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5 Tips on Self-Editing

Why Edit Your Own Book?

Before we get into how, let’s cover the why you should self-edit.

If you are going the self-publishing route, your novel will be competing with traditionally published ones that have been through multiple drafts and revisions. If you are planning on using traditional publishing routes, you will still need to edit your own work because you will be competing with submissions which have gone through multiple rounds of editing.

You want readers to get pulled into an enjoy the world you have created. To do that, you need to make sure you have a well-written, entertaining, and engaging novel that hits your readers' expectations. Every scene needs to have a purpose, and sentences should be as clear and concise as possible.

Through self-editing, you will become a better author. The first round of editing should address larger story elements like plot and character arcs. During the second, you should take a closer look at each sentence and its necessity, clarity, spelling, grammar, and punctuation issues. This second round will increase your knowledge of grammatical rules, which will make you a better writer.

With the why explained, let’s get into the 5 steps of self-editing.

1. Leave Your Novel Alone.

It may sound counterintuitive, but when you take a break from it, you can distance yourself from the story. While I don’t suggest leaving it for over a month, the longer you stay away, the more distance you can create and start editing with a clearer perspective.

2. Read for Larger Story Elements.

This will be your developmental self-editing pass. Read through the story from beginning to end, making notes on any issues with storyline, scene arrangement, pacing, flow, character likability, flaws, and believability.

Check in with your style sheet, worldbuilding, and character sketches to see if you kept these elements consistent or if anything in those documents needs updated. This is especially helpful when writing a series or when you are writing multiple novels at one time.

Always keep in mind your story’s point of view. If the whole novel is one person’s point of view, it may be easier to pick out where you may have switched to other character’s motivations, intentions, or feelings. If your novel is written with multiple perspectives, make sure the perspective is consistent, at a minimum, within scenes.

3. Read Your Story Aloud.

It might sound weird, but reading your story out loud can help you catch missing words, mistakes, and repetitiveness that reading simply can’t because our brains fill in or rearrange words, so the sentence makes sense.

You can print out a copy of your book to read and make changes on your computer, vice versa, or just read from your computer. I suggest the first way, as I find it easier. But do whatever works best for you.

4. Read each scene separately.

Every scene should have a purpose—moving the plot, adding or increasing conflict, or advancing a character’s development or relationship. Look at the dialogue and cut unnecessary banter. Also, cut down dialogue tags and replace some with a character’s actions to provide the information a specific character is talking. Make sure you have strong openings, and the scene concluded with a resolution of some kind.

5. Copy Editing.

In this pass, you will check each sentence and fix basic errors. One way is to use a program like ProWritingAid or Grammarly. Replace words you have repeated too often using ‘find and replace’ feature. If some sentences are in passive voice, change them to active voice. If your sentence structures feel too repetitive, look for ones that can be easily changed for variation. Lastly, you will fix punctuation, grammatical, and spelling errors.

After you have completed these five steps, you are ready to send your manuscript to a professional editor. How comfortable you are with your self-editing skills will help you determine what type of editing you need.

If you are having trouble with addressing plot holes, a boring middle, or character arcs, an editor who specializes in developmental editing would be a good choice for you. If you feel you have addressed all of these issues, you may be ready for line editing. Editors specializing in line editing will help the flow of your writing between paragraphs and sentences and help vary your sentence structure. However, if you feel these bigger issues and line issues are working, it’s time to find a copyeditor.

My advice is to always get a copy edit and a proofread before publishing or sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher.

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