your book and catch any mechanical issues, like poor word choice, awkward sentences, and errors in spelling and grammar.

However, there are several disadvantages of taking this shortcut of directly hiring a professional editor: 

  • It is difficult to start in terms of knowing what kind of edit you need because obviously, you didn’t bother to look over your manuscript.
  • It’s tough to have your writing critiqued without checking it first.
  • It’s not easy to search and find a professional editor that you can easily work with. 
  • Many professional editors are choosy when it comes to a manuscript that is passed to them. Although their job is to improve your draft, they usually rejected those works that are full of errors. This will just take you back to the step you need to do first—self-edit the book before you pass it off to them.  

Get Help From Beta Readers

A beta reader is a volunteer who reads your work carefully to provide feedback. It can be a family member, friend, or professional reader. Either way, they’ll tell you if there are any structural flaws in your plot, whether or not your characters are believable, and how the climactic scene played out.

However, the single most damaging thing beta readers can do is convince you that your work is good enough that it can stand on its own, overlooking all the errors that can be found in your draft manuscript. Thus, giving you a false sense of confidence. That’s because, in too many instances, feedback provided by beta readers is affected by these three reasons:

  • In most cases, beta readers are biased in your favor. Remember, this is your family member, friend, or your writing buddy we’re talking about. Therefore, the chances of giving you great feedback on your manuscript are high than giving you helpful constructive criticisms.

There are a lot of beta readers who aren’t publishing professionals, and their feedback might not be fully reliable.

  • If you turn to your followers or to members of writing clubs to be your beta readers without trying to clean your manuscript first, they might end up having negative impressions of you.

Why Is Editing Your Own Book Important?

A professional editor is not your only line of defense; you should also know how to edit your writing and make it more effective. It is your responsibility to make sure that your manuscript is in the best shape possible before you hand it off to them. Before you outsource your book to a professional editor, you should first consider working with your manuscript on your own. 

You should know that although self-editing your book is quite a bit challenging, doing so is worthwhile. Here are the two main reasons:

You Will Improve as a Writer

Finding things to cut and edit is a difficult task because it’s hard to be objective when you have so much love for what you have written. For you, your manuscript is perfect enough. This is true enough for first-time authors. However, self-editing your book can help you get past that, making it easier for you to see your weaknesses as a writer. But remember, what you see in the manuscript as a weakness can often be an advantage because you’ll be able to see more clearly how to avoid making the same mistakes again. You’ll become acquainted with the rules of grammar, and the best way to structure a story. You’ll also get a feel for what works and what doesn’t work. These things will make you a better writer. 

You Will Save Money

Unedited work can cause the rate of an editor to increase significantly. The quality of the pages you send will dictate the amount of work an editor is going to have to put in. 

If they see that your pages are of poor quality, that you don’t even bother correcting those mistakes, they would know that your work is going to be a lot more complicated to edit. The more time and effort they will have to give to make sure that it’s polished and clean, the higher the price they will charge. However, if they see that your writing is clean, that they won’t have to work as hard to fix those mistakes, they’re going to give you their base rate. 

So to put in simple logic: The more you edit your work before sending it to a professional editor, the less an editor will need to do, which will save their time and save you money. It’s a win-win situation. 

Steps To Self-Edit Your Book

Give Your Book a Rest

When you’ve completed your work, take a short break before you begin editing. Set it aside for a day or two. If you can, set it aside for a week or longer. 

Why wait for so long? You want to start afresh, to free your mind of all the content you’ve accumulated over time, so you’ll be able to have a fresh mind when you go through editing.

It is like having fresh eyes to see your work. It will help you see your story through the eyes of a new reader. You’ll be surprised by awkward characters, sentences, plots and so many holes in your storytelling. You will discover that you have forgotten to tie up some loose ends. A fresh perspective can help figure out these mistakes and fix them.

Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

One way to edit your manuscript is to read it out loud to yourself. As you read, note any grammatical problems or factual inaccuracies. In addition, it’s a good idea to have a friend listen to your content and provide feedback. You may also want to record yourself reading your work. This way, you can re-listen to the recording and make further edits. Hearing your writing makes it also easier for you to spot any choppy sentence variety, awkward phrasing, and repetitions.

Beforehand, you can change the font style of your manuscript whether you will use a soft copy or a printed copy for your reading. Why is this advisable? Because different font presents different writing styles that your brain is more likely to recognize. This is helpful because it allows you to identify mistakes more easily and makes it easier to catch any awkward phrasing and misspelled words.

Listening to yourself read your entire book out loud may seem daunting, but there are a few things you can do to make it easier. First, you shouldn’t use read-aloud software. A human voice is better than any computer at understanding emotion and intent. 

Other tips:

  • Have enough water for your throat.
  • Make sure to take breaks every so often to avoid getting tired. If not, you won’t be able to pay attention to what you’re editing and overlook mistakes and errors. 
  • Find a place where you can be alone to avoid any distractions.
  • Don’t try to rush it. Give yourself several days to get it done.

Look at the Whole Picture

If you’re working on a fictional book, do the developmental edit by focusing on the story’s plot structure. This is particularly important because it determines the overall arc of the story. There should be a logical progression from beginning to end. If you find that there are any gaps, they need to be filled by a more cohesive storyline. If your story has subplots, they should be developed without breaking the flow of your main plot.

Your viewpoint character should be defined and clearly show their personality and motivations through the course of the story. In addition, be sure to pay close attention to your point of view. It should remain consistent throughout your story.

Ensure that as every scene unfolds, it should accomplish all the following: it must advance the plot, it must contribute to character development, and it must escalate the conflict. You should think about the action and dialogue and cut anything that isn’t necessary. You should also keep in mind that the first part of your story must be strong and the climactic scene needs to tie everything up.

Copyedit Your Manuscript

Inspect the structure of your content by doing a line-by-line review, correcting all the basic mistakes. Copy editing will polish your manuscript in terms of fitness and readability. Also, it will ensure that text is free of grammatical errors, making it more accurate and professional-looking. 

Of course, in-depth copy editing will be done later by your editor. However, doing this step will make sure that your work is as clean as possible before you pass it off to him. 

Here are the basic copy editing methods you need to do:

  • Check All the Misspelled Words.

Every now and then, everyone makes typos, and some of those errors are not obvious at a glance. To make it easier, you can run a spell checker. Usually, there is a built-in spell checker in your word processing software. 

  • Find Double Spaces at the End of Sentences and Replace Into One.

If you’re using Microsoft Word, you can access the find-and-replace tool by pressing Ctrl+H. Tap the spacebar twice in “find” and once in “replace”, and hit enter. Then click the replace button. 

  • Fix Punctuation Errors. 

If you’re struggling with a certain punctuation mark, a quick Google search will show you how to correctly use punctuation.

  • Identify and Cut Crutch Words. 

These are words and phrases we’ve used for a particular purpose but tend to overuse. They are usually unnecessary and don’t add to the story itself. 

You can use word frequency counters that are available online by simply pasting your entire document to these generators and checking the count. Examples of this counter are WriteWords, TextFixer, and RapidTables. 

After listing all your crutch words you may now start revising. In your word processor access the replace tool and enter the crutch word into both “Find” and “Replace”. Then change the preferences in the “Replace” bar to “Highlight”. Finally, decide on how to remove or replace them. 

  • Rewrite Passive Voice to Active Voice. 

An active sentence is a sentence in which the subject does something. With a passive sentence, however, the subject is the object of the action described in the verb. For example, a passive sentence might be “Instructions will be given to you by the professor” should be changed to “The professor will give you instructions,” which is active voice. 

Why should you do this?

The first reason is that active voice creates the impression of being more authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject you’re describing. This is because it sounds more direct. It gives you the ability to deliver information in a straightforward way that makes it clear. Second, active voice creates momentum that keeps your readers interested throughout the content. And lastly, active voice is direct and concise. It is a simple way to make your writing more accessible. Instead of complex sentences, you can use shorter, direct statements to get to the point.

On the other hand, passive voice draws out and decreases the excitement of the content. Also, it will almost always have more words than an active-voice sentence because the former usually requires extra words to ensure the sentence makes sense. 

  • Look at Your Word Choice. 

Some people believe that jargon can give their writing a sophisticated air. It’s best to ditch this mindset. You want clear writing, which doesn’t confuse your audience. If they need to consult a dictionary to understand what you mean, your writing needs help. Remember that when you want to make a point, you have to make sure you use words that are common and easy to understand.

  • Check Your Sentence Structure. 

Though grammatically correct, many long sentences have an awkward, stilted style. This makes it difficult for the reader to grasp the point you want to make and often causes a loss of interest in reading. You should pay attention to this, and try to break up long sentences into short ones.

Automated editing programs and grammar checkers are also very helpful in this process. However, these tools are designed to make your copyediting easier, not to replace your work completely nor to replace a human editor.  The most popular and best grammar checkers (both free and paid) are ProWritingAid, Grammarly, Hemingway App, WhiteSmoke, Ginger Online, LanguageTool, Outwrite, Online Correction, PaperRater, Writer, Slick Write, NOUNPLUS, and Virtual Writing Tutor.

Check the Accuracy of Your Content

If you’re writing a non-fiction book or historical fiction, it’s essential to be sure that the facts you’re providing are true and accurate. To do so, you’ll need to find sources for every fact,  statistic, and true story you include in the book.

You might think that once you have written something, you can just leave the facts alone and assume that they are true. If you don’t bother to fact-check, you might be making some serious mistakes. A false statement could potentially ruin your reputation as a writer.

Hire a Proofreader

If you’ve completed your editing, it might help to hire a proofreader. Proofreading can catch typos and grammatical errors you might have otherwise overlooked. There’s nothing more frustrating than to have your entire work dismissed for minor issues. So it’s vital to have a second pair of eyes that will take a look at your work before sending it to an editor.

Format Your Draft Manuscript Accordingly

Formatting a book can be an extremely tedious and boring task, but it is vital in the sense that if done right, it will allow your book to be judged by the editor, publishers, literary agents, and readers as a more professional document. Following the formatting standards in use by the publishing industry demonstrates that you are conscientious, professional, and thoughtful in the way you present your work.

In addition, sending your manuscript to your hired professional editor that was not formatted in a standard way will take some extra time for them to fix up your writing. As result, it’s going to cost you more money.

Make sure to follow these formatting rules to ensure that you’re sticking to standard guidelines.

  • Use the industry-standard font style. It should be 12 point size, black, Times New Roman.
  • Set your page margins to 1 inch on all sides. Set this as the MS Word or Scrivener default margin. The standard page size should be 8.5 by 11 inches.
  • Indentations should be a half-inch for the first line of a new paragraph. 
  • Set your text alignment to the left side of your page.
  • Line spacing should be double spaced. Having a manuscript that is easy to read and mark up is very helpful to your editor.
  • Use only one space for sentence separation. Remove the bad habit of hitting the space bar twice after each sentence. 
  • The numbering of your pages should begin after the title page.
  • Use page breaks to begin a new chapter.  
  • The word “END” should be at the end of the manuscript. You need to center it at the end of the last line.

Final Thoughts

Editing your writing is not necessarily a piece of cake. And if you’re a writer who prefers crafting adventurous stories and building worlds, then editing might not sound enjoyable. You might think that all you have to do is remove any mistakes from your story. But think about this, as you self-edit, you can delve even deeper into your story. As you find holes in your story’s plot points that seem off, you get to plug those. 

You see, when you write a book, you have to tackle more than just writing. You also have to edit, edit, edit! Editing is a skill every author needs to master. Yes, it’s not that easy. However, dealing with this can help you to take an honest look at what your work tells you. It will open your eyes and discover so much about your writing style knowing that there’s always room for improvement. And because of these valuable learnings, you can make yourself a better writer.

It’s important to be deliberate, thorough, and organized in your editing process. But it doesn’t come naturally. Most authors don’t even know how to do it. In this article, I’ll show you how to succeed in editing, and you’ll see your book take shape before your eyes.

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