Welcome to the official blog of

Book Marketing Tools

5 Quick Tips for Self-Editing

Making your book as good as it can be is one of the best book marketing tools you have. Editing is an important part of that process, but editing can be expensive. In this guest post from Jen Whitten, a publisher and freelance editor, she shares some tips to help you to self-edit your book well, to help make editing cheaper on you and to help you produce the best book you can.

As you know, a professional edit on your novel usually doesn’t come cheap. What you may not know is that many editors will charge you less when you can submit a relatively clean manuscript. This makes the self-editing you do especially important for improving your novel and helping you save a little cash.

Here are some tips on self-editing to help you to clean up your manuscript to save you some money:

Ignore Grammar

Yes, I’m an editor who just told you to ignore grammar. For now. When you’re making your first self-editing pass, the goal is to focus on big pictures items, like:

  • Is my story believable?
  • Do my characters behave consistently?
  • Did any of my characters change in appearance from one scene to the next?
  • How do my characters sound?
  • Are my scenes arranged in the most compelling order?

While these may seem like relatively simple things to fix in your self-editing, they’re easy to miss when you’re busy sweating over whether you need a comma or a semicolon in a particular sentence. When you allow yourself to ignore the rules of grammar and spelling, you’re able to take a wider view of the story to see what’s working and what is not.

You’ll also save yourself quite a bit of time. From experience, not all those scenes you’re agonizing over punctuation in will make it out of the big picture revision untouched.

Learn to Eavesdrop

When I’m working on a developmental edit for someone, I spend a lot of time scrutinizing the dialogue. In many cases, if you take away the dialogue tags and try to read the scene, there’s no way to tell who’s saying what. Your characters should sound different from each other – and from you.

But each character should still sound like a real person. This is where eavesdropping comes in. Head to the mall or the park and listen to how people interact with one another. Do they:

  • Have one-sided conversations?
  • Use each other’s name constantly?
  • Say what they mean the first time asked?

In short, no. No one talks this way. The vast majority of people don’t monologue to each other for the equivalent of three pages. They don’t use the other person’s name unless they’re emotional, trying to build trust or conning the person. And when does anyone in the real world say exactly what they mean without prodding.

Get Friendly with Characters

How well do you know your characters? At the beginning of the book, you may still be trying to learn their personality. By the end, you know what they’re all about. The trick is to revise the early scenes to show your character as the person you know them to be later in the book.

If you’re still having trouble getting to know your characters, interview them. Your readers will likely never need to know the character’s favorite fish or what political party they favor, but you as the author do. Learning what makes your characters tick is the best way to evaluate whether their behavior throughout the book makes any sense. (Book Marketing Tools note: You could also save this interview for later and use it as marketing material for promoting your book!)

Also, this is a good time to get a clear picture of each character in your head. If you don’t know what they look like or what annoying habits they have, your reader won’t either.

Cut to the Chase

In every manuscript comes the moment(s) when the character ruminates over the state of their life while walking or driving somewhere. Or there’s a scene that’s full of gorgeous imagery that would make our high school literature teachers proud. These are the scenes we look back at and let out a contented sigh because we know they’re genius.

They’re also boring.

Here’s the thing. Modern readers of commercial fiction don’t have the attention spans that readers had in the 1800s. Or a decade ago. Now, readers will skim until they get to the point where something interesting happens again. Or they put down the book and never finish it.

When you’re on your first self-editing pass, pay attention to those moments where your mind starts wandering. If you can delete a paragraph, scene or chapter without it changing the thrust of the story, it probably doesn’t deserve to be there.

Stop Pulling Punches

In the course of writing your novel, it’s easy to get attached to your characters, especially the protagonist, and want good things for them. When presented with the opportunity to blow their lives to pieces, it’s tempting to let them off easy. As authors, we may even find ourselves hesitating when we write certain scenes because they don’t quite agree with our sensibilities.

The thing is…pulling our punches may make us feel better, but doing so cheats the reader out of the story they could have read.

As you self-edit, pay attention to those scenes that were uncomfortable to write. In many cases, you’ll find they lack the emotional gut punch they need to provide. Often, they’ll be devoid of the descriptive and evocative narrative that sucks readers in and makes them care about our characters.

This self-editing pass is also an excellent time to decide whether you cut your protagonist too many breaks. The worse you make things for your protagonist, the more your readers will cheer when they overcome it all to come out victorious in the end.

Wrap Up

If you can successfully address these five areas while self-editing your novel, there will be less for your developmental editor to worry about. When you have the support of a good critique partner or solid writing group, you may even be able to skip this stage of professional editing and head straight to the copy editor.

After you complete your own revision pass for spelling, grammar and syntax, of course.

Your turn. What structural elements do you look for during your first self-editing pass?

Jen Whitten is the owner of Random Distraction Publishing, a freelance editor and a bacon enthusiast. When she’s not busy assassinating commas, she leads a secret life as a suspense author. For tips on writing, editing and publishing, as well as information on the launch of Random Distraction Publishing, you can connect with Jen at twitter.com/JenWhitten or facebook.com/RandomDistraction.


FREE EBOOK: Learn how to leverage free and bargain book promotions effectively.
  • Michael

    I’m sorry, but, it really aggravates me when tipsters assume that “writing” always involves fiction! We non-fiction people must be doing something other than writing, huh? We must be orphans. It seems like every time I go to a site for “tips”, it involves “characters”, “dialogue”, “plot”, etc. It would be nice if the “experts” would also recognize non-fiction as a genuine part of writing. Or, has there been a new re-defining of writing that places non-fiction in another category other than “writing”.

    • Hey Michael…

      It’s funny… if we have a post about fiction, the nonfiction authors get upset. If we have tips for nonfiction authors, the fiction authors get upset.

      I guess that’s what makes the world go around.

  • Great tips! Amen to checking for character continuity from scene to scene. As I progress through a story and get to know characters more, their personality develops and often morphs from the things they say/do early on. I have to go back and fix things that don’t jive.

    The flip side to this is checking to see whether I’ve depicted how the character changed as the result of the events of the book (or not).