Can I self-edit my book? 7 tips to get you started

Avatar by Brendan Brown | March 11, 2021, 2:09 am
how to edit your own book

You’ve finally finished your book.

Typed that last word. Added that final full stop. Sat back and just breathed a huge sigh of relief.

It’s a huge moment, and one that deserves a big pat on the back, and perhaps a celebratory glass of champagne (or two).

But, it’s not all over yet!

In fact, that’s only half the job done.

Your book now needs to be edited to make sure it’s in the best position to go to market.

The last thing you want is people to be reading the final version, riddled with spelling and grammar mistakes, and perhaps even a glaring plot hole that was overlooked.

There’s no doubt about it, editing is an essential and time-consuming part of the process.

So, can you do it yourself?

No doubt a professional book editor can be a huge asset. The problem is that for many writers, they also come with a hefty price tag.

The truth is – you can edit your own book quite effectively. You just need to make sure you know what you’re doing first.

Here’s 8 things you really need to know about self-editing your own book.

1. It’s not just about the grammar

The biggest mistake people make when choosing to self-edit their own book is thinking it’s just about the grammar.

Don’t get us wrong – grammar is a big part of it.

But it isn’t the whole process.

There are plenty of online resources you can use when it comes to fixing any grammar errors in your book. For example, this one looks at getting rid of unnecessary words, how to avoid subtle redundancies, avoid telling what’s happening and more.

It’s a great start! These are all great tips that you should definitely follow, but it’s important to understand the different rounds of editing and exactly what you need to be doing.

  • Developmental edit: This is a great first editorial step. Usually, it’s a process you engage in while you’re still writing your novel. This first edit has nothing to do with grammar and spelling. Instead, it’s looking at structure, how your novel flows, the pace, and how the characters and storyline develops throughout. You may find yourself stuck halfway through writing your book and need to carry out a developmental edit to help you continue. Or you can start this process at the end. The purpose of this step is to make sure there are no glaring plot holes and that the book reads and develops exactly as you intended. It’s a crucial part of the process that takes time and concentration.
  • Copyedit: Now that you have the structure sorted, you can turn your attention to the copyedit. Now is your chance to brush up on your grammar skills, make use of those resources available to you on the internet and look for those grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. But that’s not all it entails. A copy edit should also look at paragraph spaces, the use of quotations, the flow of any dialogue, and the tone of the novel. You need to be on the hunt for any inconsistencies throughout your book.
  • Proofread: Book proofreading is the final step of the process. By now, there should be no plot holes, the characters should be well developed, you should have picked up any glaring grammatical or spelling errors and your book should be in pretty good shape. The proofread is your chance go through your book with a fine-tooth comb. Read each word out loud and make sure there are no mistakes for you to spot the entire way through. You can’t get to this stage without going through the first two rounds of editing. It’s an in-depth process and there are no shortcuts when it comes to self-editing your book.

2. Take a break

Now you know it’s possible to self-edit your book, and have a clear understand of the process involved – when do you get started?

Naturally, you want to dive in straight away and give it a go. Unfortunately, this isn’t the best idea. The book is far too fresh in your mind.

You need to take a step back and give your mind a chance to relax, rather than jumping right in after typing ‘The End’.

This will give you the chance to see your book with some fresh eyes.

Stephen King puts it best: “When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees. And, when you’re done, you have to step back and look at the forest.” In order to step back and begin your developmental edit, you need to give yourself some distance from your book, so you can see that forest with a fresh outlook.

By taking a break, you are able to dive back in and make clear decisions about your work to improve it.

So, what do you do in the meantime?

Relax! Head out for a coffee, catch up on some of your own reading, or meet with friends. Give your mind a rest.

If you’re keen to keep pushing forward, then start on your next book. It will take your mind off your last one, as you work away at the same time.

3. Prepare some questions

Before you dive into your first round of developmental editing, you want to make sure you have put a checklist together of exactly what you need to look at.

There’s no point simply reading your book back through without a clear goal in place. This will waste a lot of time and effort on your part, and won’t actually help your manuscript.

Here are some great questions to help you out:

  • Is my story easy to follow? Think about whether or not it jumps around a bit. If it does, is it still easy to follow with these jumps? Is there a clear start, middle and end that you can identify while reading?
  • Does my plot make sense? Without a good plot in place, your story will go nowhere. You need to examine your plot from start to finish and ensure there are no inconsistencies. What about your subplots? Do these detract too much from the main plot, or do they add to it? Think about each one individually and what it’s contributing to your book.
  • Are my characters well-developed throughout? The characters are the people your readers connect with throughout the book, so you want to make sure they’re believable and consistent.
  • Does my book have a good pace to it? Think about any parts of the manuscript that seem to lag a little and are almost a bit boring to get through. Work out why and see if you can make some changes.
  • Does my book flow? From start to finish and in-between does the book flow with your use of grammar and sentence structure. You want to set the tone for your book and make sure you keep to it throughout.

It’s also important to think about any specific questions you have for your book. You’re the person that knows it inside and out, so think about any concerns you have with it and areas you want to pay particular attention to.

It helps to have all this fleshed out before you dive into the editing process. It will save you plenty of time.

4. Get yourself organized before diving in

It’s likely that you followed a timeline when you were writing your book. Now you want one for the editing process.

You know the three essential steps that are required: a developmental edit, copy edit and a proofread. Plan out how long you’ll spend on each of these and dedicate your time to getting it done.

Once you have a timeline in place, you need to think about how you’ll carry out the editing. Every editor has their own way of doing things, so you’ll have to find yours.

Here are some areas for you to explore:

  • Do you prefer to edit a hard copy or soft copy?
  • As you go through the questions laid out above, how do you plan to make note of any concerns? It can help to have different highlight colors for different areas. For example, if you find things you need to fix about the plot, highlight them in yellow. If you find character issues, highlight in blue.
  • How do you plan to mark up grammar errors? If you’re editing your book on a computer, it’s as simple as fixing the mistake. On paper it’s harder. You don’t want the error to be missed when you go back through and make the changes. Make sure it’s obvious and be consistent throughout your manuscript.

It’s up to you to choose the system that works best for you. It can be as simple or as in-depth as you like. The most important thing is that it remains consistent.

It might help to take part in a proofreading course before you go ahead and self-edit your book. This way, you can learn all the marks and symbols associated with editing, which can speed up the process for you. It’s also handy knowledge to have even if you do choose to go with a professional editor.

5. Be as thorough as possible

There’s no taking shortcuts when it comes to editing your own book – as tempting as it can be.

That doesn’t mean you won’t find yourself lagging at some points, and almost skimming the text as you go.

Considering that you wrote the book, you have to be even more thorough than a professional editor.


Because there’s a simply trap you lend yourself to fall into. As the author, you can make the mistake of reading the words and you intended to write them.

For example, the sentence could be, “He went to the park and played with his”. What you meant to say at the end is “dog”. When you skim through your book, you automatically add the word dog on the end without realising. It’s what you thought you put on paper, so your brain reads it that way.

In order to avoid this pitfall, it helps to read the book out loud.

This forces you to slow down and take in every word you are reading along the way. It means you’re more likely to pick up any of these issues.

Another great way to help you pick up any errors is to change your font. This simple task can change the way you read the words on the page and help you pick up any errors that you had previously missed.

This isn’t a process that you want to rush. Take your time with it, and even carry out a few rounds of copy editing and proofreading if you’re feeling unsure. You don’t want to hand that book over to print until you are 100% happy with it.

6. Make note of your over-used words

You might be thinking: ‘I don’t overuse words!’

If you’re a writer, then yes you do. It’s second nature to us!

It’s not a bad thing. You just have habits that come out in the form of words you choose and most of the time, you do it without even realising.

Do a skim through your manuscript and see if any standout to you. Even if it’s something you don’t notice, your readers will.

There are tools out there to help with this. If you use Scrivener, you can go to ‘Project’ and select ‘Text Statistics’. It will do the hard work for you. There are also plenty of other online programs that can do this, simply do a little research to find them.

Once you do, get rid of them. It’s as easy as getting out your thesaurus and finding another word, or just delete them altogether.

While you’re there, it also helps to do a search for excess words. Think about your use of adverbs. For example, “the girl runs quickly” can be changed to “the girl sprints”. Less words, same message.

Another word to be on the lookout for is ‘that’. It’s effectively used about 5% of the time. The other 95%, it’s simply adding padding to you text without adding value.

7. Make use of beta editors

Choosing to self-edit your own book is a big step, but you don’t have to go it alone.

Once you’re done, get yourself some beta editors to do the final look over for you.

They’re cheap (often free if you can coax some friends into the role), but you do need to make sure they can be objective. This means that choosing your nana probably isn’t a great move. After all, is she ever going to be negative about something her darling grandchild wrote?

The role of a beta editor is to provide feedback on your manuscript before it goes to print.

You’ve been through your book and done all the required edits. You’ve started off with a developmental edit and fixed up the characters. You’ve then moved on to a copyedit and managed to get your grammar in tip top shape. Finally, you did a proofread and went through your book with a fine-tooth comb.

Now it’s time to hand your work off. It’s a hard step, but a necessary one. And it’s a step you want to take before you get your work printed.

While you think your book is ready to go, a fresh perspective from an outsider could raise some issues you hadn’t considered yourself.

The role of a beta reader is to offer this other perspective on your work, to make you think about it from a different point of you.

After all, you haven’t written your book for you. You wrote it for your audience.

It makes sense to test it with your audience first before going to print!

So, how many beta readers do you need?

Believe it or not, it actually helps to have a handful, say five or six.

Let’s face it, they’re only human. For some of your beta readers, life might get in the way and hey never get around to finishing your book.

Plus, having more views gives you more accurate feedback to rely on. If they all return with similar feedback, then making those changes becomes a no brainer.

It’s time to go on the hunt for those beta readers. Start with friends who you know will be objective, then move onto your community. You can ask in Facebook groups, or even put the word out with friends of friends.

Just remember, these readers aren’t going to be natural writers (most of the time), but they will offer a valuable perspective.

At the end of the day, it’s very easy to self-edit your own work, but it’s important to note that it is work and you need to put the effort in.

If at any point of the process you’re having concerns and simply aren’t happy with the results, then there’s no harm in bringing in a professional editor to help out.

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