Our publishing coordinator Valkyrie (Sarah Kate Hill) has written a blog about her top 8 tips on how to self-edit your writing. The aim of this is to help authors take their first steps towards self-editing. To check out the blog and to view her own author website, please click here.
Ive got a couple of days off soon to focus on my author life—a writing retreat with a friend and a day on my own to curl up with blankets and my laptop at home. I’m really excited to be able to dedicate that time to just write or edit my upcoming books. On the home writing day, I’ll be focusing on editing my book some more for the manuscript appraisal I was given (I’m really aiming to get it back to the team soon to finalise the manuscript appraisal process and get into professional editing). So close! And the writing retreat with my friend, I want to make that exclusively writing (I’m a third of the way through book two and have new books I want to plan and draft, too). So, with my home book editing day coming up soon, I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite self-editing tips so you know how to self edit your book too.
And, as an added note, this list of top tips to self edit your book is focused on a generic manuscript of all genres. Though I’m primarily a fantasy author, I write non-fiction too and also work with all genres of books as a publishing coordinator and proofreader, so this will work for all genres. I’ll have to do a purely fantasy focused self-editing guide next time to get things like characters and plot and storyline.
Why it’s important to self edit your manuscript before giving it to an editor
It’s really important to self edit your manuscript as much as you can before handing it to an editor. That way, you’re making sure you’re giving it your absolute best and handing an editor a refined item. If you give them the first draft, you’ve barely got the ideas solidified yourself, let alone a clear, shining jewel ready for them to polish and enhance for you.
It’s not an editor’s job to ‘fix’ your manuscript and write it for you. They’re there to tell you how to improve it and make it better beyond your limits. If you don’t reach your limits, how do they know how to help you go past them to make your book the absolute best it can be?
Give the manuscript your all before you give it to an editor. Draft it. Rewrite it. Then self edit a few times, each time focusing on new things.
What do you look for when you’re self-editing? I’ll give you a few of my go-to self-editing processes below.
8 top tips on how to self edit your book—my go-to self-editing processes
I could talk forever on how to self edit your manuscript, with so many different things you can do to self-edit, but that would be a much longer blog post, and would likely be pretty boring! So, I’ll share my favourite eight to get you started. You can always reach out to me in the comments or contact me directly if you’d like to know a few more ways to self edit your book, beyond the list here.
1. Make sure you keep the same POV and tense
One of the most important parts of a self-edit is to make sure your writing is consistent throughout the manuscript, and that includes in your POV (Point of View) and tense.
One of the areas new writers can slip up is in changing POV or tense. Where they may slip from third person POV to first-person POV in a new chapter, or may even change tense from past tense to present tense. It’s crucial that your book keeps consistency throughout, so I recommend you do a read-through just for this.
2. Keep it simple (avoid purple prose and waffling)
It’s so tempting for a new writer to strut your stuff and try to look great. You’ve read so many awesome books by awesome writers and feel the need to stretch your wings and try to be as good as or better than those you admire. But actually, the best writing is simple writing. Forget those complicated five-dollar words when a simpler one will do. Why write a long and obnoxious sentence that’s convoluted and confuses your reader when a few words will get the point across better?
Concise writing is beautiful. It’s easy to read and understand. Long and waffling writing tires your reader, and the point of being a good writer is to make the reading experience as easy and enjoyable as possible.
Don’t make your reader work hard just to read your work. Make it easy and enjoyable for them. Imagine them snuggling down with a cup of tea after a hard day to relax and enjoy your book. Keep your language simple and concise, effective, enjoyable. You don’t have to write in purple prose to have beautiful writing.
3. Check for repetition
Sometimes, it’s easy to accidentally say the same thing twice. Maybe we don’t think a reader will understand, so we say the same thing twice but in different ways to get the point across. Maybe there’s a duplicate word in a sentence (in different places because your head misses it the first time). Check to make sure you don’t have repeated words or sentences too close to one another.
Used the same word sooo many times in the same paragraph? That’s also a key sign you’ve used it too much. Don’t overuse a word in a paragraph or even on a page. Mix it up. Pull out the trust thesaurus (but remember the above point—keep the words simple too) to find another word that would work and reduce the repetition.
4. Use correct punctuation (especially in dialogue)
I could talk about punctuation for hours. I’m a proofreader. I kind of have to. And this may seem obvious; but really, one of THE key things you should learn as a writer is top punctuation. It’s a writing game-changer, and your editor will definitely notice if you’ve got your punctuation great.
When looking at punctuation, particularly review these:
- Full stops (sounds obvious, but have you got huuuge or broken sentences?). Make sure you have correctly structured sentences—look at structuring sentences if you need to—making sure they’re not too long and not too short. Mixing length up is fine, but if you have a sentence that it actually two or three sentences, whack in those full stops. Got sentence fragments everywhere? Google that word! Those are definitely things editors look at.
- Commas (again, sounds obvious, but making sure they’re in the right place, punctuating and embedding clauses properly, and even lists if you use the Oxford comma, is crucial. Correct commas can make or break a sentence and affect how your writing is understood). The good, old “Let’s eat Grandma!” and “Let’s eat, Grandma!” speaks for itself, here.
- Punctuating dialogue. If there’s another main punctuation thing editors and proofreaders wish authors could ace, it’s dialogue punctuation. If you have any dialogue (including thoughts), make this one of your self-editing checks to make sure you have dialogue correctly punctuated. Google how to learn this properly for your country, as each language and style does it differently. As a Brit in Australia, I use single quote marks for speech, for example. Where do you capitalise the start of the speech? Where do you put the full stop, comma, question mark? Do you italicise it? Get this right, you’ll be way ahead!
- Tricky punctuation: semi-colons, em dashes, and en dashes. So important. I don’t think I need to say anymore. These beautiful, underappreciated punctuation forms show top-level writing!
5. Check for eggcorns or incorrect word spellings
I LOVE the word ‘eggcorn’, ever since one of the editors at work at Ocean Reeve Publishing said it to me. At first, I thought he was joking, but it’s a legit thing.
Mariam Webster dictionary defines eggcorn as ‘a word or phrase that sounds like and is mistakenly used in a seemingly logical or plausible way for another word or phrase either on its own or as part of a set expression’.
For example, ‘all intensive purposes’ instead of ‘all intents and purposes’ or ‘nip it in the butt’ instead of ‘nip it in the bud’.
Equally, check you’re using the right spelling of a word that is often mixed up with others, like:
6. Check for ‘crutch words’ (that, just, suddenly, like)
These are words that we fall back on and use without thinking, particularly in speech. Much like when you speak you might say ‘um’, we have words that aren’t needed in writing, too, so just take up space and add to your word count. To make your work more concise and smooth to read, do a check for frequently used words in your book and see if there are any you could cut the use of to avoid overusing them.
There are some common frequently used ‘crutch’ words here that you can run a ‘find’ through your manuscript on. Check whether it’s really needed in that instance and remove them if they’re not:
- Up/down (e.g. you don’t need to say ‘climbed up’. ‘Climbed’ already means up!)
7. Show, don’t tell
This is another top editing tip that editors love to see. It’s important to have a mix of both, so don’t go all out. Going heavy on the showing will add to the fluff that makes it difficult to read, so make sure you find that happy balance. At the same time, most writers lean more heavily on the ‘telling’ side of the spectrum, so it’s great to look out for opportunities where you can ‘show’ more often to really pull your readers into your book and help them engage.
To ‘show’, think of engaging the five senses of your readers and how you can use the senses in your writing. What does a room smell like to you or the character? In what way is someone acting?
E.g. rather than saying someone is nosy, explain they squint through a gap in their curtains each morning as they drink their coffee.
Give your readers imagery to imagine and relate back to. They’ll link it with something they remember that’s similar and imagine it from there.
E.g. rather than saying something stunk, say a thick, acrid fume lingered in the air as the car pulled away, billowing black smoke from the exhaust. (We all know a time a car spat out gross fumes from its exhaust as it drove past!)
8. Ensure it flows smoothly
Do a couple of read-throughs just focusing on the flow and whether it’s easy and smooth to read. Try to read from the perspective of a reader, ignoring that you know what happens and thinking about what it would be like from the view of someone who knows nothing about your book.
Another great tip for this is to read it slowly and out loud. Reading aloud will show you areas you trip up or get confused, and the best places to work into for smoothness, flow, and easy reading. When we speak, we’re lazy, so this will show you where you can refine your writing.
Bonus 9th: run a check with an editing program
While it’s best not to rely on automatic editing programs, they’re also a great help for identifying areas for growth.
At work and at home, I use Grammarly pro because I know I use it a lot as an additional tool. But, you can also use free versions and different types of editing software.
The main thing to know is that editing software can get it wrong, so don’t take it for gospel. At work, we maybe accept less than 30% of the things editing software points out, but it does provide an extra layer of things to think about.
It will show you where you have a sentence fragment, and then you’ll be able to fix that yourself. It will show you where you’ve mixed up your dialogue punctuation, so you can review that yourself. It will even show you where you have over complicated or confusing or long sentences and offer suggestions to fix it. I’d advise trying to fix it yourself first, as computers still have a long way to go before they’re editors, but it’s such a great way to show you places you can work on that you might have otherwise missed.
Awesome editing tip: change the font
Amongst all this, I wanted to share with you a little editing hack: change the font in one of your rounds of self-editing.
You’ve likely written, rewritten, and done a few rounds of self-editing in all the same font, so your eyes have adjusted to it.
Change that font up. If you’re writing in serif, choose a sans-serif, and vice versa! Make it look different so it’s almost like you have fresh eyes.
You’ll be amazed at how much difference this makes and how much more your spot on your next read-through!
To sum up the top 8 tips for self-editing your book
It’s been a long post, and I could talk about different ways you can self edit your book until the cows come home, so I’ll end it here and do a quick summary to refresh your brain. Here, in short, are my top tips for how to self edit your book and why you should self edit your writing.
- Editors don’t fix your work, they refine it and help you push beyond your limits. Do your best to get your manuscript as good as you can before engaging a professional editor, then they’ll help raise it even further and help you grow as a writer.
- Keep consistent, including POV and tense.
- Keep your writing simple. No need to get complicated.
- Check for repetition.
- Use correct punctuation.
- Check for eggcorns or incorrect word use.
- Check for ‘crutch’ words, filler words, or unnecessary words.
- Show, don’t tell. Engage the senses of your readers.
- Ensure your writing reads smoothly.
- Use editing software to help you, but don’t rely on it.
- Change the font for a new visual experience!
Got any questions on other ways to self edit your writing? get in touch or ask in the comments below!
Want to find out more about self-editing a fantasy book? Stay tuned for more and I’ll have that blog up soon. And, if you have any specific fantasy editing questions that you’d like to see in the fantasy editing post, get in touch and I can see about adding that in for you.
Stay creative and keep writing.