While hiring a professional editor is a great route to take, perhaps that isn’t an option easily available to you. Or perhaps you want to edit your own work before it goes to your professional editor in order to get the most out of the money you invest in editing. No matter the reason, knowing how to self-edit a book is an essential skill for all writers.
Self-editing can sound intimidating. After all, a writer isn’t automatically an editor. In fact, most writers have the hardest time editing their own work. Below are a few self-editing tips for your book.
1. Proofreading versus Editing. Often times, writers assume that giving a book a final “once over” looking for grammar and spelling errors is an edit. In actuality, that would be considered proofreading. While proofreading is valuable and essential, just checking for minor typographical errors isn’t enough to constitute a true edit and revision of your manuscript. Self-editing is a much more detailed and thoughtful process.
2. Take your Time. Slow and steady is the way to go with self-editing. As mentioned above, you’re not proofreading, you’re editing. Editing means really thinking about what the writing says. It means taking your time and really evaluating each paragraph, each sentence, each phrase. You’ve gotten through the hardest part—getting the words on the page—now you just need to make sure that those words are saying exactly what you want them to say. Nobody knows better than you do that your manuscript deserves the appropriate amount of time and energy.
3. Objectivity. The hardest part about editing one’s own work is being able to recognize when things don’t work. Being so close to one’s own writing (after all, you were the one who wrote it!) makes it difficult to recognize when something is unclear. As the author, you know what it is supposed to say and might not be able to tell when the message isn’t coming across quite right. Therefore, you have to remain objective when self-editing. View the work not as the author, but as the reader.
4. Use Your Ears and Your Eyes. Sometimes the best way to edit your own work is to listen to it, rather than to read it. Whether you just sit in a quiet room and read it aloud to yourself or whether you record yourself reading the manuscript and listen to it later, this form of self-editing is valuable beyond measure. Even if your book isn’t meant to be read aloud, awkward phrasing and misplaced punctuation can be detected by your ears sometimes more easily than by your eyes. For example, if a comma is in the wrong place, you’ll notice when the pause it creates doesn’t feel right. You also will be more likely to “hear” a change in verb tense or a disagreement between subject and verb. It might feel funny reading your book aloud at first, but it is well worth the effort to find those pesky errors your eyes might have passed right over!
5. Trust Your Instinct! You’re the author and you will know when something works and when it doesn’t. If a chapter or section of your non-fiction book feels wrong, try rewriting it from scratch. Consult your research again to make sure you have the facts straight. If a character in your novel seems inconsistent, sketch out a character profile to see where the inconsistencies might be. Part of self-editing is knowing what you want to say and trusting your gut on what works and what doesn’t.
6. Don’t focus only on what needs to be fixed. Give yourself credit where it is due! Without doubt, there are plenty of places in your manuscript where the writing works well, so feel pride in those sections. Also take the time to see how you can apply what works in those great sections to the areas in the book that don’t work so well. Self-editing involves recognizing where you have strength and where you have weakness. So, use the strong parts as a guide to see what you can use to make the weak parts stronger!
In the end, nobody will be as invested in your writing as you are. With some time, effort, and attention to detail, you can be the best editor for your book. Remember to follow just a few basic guidelines: make sure to proofread and edit, take your time, remain objective, listen to your writing, trust your instinct, and give yourself credit where it is due! In the end, you’ll have an even stronger book thanks to your stellar efforts at self-editing!