How To Self-Edit

Regardless of the publishing path, you’re pursuing, it’s important to know how to self-edit. No one writes a book perfectly at first—no book is perfect either, but that’s for another post. So, you need to know how to edit your book on your own before sending it to critique partners, beta readers, literary agents, or a freelance editor. Here’s an easy-to-follow guideline* to help you start self-editing your book.

No one writes a book perfectly at first Click To Tweet

Think about your self-edit while writing

While writing the first draft of my debut novel Well of Vengeance, I kept sticky notes and a small notebook next to me to stick them in. Whenever I would find something I needed to either look up, would want to rewrite later, or couldn’t think of the right word or phrase, I would jot it down on a sticky note and stick it in my notebook so I could easily arrange the notes later and tackle the individual notes without having to search through a mess of scribbled notes in the margins. You can also leave yourself notes throughout the document if you prefer to keep all your work digital. Not only did it help with the organization later, but it also prevented me from getting stuck during a writing session and either taking the time to do research—and get sucked down the rabbit hole—or spend fifteen or more minutes looking for the right word or rewriting the sentence. It’s okay if you didn’t do this during your first draft, you can always do it for your next draft or next book. It’s a tremendous help when it comes time to start your self-edits.

Let it rest

After you’re done writing your current draft, you need to let it rest. I know how tempting it can be to start immediately editing after finishing your draft. However, it’s better for both the manuscript itself and your mental health to let the book rest for a while. The time you let the manuscript rest depends on several factors, but a good amount of time is about a month. I let the first draft of my debut novel rest for almost a year before I continued working on it. I’m not saying you have to wait anywhere near that long, but do what feels right for you. You want it to be long enough you don’t feel too close to the story. Being too close makes it more difficult to delete scenes if needed.

It’s better for both the manuscript itself and your mental health to let the book rest for a while between drafts Click To Tweet

The fast read-through

After letting your story rest, it’s time to do a fast read-through of your story. Why a fast read-through? You want to read the book through in a single sitting or two to catch inconsistencies in the plot or characters you might miss if you spread out the reading between several sessions/days. You should look for patterns in your writing, things you struggle with and want to work on in subsequent drafts. Perhaps you’re an underwriter and there’s a lot of missing descriptions and scenes. Or maybe you’re an over writer and you need to cut some things out. While you’re reading, make notes on the different things you notice and scribble in the margins. I highly recommend printing out your draft so you can more easily take notes. Once again, it’s all up to you on how you do this.

Making your checklist

After your read-through, it’s time to make a checklist of all the things you want to tackle in the next draft. There are two main ways you can go about making your checklist. You can either make a list of things in order of importance/difficulty. Or, you can list it in order of appearance. A lot of this depends on your editing and writing style, but if this is your first time editing, then you can tackle it however you wish. The one thing I recommend is going into your edits with a plan. The worst thing you can do is start editing with no plan in mind. You need a plan so you don’t start line editing or proofreading, only to find out the scene you spent a few hours on is going to be cut. The best order for edits is Developmental, line/copy edit, formatting, and proofread. While you can totally do things in whatever order you want, the order in which you should edit your book is the one thing just about everyone agrees on.

I recommend is going into your edits with a plan. The worst thing you can do is start editing with no plan in mind. Click To Tweet

Tackling your first self-edit

Now it’s time for the thing you’ve been waiting for! Editing! It’s okay if it scares or worries you, editing is an enormous task and there are times when the editing can take longer than the writing process, but that’s okay. Every book is unique and there’s a small learning curve with each new novel. What I recommend is looking at your checklist and seeing what will change your manuscript the most and start with that. You can also try to change everything all at once, but you may want to hold off on that if this is your first or second time self-editing a book. You’ll want to take things slow and give yourself plenty of time to work through everything.

Second draft self-edit

After going through and making all your edits on your checklist, there’s a good chance the words won’t flow together as well as they once did. It’s difficult to make sure everything still makes sense when you’re making substantial changes. Before you let your draft rest, read through it once more and fix any glaring issues with scenes or large plot holes. You won’t catch everything as you’re still too close to the piece, but you can save yourself more work later by going through it once more time.

Subsequent self-edits

In theory, every time you self-edit should get a little easier and take less time as you get more kinks out of the story. That’s not always the case, as sometimes you can make more problems for yourself when you change the plot. If you have to make more substantial edits after your second, third, or even fourth draft, treat it like a first draft. If you’re making fewer changes each time, you can reduce the time you let the manuscript rest between each draft. I would still suggest waiting at least a day or two, but that’s not always possible with a looming deadline. Just do what feels right and follow your gut. Only you can truly know when your story is ready for publishing.

Just do what feels right and follow your gut. Only you can truly know when your story is ready for publishing. Click To Tweet

Where to go next

Once you feel your story is the very best you can make it, you have a few different options for what your next steps can be. You can look into hiring a developmental editor, find a critique partner or two, find or hire beta readers, hire a copy or line editor, the list goes on. I don’t recommend publishing your book until you’ve had at least one impartial reader. For most people that means not having close family or friends read as there’s a good chance they’ll just tell you it’s good and not give you any constructive criticism. With self-publishing, you’ll want to make sure your book is the best it can be, and to do that you’ll want to hire editors and have betas. In traditional publishing, books go through several rounds of edits and you can assure your book is the same quality or better than one published by the “Big 5.” You just need to give yourself the time and patience your story needs.

There are many other ways to self-edit your book, but this is a great place to get started. If you have questions or would like a more guided approach to editing your book, reach out to me on Instagram or check out my editing services page!

*Note: Notice I said “guideline.” This means there is no “right” or “wrong” way to go about self-editing your manuscript. This is what I found most helpful for me and my clients!