How To Self-Edit Your Next Book

A few days ago, I asked an author friend of mine about the posts he likes to read. Aside from How To Overcome One’s Fear of Clowns, he gave me the following topics:

I’m going to dedicate a post to each topic. Yesterday, I addressed Writer’s Block.

Today is:

How To Self-Edit

You’re a self-published author. That sounds grand, doesn’t it?

Translation: you’re broke, and don’t date my daughter.

The statistics of authors who actually make money are staggering.

In a study done by Dave Cornford and Steven Lewis, the median income for a self-published author is… drum roll please… $500. 10% of authors earn 75% of the royalties. If you’re writing a Romance novel, your odds will be slightly higher at making back your investment. Throw in a few vampires, even better.

With that said, it’s understandable why self-editing is the most preferred form of editing among those of us who make up the bottom portion of the literary iceberg. It’s cheap!

I don’t know about you, but my bad habit is editing while I’m writing. It’s the perfectionist in me.

No! Stop it!

Just write. Give birth to the story first, then nurture it from there.

Content editing

The problem with self-editing is, as the author, your brain automatically fills in the gaps that exist in your story. It is difficult for us to see our writings through new eyes, as if we’re reading it for the first time.

Mark Twain said it best:

“[W]hen you think you are reading proof, whereas you are merely reading your own mind; your statement of the thing is full of holes & vacancies but you don’t know it, because you are filling them from your mind as you go along. Sometimes — but not often enough — the printer’s proof-reader saves you — & offends you — with this cold sign in the margin: (?) & you search the passage & find that the insulter is right — it doesn’t say what you thought it did: the gas-fixtures are there, but you didn’t light the jets.”
– Letter to Sir Walter Bessant, 22 February 1898

Mark Twain writing advice

How do you overcome this? Two ways:

  1. Take a break. Don’t read or work on the content of your book for at least a week–the longer the better. When you go back to it, many of the “holes & vacancies” Twain wrote about will be obvious. Patch ’em up.
  2. Once you have taken your book as far as you can, send the manuscript to someone who will be honest with you. Not your mom. Tell them to take out their red pen and “bleed all over it.” Ask them to find every little thing wrong with it. Once they do, take their critiques professionally, not personally,and fix them. Then repeat step 1.

Line editing

Don’t attempt line editing unless you are a grammar and punctuation fanatic.

There are many websites where you can learn the rules of when to use dashes, semi-colons, comas, etc. Just do a web search.

Make sure you are using “its” and “it’s” properly, as well as “their” “they’re” and “there.” The easy way to do this is by using the “find” feature on your word processing software and search for every occurrence of those words. Double check their context to make sure they’re used correctly.

The auto-correct features in your word processing software for spelling and grammar are very useful. It can alert you to fragmented or incomplete sentences, etc, but they are not always accurate so don’t automatically accept every change they suggest.

If you don’t have strong line editing skills, then I suggest using a friend who does; finding an English Lit major at your local college; or forking out a little extra cash and find an editor on Guru.com or eLance.com.

If you believe in your book’s potential, please invest some of your capital in an editor. That way the rest of us can enjoy your story as much as you do.


The Tale of Nottingswood cover JR YoungRead the first 28 pages of JR’s latest novelette, The Tale of Nottingswood, for free by visiting Nottingswood.com. Available now in print, or pre-order the eBook for a discount on iBooks, Nook, or Kobo.

Click here to join JR on Goodreads, and read his interview with Smashwords here.

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4 thoughts on “How To Self-Edit Your Next Book

  1. J.R. Young

  2. How To Network With Other Writers – J.R. Young

  3. How To Beat Writer’s Block – J.R. Young

  4. For the Writer: How To Cope When Frustration Sets In – J.R. Young

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