Have you ever felt that itch? The burning desire not just to write a book, but to get it PUBLISHED? Whether you’ve poured your whole life into a touching memoir or have crafted an intricate fictional universe with captivating characters, the ultimate dream of many writers is to see their book on the shelves. But the journey from first draft to publishing – whether entering writing contests, aiming for a traditional publishing deal, or self-publishing – is filled with hurdles. One of the most essential steps in this journey is self-editing.

Self-editing doesn’t just mean correcting typos. It encompasses ensuring proper formatting, making sure the setting of your story is immersive, confirming the tone is consistent, and guaranteeing your characters – from the main character to the villain – are well fleshed out and compelling.

Perhaps you’ve dedicated years penning down your memoir, recounting your life’s most poignant moments. Or maybe you’ve created a whirlwind romance with characters that readers will fall in love with. Regardless of your book’s genre or theme, the importance of editing cannot be overstated.

Mastering the Self-Editing Process

As author Francine Prose astutely points out, a writer’s proficiency in identifying and revising superfluous content is paramount. Let’s delve into the essential steps to self-editing mastery:

  1. Divide and Conquer: Start each writing day by revising your previous day’s work. Separate the processes of writing and editing to maintain efficiency.
  2. Vocalize Your Words: Reading your work aloud offers a fresh perspective and helps identify flow disruptions or inconsistencies.
  3. Begin with the Broader Strokes: Before delving into details, focus on significant changes like scene adjustments, character modifications, or plot shifts.
  4. Fine-Tune Each Scene: Ensure that every scene drives the story forward or offers character depth. Be wary of over-explaining, relying on clichés, or providing excessive details.
  5. Eliminate Repetitive or Unnecessary Words: Refrain from showcasing intricate vocabulary at the expense of clarity. Aim for precision and simplicity.
  6. Undergo a Comprehensive Review: This stage involves meticulously examining every word and ensuring the absence of typos or grammatical errors. Tools like ProWritingAid can be beneficial.
  7. The Final Proofread: This step is primarily about eliminating any remaining minor errors. Having a second set of eyes can be invaluable during this phase, especially if self-publishing is your chosen path.
self editing your book

The Publishing World and Its Intricacies

Every aspiring author wants their manuscript to stand out in the vast sea of submissions. Regardless of whether you aim for traditional publishing or choose the self-publishing route, a polished manuscript is non-negotiable. In the self-publishing sphere, while it’s true anyone can print virtually anything, a book riddled with errors rarely garners respect.

On the traditional publishing front, the competition is fierce. Even though these publishers have teams of professional editors, your manuscript must be impeccable to even be considered. Remember, your manuscript competes against thousands of others; standing out requires more than just an engaging storyline.

The Imperative of Self-Editing

Whether you intend to hire professional editing services or you’re fortunate enough to have a publisher-appointed editor, presenting your best possible version is your responsibility. Handing over a half-baked manuscript with a “fix it for me” attitude won’t cut it.

You might have spent years crafting your story, but an editor might only dedicate a few minutes to evaluate its potential. While this might sound harsh, there’s a reason behind it.

Why Manuscripts Might Be Rejected Quickly

Industry professionals are adept at gauging the amount of work a manuscript requires just by skimming through its initial pages. Considerations include:

  • Is the opening engaging?
  • Is there a confusing array of characters introduced early on?
  • Does the writer have a grasp on perspective?
  • Are the setting and mood intriguing?
  • Is there an overload of background information at the start?
  • Is the narrative impactful or too direct?

If your masterpiece feels lackluster in its opening, move the “good stuff” up front.

Homework for Aspiring Authors

Below, you’ll find a downloadable self-editing checklist based on the aforementioned steps. It’s pretty much the same but rephrased in a way that might make more sense to you.

7 steps to self-editing your book

If you dream of seeing your work published, mastering the art of self-editing is crucial. Here’s a comprehensive guide to ensure your manuscript shines bright amongst its competitors. These seven steps will help you become a better writer and prepare your manuscript for the world.

1. Separate Creation from Critique:
First and foremost, separate the act of writing from revising. When you’re drafting, especially if you’re more of a “pantser” (writing without a strict plan), let your ideas flow. Once you’ve got your story down, that’s when you can put on your editor’s hat.

2. Big Picture First:
Before diving into the details, look at the overall structure. Evaluate the plot of your story, ensure you introduce your main character early on, and create character arcs that show growth and development. Do all your scenes contribute to the plot? If not, it’s time for a trim. As a beginning writer, you might be tempted to add every creative thought you have, but sometimes, less is more.

3. Dive into Characters:
Characters are the heart and soul of any story. Reflect on what motivates your characters, both the heroes and the villains. Establish character empathy. Even for your villain, there should be some depth and reason behind their actions. Remember, every character, whether they’re major players or side characters, should have a purpose.

4. Perfect Your Scenes:
Each scene should pull its weight. Is the setting clear? Does the point of view remain consistent? If you’re writing from multiple main characters’ perspectives, ensure there’s no confusion. Scenes should also balance show-don’t-tell, avoiding excessive exposition.

5. Literary Flair:
Experiment with different literary devices to enhance your writing style. Avoid passive voice, and opt for powerful verbs to make your sentences more dynamic. Passive voice might seem tempting, but active voice gives your writing energy.

6. The Nitty-Gritty Details:
Now, focus on the smaller details. This includes checking for repetitiveness, ensuring character names are consistent (and not confusingly similar), and refining dialogue. Utilize writing and editing tools to help catch those pesky grammar errors or overused phrases.

7. Final Polish:
Once you’ve refined your story’s content, do a thorough proofread. This step is about catching the tiny errors that might’ve slipped through earlier revisions. Having a fresh set of eyes, whether from a friend or a professional, can be invaluable here.

Bonus Tip: Dive into Research!
Whether you’re writing a historical novel, sci-fi, or even a memoir, ensure your details are accurate. Research adds depth and credibility to your writing.

If you want to make it in the world of published authors, self-editing is non-negotiable. And remember, every time you edit, you’re not just refining your book; you’re refining your skills as a writer. So, embrace the process, learn from it, and watch as your book transforms into a masterpiece ready for the world to see.

I hope this self-editing checklist helps you polish your story! The more criteria your manuscript meets, the closer it is to being publication-ready. Remember, the journey from a writer to an author is paved with revisions. Embrace the art of self-editing, and success is bound to follow.