How to Self-Edit Your Book: Another Angry Monster of Writing

Updated: Jun 28

If you've been a writer for very long you'll have noticed that it is difficult. There are monsters hiding behind your computer chair, sneaking up behind you when you've fallen asleep on the couch after a [very brief] writing session.

If you're not careful and if these monsters are left unchecked they will get in the way of you becoming the great writer that you are supposed to be.

So Let's Start Vanquishing!

Introduction to Self-Editing Your Book

Self-editing is a major task for all writers and something that we all need to master. Why? Because no piece of writing is perfect at the first draft, no matter the skill or experience level of the writer. In fact, most successful writers will tell you that their writing goes through dozens of drafts.


I want to challenge you

Google the name of your favorite writer. Find their official author website (they should have one), and see if you can find an author biography or author interview where the author talks about his or her experiences as a young writer, and how they've developed over the years. I'm sure that if you do find this information, you will be encouraged.

Author deep in the process of self-editing
Author deep in the process of self-editing

And I'm sure it will say something about learning how to properly self-edit their work. They will also tell you that performing the self-edit on your manuscript does not mean that it is fully ready for publication, it may still need to be seen by a professional developmental editor. For tips on how to know if you need a developmental editor, see below.


What Is Your Current Self-Editing Strategy?

Think of the last piece of writing that you wanted to publish. How did you self-edit your work? Did you use a checklist? Did you read it out loud? Did you google strategies that other authors use? Or did you skip the self-editing process altogether?

How successful was that book? Be honest. When you look back at your project are you happy with the end result, or do you know that there is still a lot to 'fix'?

Not sure where to start? Keep reading.

How You Can Improve Your Self-Editing Strategies

Four Main Strategies for Getting Started.

1) Take a Break. Once you have finished your first draft, let it sit for at least a month, and then start the self-editing process.

2) Read Your Book out Loud. When we read out loud, we can more easily notice when it doesn't sound quite right.

3) Find Qualified Beta Readers. It's important for other people to read your book. They'll be able to see the loopholes in the plot, and inconsistencies in characters much easier than you can as the author.

4) Write Out a Checklist. Before you begin to do a meticulous edit of your work, write out a list of items that you want to intentionally be on the lookout for. (*grammatical, potential problems in the plot that you were already aware of, consistencies in character descriptions, etc.)

Take a Break from your Novel

Why should you take a break before starting to edit your book? It's simple, really. As the author, you know everything about your book. So even when you come across inconsistencies in your book, you might not be able to spot them right away because you know all the answers. You need fresh eyes (that's why beta readers are helpful- but we'll get to that).

I would advise that you take at least a one-month break from your book. Don't look at it and try not to think about it. In that month, you can move your attention to the next project on your desk, but try not to work on any sequels in the series either.

Read Your Book Outloud

This is a strategy that has been employed by some of the greatest novelists in history including Jane Austin and Charles Dickens. We can all agree that we can read the same book to ourselves or out loud, and it will sound slightly different. I know that when I read my books out loud, I will hear problems in the flow, or in the voice of the character that I had not noticed before (and am usually embarrassed to spot out loud). But don't be embarrassed. This is just another step in the process of perfecting your book. One way that you can avoid too much embarrassment is to read it while no one is around (obvious, I know). If you are young and have a family, and very little time to yourself (like me) I would suggest that you lock yourself in the bathroom for an hour and read to yourself.

Find Some Beta Readers

During your one-month break, it is helpful to find some beta-readers to review your book.

You can ask friends and family or you can employ people on freelance websites like Upwork or Fiverr. Make sure that you give them a free PDF copy of your book to read and make them sign an agreement that will ensure that they don't run away with your book. Here's an example of a non-disclosure agreement that you can send:

BETA READER NON-disclosure
Download DOCX • 20KB

What is a Beta-Reader?

a person who reads a work of fiction before it is published in order to mark errors and suggest improvements, typically without receiving payment. This person is usually not a professional in the book industry, but an avid reader who can realistically represent the thoughts, feelings, and desires of the average reader in the marketplace.


A beta-reader relaxing as she reviews a book.

Go Through Your Self-Editing Checklist

Ok, so you've had a few people look at your book and give you feedback. You've read your book out loud and noted some inconsistencies or words that you need to change.

That's great. Now for the real challenge, the meticulous self-editing process where you take the checklist that you wrote out and use it.

Pro Tip: When I am self-editing my work, I will print out the entire manuscript and make notes on it with a pen. I do this because my creative 'juices' flow the best when I am holding a pen in my hand. I know that this model is more work, but in the end, it brings out better planning and writing.

Use your checklist to move through your manuscript. If you are not sure how to create a checklist for yourself, or if you want more material to give you a better idea of what to look for, we've created this handy guide:

Self-Editing Guide
Download PDF • 50KB

Three Simple Rules for using your Self-Editing Checklist:

I'm sure that you have some amazing points on your checklist, but just in case you missed a few things, here are three that I think will make or break your self-editing experience:

1) Every word must fight to the death. If any word in your book does not contribute to the plot, character development, or explain something about the world or culture (that is completely necessary for the reader to know) then it must die.

2) Have thick skin. I say this all the time. As an author, you must not be insecure about your writing ability. If you want to have a long and happy career as an author, then you must tell yourself that you are a good writer and that you are always learning. Do not interpret your mess of a first draft as an indication of your abilities as a writer.

3) Your goal is to make your manuscript more readable. If you want to sell your book to the book marketplace, it has to be readable. That's obvious. And that means that the concepts, themes, plot line, and people in your book need to be relevant, realistic, entertaining, and immersive enough to grab the reader's attention.