10 BEST TIPS FOR SELF-EDITING YOUR BOOK
Today we're talking about editing, everyone’s favorite part of the writing process! Right? Am I right . . . ?
More specifically, we’re talking about self-editing, which is the series of revisions and edits that you do before you submit your manuscript to a professional editor. This process can be overwhelming for writers, especially if this is your first go at it, which is why I am breaking down my top 10 tips for self-editing your novel before you ship it off to a professional editor!
With that said, let's break down my favorite self-editing tips in three, two, one, go!
This video is sponsored by Edit Out Loud. As always, all opinions are my own.
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Number 1: Chapter by Chapter
"But Jennaaa, editing a manuscript is so intimidating because you have to revise an entire book!”
That's true, which is why you should focus on one chapter at a time instead of the whole damn thing. A lot of newbie writers get over the hump of crafting their first draft and then give up because the concept of editing is so overwhelming. I know it feels like a lot to fix up an entire manuscript, but you know what’s a whole lot easier? Fixing 15 pages, then another 15 pages, and then another 15 pages. You'll be surprised just how quickly you can fly through your edits when you only look at them one chapter at a time.
Number 2: Do What the Pros Do
This does not mean you need to be as qualified as a professional editor, but you should try to emulate their process. If you're not familiar, the standard professional editing process looks like this:
First, there are the developmental edits, which means storyline and content edits.
Second are the line edits, which means editing paragraphs, style, and flow.
Third is the copy edit, which is where you look at your work on a sentence level, so we're talking about punctuation and grammar.
And lastly is the proofread, which is where you look for any teeny, tiny mistakes that have slipped through the cracks.
This order makes sense because there’s no point in editing punctuation if you haven't even tackled the story issues. Tackling story issues means having to rewrite scenes completely, plus taking your self-editing process one focal point at a time means each draft will be a lot less overwhelming. You may see a ton of grammatical errors, but you don't have to worry about them right now because you're focused on the developmental edit. Pay attention to the phase that matters and leave all the other problems for a future round.
Number 3: Color Coding
If you're a visual learner, there is so much power in color coordination. When I first begin the editing process, I start by reading one chapter at a time. Sometimes there are issues that are easy to address, other times not so much. If I come across a mistake that's really difficult to correct, I highlight it based on what kind of issue it is and move on. You can choose any color coding method you prefer based on your style, strengths, and weaknesses. Typically, I highlight anything that can be shortened or deleted in blue, anything redundant in pink, and anything that just needs to be rewritten altogether in yellow. This allows me to easily scroll through my document and look for specific errors to address. For example, if I'm purging repeat phrases, I'll look for pink.
Number 4: Move On
Another benefit of the highlighting method is it allows you to move on. Sometimes writers fixate on an error they can't quite figure out how to fix. You can sit there for hours getting absolutely nothing done, or you can highlight that bitch and move on.
Save the tricky stuff for later. It’s possible the answer will come to you over time, or you might need to ask other writers for their feedback. But there is no benefit in mulling over that problem for hours and wasting precious time. Slamming your head against the wall will do you no favors. Make the most of your time and get back to work.
Slamming your head against the wall will do you no favors. Make the most of your time and get back to work.
Number 5: Listen
This is why Edit Out Loud is such a godsend. There are few things more helpful than reading your work out loud, or having it read out loud to you. When you silently read your manuscript over and over again, you start to memorize the content, which means it's very easy to skip over blatant mistakes.
That doesn't happen when it's read out loud. Mistakes and clunky sentences stand out like a sore thumb. That's exactly what you want during the self-editing process. You need to hear your manuscript read out loud in order to fine-tune your style, address line edits, and of course, fix those pesky typos. I recommend having your book read out loud at least once during the self-edit process, but the more times the better.
Number 6: Critique Partners
I don't care how great of a writer you are, you don't know everything. Collect a pool of critique partners and combine your knowledge to create a team of super writers. With your powers combined, you are Captain Planet!
Critique partners are fellow writers who critique one another's manuscripts. The process is kind of like a light-handed edit before the professional edit. Someone, or even multiple people, read through your manuscript and point out any issues that you've missed because you are too close to the project.
This is especially helpful if you have writing quirks. For example, an over-reliance on filter words or characters who all have the same voice. It's also great to enlist critique partners who are skilled in areas that you're weaker at. For example, if you're a great world builder, your critique partner should probably be really great at dialogue. Critique partners will let you know how you're fucking up so you can build off one another and improve together.
Number 7: Beta Readers
The beta reader's job is mostly to address the entertainment level of your novel. Is it interesting? Are they invested in the characters? Does the plot make any sense at all? This information is super important, and while it might not relate to the nuts and bolts of your writing, it's still going to heavily influence your editing. No point in publishing a book if no one likes it.
The most common things I look for from my betas are their reactions to specific characters and scenes, as well as whether or not they understand the content as I’ve intended. This will help guide you during your edits so you can make the novel as clear and engaging as possible.
Number 8: Switch Up the Format
Changing the font or background of your manuscript can go a long way. We hear a lot of writers talking about changing the font to Comic Sans or switching the background from white to yellow, but that's because switching up the format can drastically change the reading experience. Other options are to change your reading device. For example, if you've been writing your manuscript in Word on your laptop, you then read it on a Kindle or an iPad. This can provide an entirely new perspective, which will make the mistakes all the more evident.
Number 9: Focus on the Character
If the issue in question is a particular character, as opposed to a plot point or a scene, then it makes sense to focus all of your attention on the scenes that character appears in. I usually like to highlight that character's moments in green, and then I go through the document and look for all the green. Or I do a name search. This allows me to focus on one person, their voice, their personality, and their actions, without getting bogged down in all the other details of the story.
Number 10: The Simplest but Mightiest Tool – Find and Replace
The find and replace tool is your friend! Especially if you have a propensity for overusing certain words. Simply type that word into your search bar and a number will pop up showing you how many times you’ve used that word in your document. This is so helpful if you want to narrow down an obscure word in your writing, if you want to change a character's name, or if you've made the same typo over and over again and you gotta fix it. It saves you from having to read the manuscript another time because let me tell you you're gonna read it SO many times throughout the editing process. Instead, you can allow Word to find the problem areas and nip them in the bud.
So that's all I've got for you today!
My ten best tips on how to self-edit your novel, all wrapped up in a pretty little blog post. It’s not easy, but if you take it one bit at a time, it’s a lot less overwhelming. If you want to see your book in the hands of readers, you’re gonna have to put in the work.
What’s your self-editing process? Let me know in the comments below!
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