“To write is human, to edit is divine.” – Stephen King tweet
Looking to self-edit your book? you’ve come to the right place. This article will both provide you with the general rules of thumb for self-editing, and also list helpful steps to follow in the self-editing process.
They say that the hardest part of writing a book is, well, the actual writing part – the forcing yourself to be seated, stay interested, churn out just 5,000 more words before you’re done part. To anyone who’s written a book, you probably know that there’s more to it than that, though. One of the most frustrating, challenging, and paramount steps of your writing journey will actually be the act of editing your text.
While many authors choose to hire an editor, beta reader, or service to get this taken care of, that’s not an available option for many writers. Why? Editing services can be expensive. You’re also putting a huge level of responsibility and trust into the hands of someone who isn’t you. Granted, most editors are tried and true professionals. They know what they’re doing. But if you’ve toiled away over a book for months and months, or years and years, it might be hard for you to just hand your words over to a stranger. This is where learning to edit yourself comes in.
As defined by Google’s handy dandy dictionary, to edit means to “prepare (written material) for publication by correcting, condensing, or otherwise modifying it.” Anyone who has so much as typed a text or email has edited. When you edit, you’re checking the text to make sure it’s as clean as possible. Sure, editing is time-consuming, especially when you’re doing it to a novel-length document. But is it really necessary?…
You need to edit because it will make the reading journey so much more enjoyable. Think about the last time you read a book. You probably wanted something that was both fun and easy to read. Something littered with spelling and grammar issues galore makes your job as a reader much harder. And think about it this way, as Scribe.com mentions in their article “Scribe Guide to Editing Your Book”, the best selling book of the past thirty years is 50 Shades of Grey. The best selling novel series is Harry Potter. These are both written at a young adult level. The easier it is for readers to access your book, the more likely they are to like it and review it. And as most of us know, multiple high Amazon reviews look great for your book! It also shows that what you wrote is professional. Again, this is something that will only continue to build a positive reputation for your book and for you as an author.
Please note, that when I say you want to make your book “easy to read”, I’m not saying that the Faulkners and Shakespeares of the world should tone it down. Instead, eloquent linguists and every other writer should think of “easy to read” in terms of grammar, spelling, and formatting. Let your own writing style flow onto the page, but just make sure you’re using the correct form of your versus you’re.
Of course, like anything, there are pros and cons to self-editing. And you should know that editing is time-consuming. There may be times where you want to throw your laptop across the room because you’re so tired of editing. In those moments take a breath and step away from your writing. If you pursue self-editing again and again only to realize that your frustration with it is mounting, this may be your sign to hire an editor. Upwork, BookBaby, and Scribendi are reputable sources to seek out an editor.
If at any point you get frustrated with self-editing and wonder if it really is necessary, just remember this: According to a 2015 Writer’s Digest Magazine article, the number one element of a book that people will want to read is “readability”.
To get your book as readable as possible, take some time to get familiar with our seven rules before you begin self-editing:
- Learn the basics. If you’re going to write in a readable way, you’re going to need to know your stuff when it comes to spelling, grammar, and formatting rules. We recommend The Chicago Manual of Style, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, or Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style.
- Develop your skills as a reader. How will you know what readable books look like if you aren’t reading them yourself? We recommended this tip back in our article on 15 Habits for Author Success, and think it applies perfectly for anyone who wants to learn to edit.
- Know your audience. Writing for English speakers? Maybe avoid writing a book in Mandarin. Know what your target audience is interested in reading that and let this knowledge be your compass.
- Say great things, use fewer words. We all know people who are rather… loquacious. This rarely translates well into writing. Write to your strongest ability while using as few words as possible. Sentences that drag on and on are rarely fun to read.
- Ditch your crutch words. Every writer has a fallback list of favorite words that pop up over and over again in their writing. If you can’t recognize what your crutch words are, ask a friend to read your writing and ask them. Get ready to ditch these crutch words – they become monotonous and boring for readers.
- Maintain consistent POV. If your story starts off in first person narrative, don’t switch to third person limited halfway through the book. This is confusing for both readers and for you.
- Be prepared to face your book objectively. In order to be a successful self-editor, you cannot get too close to your words. Yes, we’re all familiar with the Hemingway quote that likens writing to bleeding out (“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed”). If you’re going to become comfortable cutting words, deleting paragraphs, and maybe removing entire chapters, your words can’t be too precious to you. Face your book in an objective manner and keep in mind that edits are improving the quality of your work.
Ok, so now that you know the rules. What’s the best way to self-edit a work of fiction? Follow these 7 steps:
- To get started, step away from your book. Set it aside for a week or two. Move on with your life, do some yoga, and try not to do anything book-related. This sounds pretty wild considering you’re probably ready to get your book prepped for publication ASAP, but stepping away from your book before beginning editing will help you two ways. One: this can prevent burnout and keep you from hating your book. Two: this will help you get out of your story, able to return to it with more of that objective attitude we mentioned earlier in the article.
- Do a first read through to line edit (this means that you aren’t combing your text for errors, but getting more of a general feel for your usage of language). Take this step to see if you like how your book sounds. Does this match up with the message you originally wanted your book to tell? If not, this needs to be addressed immediately before moving on to any further self-editing.
- Do a second read to focus on spelling and grammar. Ignore the storyline this go ‘round. Just think about the nitty-gritty mechanics used within your text and how they may be improved.
- Run a book editing software like Scrivener or Microsoft Word to catch any spelling and grammar mistakes you may have overlooked. This way you can find and replace any misspellings or mistakes in punctuation. Of course, this won’t suffice for a close read of the text which is why steps two and three are so important.
- Have your best friend, your mom, a friend from your book club, anyone, read your book. Get as many trusted, fresh eyes as possible on the text. These are the people who want to help you and will be more than happy to check for any mistakes you might have missed on previous read-throughs. Also, this is a great way to test your reader audience. Did your proofreaders enjoy your book? Then it looks like you’re ready to keep moving forward with pre-publication steps. Did they catch plot holes or problems with the story structure? Then there’s a good chance you’ll need to go back to step one.
- Read your book out loud. Once you’ve implemented all the changes from prior read-throughs, now you need to actually read out loud to hear your book. You’ll be surprised how many mistakes or goofs you’ll catch just through reading!
- DO NOT OVER EDIT. This is the greatest and final step in the self-editing process. You may know you’ve begun to over edit when words are blending together, you can’t make sense of your sentences, and it feels like what was once a well-crafted story has fallen apart in shambles. While books certainly need editing before they’re released into the world, over-editing can kill your hard work.
So, tell us – do you self-edit? What methods have worked best for you? What methods haven’t proven successful for you? Let us know below!