someone writing a book

How to Self-Edit a Book: An Essential Guide

Have you asked yourself, “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 first draft.”

No matter what type of publication method you choose (self publishing or working with traditional publishing houses), book 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 own work with a fine-toothed comb. However, editing your own writing can be a big challenge. You’re not always 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 will show you how to edit your book to make it more robust, so you don’t waste your time and energy on work that doesn’t make it to the publishing company. 

Why Edit Your Book?

editing a book

It’s not enough to just write a book; writers must do a professional edit to create a good one. Structural problems and unnecessary clutter should not burden readers and other fresh eyes.

You will disappoint readers if you have many typographical errors and your content is not formatted correctly. Your goal is to deliver a well-written book that’s engaging, compelling, and easy to read.

You must ensure 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 self editing a manuscript is not just to correct mistakes but to create better content. 

Self-editing is an integral part of the self publishing process of a book. It’s a step by step process where you examine your first draft manuscript, making sure it’s ready before you send it to an editor.

Remember, even if it’s a vital step that an author has to go through, it’s not a substitute for self 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 improve the overall content. 

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

Now, you might think this can be overwhelming and challenging, 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 Want To Consider

Hire a Professional Editor Directly

Once you finalize your first 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 in the final product.

Professional editors can edit your work on different levels. And depending on their specialization, they might offer developmental edits, 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 forward or characters’ motivations and character development. 

A copy editor focuses on fixing the mechanics of your text; they might work with you to ensure that you use the best specific words to tell your story.

They will review your book and catch any mechanical issues, like poor word choice, awkward sentences, spelling mistakes, and violation of grammatical rules.

However, there are several disadvantages to taking this shortcut of directly hiring an editor: 

  • It is difficult to start knowing what kind of copy edit you need because you didn’t bother to look over your entire manuscript.
  • It’s tough to have your writing critiqued without checking it first.
  • Searching for an editor with which you can efficiently work is not easy. 
  • Many editors are choosy about a manuscript passed to them. Although their job is to improve your draft, they usually reject 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 beta 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 basic 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 entire manuscript are higher than helpful, constructive criticisms.

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

  • If you turn to your followers or members of writing clubs to be your beta reader choices without trying to clean your entire 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. You are responsible for ensuring that your manuscript is in the best shape possible before you hand it off to them.

Before you outsource your book to an 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:

Editing Your Own Book Will Improve as a Writer

Finding things to cut and edit is problematic 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 grammar rules and the best way to form a story structure. You’ll also get a feel for what works and doesn’t. These things will make you a better writer. 

Editing Your Own Book 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 must do. 

If they see that your pages are of poor quality and that you don’t even bother correcting those mistakes, they will know that your work will be much more complicated to edit. The more time and effort they give to make sure it’s polished and clean, the higher the price they will charge.

However, if they see that your writing is clean and that they won’t have to work as hard to fix those mistakes, they will give you their base rate. 

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

Steps To Self-Edit Your Book

edit books

Give Your Book a Rest When Needed

Take a short break before you start self editing when you’ve completed your work. 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 the book editing process.

It is like having fresh eyes to see your work. It will help you see your story structure through the eyes of a new reader. You’ll be surprised by awkward secondary characters, sentences, plots, and many plot holes in your storytelling.

You will discover that you have forgotten to tie up some loose ends. A fresh perspective can help me figure out these mistakes and fix them.

Read Your Manuscript Out Loud

One way to edit your manuscript is to read it aloud. 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 self edits.

Hearing your writing also makes it easier to spot any choppy sentence structure 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 quickly identify mistakes 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.
editing a book

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 to see the big picture. 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 any gaps, they need to be filled by a more cohesive storyline.

If your entire story has subplots, they should be developed without breaking the flow of your main plot point or having plot holes.

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

As every scene unfolds, it should accomplish all the following: it must advance the plot lines, contribute to the main character development, and escalate the conflict.

You should think about the action and dialogue and cut anything that isn’t necessary. You should also remember that the first part of your story must be strong and the climactic scene needs to tie everything up for the big picture.

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, your editor will do an in-depth copy editing process later. However, doing this step will ensure 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.

Everyone makes typos, and some of those errors are not obvious. 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 them Into One.

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 for your Microsoft Word document. 

  • Fix Punctuation Errors. 

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

  • Identify and Cut Crutch Words. 

Crutch words 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. 

how to self edit a book
  • Rewrite Passive Voice to Active Voice. 

An active sentence is a sentence structure 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,” which should be changed to “The professor will give you instructions,” which is active. 

Why should you do this?

The first reason is that an active tone creates the impression of being more authoritative and knowledgeable about the subject you’re describing.

This is because it sounds more direct. It allows you to deliver information in a straightforward way that makes it clear.

Second, an active tone creates momentum that keeps your readers interested throughout the content. And lastly, an 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 word choice 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 must make sure you use common and easy-to-understand words.

  • 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 editing process.

However, these tools are designed to make your copyediting easier, not to replace your work completely or 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, you must be sure that the facts you provide are true and accurate. To do so, you’ll need to find sources for every fact,  statistic, and the 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 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

It might help to hire a proofreader if you’ve completed your editing checklist. 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

self editing a book

Formatting a book can be a tedious task. Still, it is vital in that if done right, it will allow your own 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 traditional or self publishing industry demonstrates that you are conscientious, professional, and thoughtful in presenting your work.

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

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 editing of a new paragraph. 
  • Set your text alignment to the left side of your page.
  • Line edits 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 short stories and building worlds, then the editing process 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 deeper into your story. As you find holes in your story’s plot points that seem off, you get to plug those. 

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 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 showed you how to succeed in your editing checklist, and you’ll see your own book take shape before your eyes for you to self publish.

Discover the 17 Steps to Creating a Best-selling Business Book

Scroll to Top