My Top 8 Editing Tips for Self-Publishing Authors
You’ve just written “The End” on the first draft of your book. Congratulations! Writing a book is on my bucket list, and I am always so impressed by people who actually accomplish it.
You should be proud that you finally got the rough draft out of your head and onto the page. I’m not sure about you, but the first drafts of my blog posts are usually not the best. In fact, they often stink like heaping piles of poo.
But that’s okay, because now you (and I) have something to work with. The hard part is over.
So how do you take a rough draft through to a finished product?
In this post, I share my eight essential editing tips to get your book (or other writing piece) in tip-top shape. I use these tips in my own writing and when I copyedit/proofread fiction novels.
Before I start explaining my process, we need to distinguish between the different types of editing.
There’s “big picture” editing (called developmental or substantial editing), which focuses on the overall story line, pacing, character development, narrative arc, and other story essentials.
Once you have the big picture solidified, then it’s time to focus on the finer details and add some polish so your book is ready for publication. Copyediting and proofreading focus on the little details in your book, such as capitalization, punctuation, grammar, word choice, and sentence structure.
You can follow the tips in the order they are presented, or simply use them as a guide and modify them to your own style. Every writer is different. Maybe you already have your own editing process, but one of the tips is new to you and you decide to try it out.
These tips focus on editing a book-length project but can be applied to all types of documents. I use a simpler version when I write my blog posts.
Editing Tip #1
After you’ve finished your rough draft, the first thing you should do is leave it alone and stop thinking about it. You’ve probably been hiding in your writing cave for months. It’s time to go outside and do something fun with your family and friends.
If you’ve been putting something off because you were writing your book, now’s the time to do it! Go organize your digital photos! Take a long weekend out and go glamping in the country! Finish that crafting project!
The key is to make sure you don’t think about it when you’re taking your break. You’re going to be tempted to go in and start editing it (or edit it in your head). Stop doing this! You need to give your writing brain a break.
When you come back to your book, you need to be able to look at it with fresh eyes. You’re very close to your work and need to step back for a little bit.
How long, you ask? If possible, I recommend at least a month for a book-length project. For my blog posts, I wait a minimum of 24 hours, but it’s usually more like 48-72 hours. Sometimes it’s even longer for the more comprehensive posts. This post took me almost a month to finish because I kept remembering things I wanted to add. If you can’t wait a month, then I’d shoot for 2 weeks.
Editing Tip #2
Okay. It’s been a month. You can now open your work in progress (WIP) on your computer. Before you start editing, make sure you’ve used a double-spaced, size 12 font that’s easy to read. (I use Baskerville Old Face.) You want to be nice to your eyes as you edit. Single-spaced paragraphs in 10 pt font are not fun to read. (Trust me, I edit 40+ hours a week. Tiny font and dense spacing are the death of me.)
Now that you’ve made your manuscript (MS) easier on your eyes, start reading it. DON’T EDIT IT YET. You can jot down notes as you go on paper or use comment bubbles (if you use Microsoft Word). Write down all the things you want to change, stuff you liked, how the story seems to be going, places where the pace is off/on, passages you need to cut, etc. Focus on the big picture stuff here. Don’t worry about the little details right now.
Editing Tip #3
Now that you’ve read it through all the way, go back and fix all the things you’ve written down and check them off as you go (or delete the comment bubbles).
Once you’ve completed your first round, go back and do tips #2 and #3 at least one to two more times, improving your book each time.
When you’re on the last round of this step, I would start looking for your beta readers (if you use them). You will need them for Editing Tip #5.
You need a second set of eyes on the big picture elements of your story before you start sweating the small stuff. You can also use a developmental editor to help you with your story line. Good editors are usually booked out, so make sure to plan ahead.
Editing Tip #4
This tip is where we start focusing on the little things.
Tip #4 is to read your book out loud. I do this for every blog post that I write and for every document that I edit. It forces you to slow down and really look at the words. When you go too fast, your eyes skip over small errors, such as missing or extra words and hard-to-spot spelling errors. Your brain fills in the words. Essentially, you see what you want to see and miss silly mistakes.
When I read a document out loud, I don’t use my regular speaking voice. I sort of mutter it underneath my breath as I go. I do this all the time at a community office space, and no one is the wiser. (And I’m okay with it if they think I’m a little weird. Ha!)
As you read your book out loud, do certain things jump out at you? Are there point of view switches (or head hopping)? Does the dialogue sound natural? Are the transitions okay? Do your sentences flow, and are they easy to read? Maybe there’s a better word you could use in that one sentence?
Editing Tip #5
Once you’ve finished reading your book out loud, it’s ready for others to have look. [eek!] This step can be a bit intimidating (what if they don’t like it??), but having a fresh set of eyes on your work is invaluable. It’s hard to be objective about your own writing. You’ve read over it and changed it a million times and are too close to the story. You need some outside perspective.
If you have a critique partner or writing group, this is the time send it off. If you don’t have a critique group, you should send it the beta readers or developmental editor you recruited in Tip #3.
Once you get their feedback, choose what you want to incorporate into your book and make the changes.
Editing Tip #6
Once you’ve incorporated the feedback from your writing peeps, let your book sit again. You don’t have to wait quite as long, but another short break would be very beneficial.
Editing Tip #7
You want to wait to start this step until you’ve gotten the feedback from your beta readers/developmental editor and incorporated it into your book because it will save you time in these final steps. You don’t want to spend time polishing passages that will get cut or have to go back and fine tune parts of the book that you added later.
Tip #7 is to print out the document and mark it up with a pen. Editing on paper is different than editing on screen. I print out every single blog post and mark it up with my pretty multi-colored gel pens (Pilot G-2 07, if you’re curious). I believe reading a hard copy of the document helps you spot things you missed when you read it out loud.
As you go through your printed version, focus on the little details, such as commas, capitalization, quotation marks, and grammar.
If you don’t want to print it out (or you don’t have a printer), you can change the font. (I started using Comic Sans after I saw this approach on social media.) You should also make the font bigger and change the page zoom to 125% or 150%. Having the words all up in your face will help the smaller errors stand out more. The goal here is to make it look like a different document (back to the “fresh eyes” concept discussed above).
Once you’re finished, transfer the changes from the printed copy to your e-copy.
If you’re planning on hiring a copy editor or proofreader, you should complete this tip first. You want to send the best MS possible to your copy editor/proofreader. You will minimize errors that way.
If you’re not hiring a copy editor or proofreader, go to the last tip.
Editing Tip #8
We’re almost done!
Now’s the time to use editing tools to do your final polish.
Here’s a quick list of editing tools I use when I edit fiction novels and my blog posts:
- Microsoft Word Spell Checker: Make sure you run some type of spell-checking tool on your writing. I almost always find something I missed.
- PerfectIt (a consistency checker): PerfectIt is, hands down, my absolute favorite editing tool. It helps check for consistency for hyphens, capitalization, spacing, and more.
- Macros: Macros are a quick way to do a whole bunch of computer commands in sequence. I use free macros to search for different issues in the documents I write/edit. One of my favorites checks for consistent spelling of all proper nouns (including character names).
Additional tools include the Hemingway app and ProWritingAid, which can help spot additional errors.
They key to using these tools is to make sure you understand that they are, in fact, just tools. They provide recommendations to help you with your writing. They are not absolutes, and you should use your best judgment as far as incorporating their suggestions. They do not take writing style and tone into account.
Well, congratulations! You’re officially done. Your book is finally ready for the world to see!
Here’s a quick recap of all eight editing tips:
- Take a break.
- Read through your entire document and take notes. Don’t edit it yet!
- Fix the items you found in #2.
- Read it out loud.
- Send it off to your writing peeps and then incorporate their feedback.
- Take another (shorter) break.
- Print out your document and mark it up on paper, focusing on the little details.
- Use editing tools to add the final polish to your book.
Were any of these tips new to you? Are you going to use any of them when you edit your next book? Which ones? Let me know in the comments below!