Self-Editing 101

Updated: Jan 15, 2020

Updated 1/15/2020

What Self-Editing Is

I can always tell when an author has just typed The End and sent me their manuscript without doing their own edits first. Before you send your manuscript to anyone else, you need to take some time to do what you can on your own first. Books need to go through several drafts before they're ready to publish, and the first few need to be done by the author.

What Self-Editing Isn’t

Self-editing isn’t a replacement for working with a professional editor. It’s just the first step of multiple phases of editing. It just isn’t possible to see all the issues in your own writing. Traditional publishers put their manuscripts through multiple rounds of edits, and sometimes a few problems still make it through into the published book.

Where to Start With Self-Editing

Editing works best when you start with the big picture and work your way down. You don’t want to spend a lot of time on spelling and grammar when those sentences might get cut in your content edit. So I often recommend starting with a reverse outline to look at your story structure. With a standard outline, you plan out what you’re going to write, but with a reverse outline, you put down what you’ve already written. It can be a great way to figure out where your story might drag, need expanding, or be missing something vital altogether. Using a synopsis-style format, write down:

· What happens in the main plot

· Consequence

· Why it matters

· MC realization

· And so (leading into the next chapter)

· Touch on each subplot (show conflict)

How Much Authors Should Edit Their Own Work

Authors should complete at least two editing passes on their own before they send their manuscript to anyone else for feedback, whether that’s critique partners, beta readers, an editor, or an agent. One pass needs to look at structure and content, and another pass needs to look at spelling, punctuation, and grammar. It’s okay if you need more than those two passes—most authors do.

Authors should complete at least two editing passes on their own before they send their manuscript to anyone else for feedback

When Enough Is Enough

You know you’ve done as much as you can when you find yourself nitpicking and changing the same word or paragraph multiple times. If you’re just staring at the same paragraph wondering how to make it better, it’s time to move on.

Then What?

Get feedback. The best place to start is beta readers and critique partners. Beta readers are usually non-writers, and critique partners are other writers who will swap stories with you for feedback. It can take some looking to find the right match, but I am a big believer in critique partner relationships because I’ve seen how much good critique partners can help an author level up their writing. Once you get that feedback, revise again. Most authors go through multiple rounds of feedback and revisions, especially when they are first starting out.

Episode 1, Season 3 of my podcast Indie Chicks is all about self-editing for authors: what it is and what it isn't, how to get started self-editing, how you know when you've done enough, and what to do when you're done. Click belowto listen

I want to hear from you! What’s your process for self-editing? Do you have critique partners and/or beta readers? Comment below or tweet me @jenichappelle


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