Self-editing Steps to Improve Your Writing and Save You Money

You may have heard the term "self-editing" thrown around in writing groups and threads, but what exactly is self-editing? Do you need to do it before you send your manuscript to an editor to review? The short answer is YES!

First, walking through the process of even a few of these self-editing steps will help you see your book through more objective eyes, thereby allowing you to remove troublesome content that isn't doing your book any good.

Second, walking through self-editing can save you from needing a costly developmental edit, which addresses major content and structural issues. If you catch those big issues, your book will likely only require a copy edit, which primarily addresses grammar and mechanical errors.

Third, walking through these self-editing steps will help make you a better writer. As you identify some of the common issues in your writing, you will learn to avoid those issues in your next project.

Without further ado, here are my top self-editing tips.

Self-editing Tip #1: Set your manuscript aside for at least 3-4 weeks.

It’s challenging to be objective about your own book, especially right after you finish writing. Once you’ve had a chance to set it aside for a few weeks (or more), you will have fresh eyes for the content and be able to see where you might need to revise. On top of that, you need to stop and celebrate finishing your first draft! See it as a positive: Set it and forget for a few weeks, then come back to it with renewed energy and purpose.

Self-editing Tip #2: Read it out loud.

Sometimes your brain skips over sentences that are too long or don’t flow well. When you read something aloud, however, it’s easier to notice when the rhythm isn’t right or you run out of breath reading an especially long sentence! Read your book out loud in your own voice, ask a friend to read it for you, or use your computer or smart phone’s accessibility options to read the text aloud for you.

Self-editing Tip #3: Run it through a spelling and grammar check.

This one might seem obvious, but you would be shocked how many manuscripts come to an editor without this step completed! A spell check on Word, Google Docs, or programs like Grammarly, PerfectIt, or Scrivener are not 100 percent correct in their suggestions, but they will flag common errors. You can learn a lot through spelling and grammar checks on your own, and your editor can help you with the more nuanced corrections during the professional edit.

Self-editing Tip #4: Fix common formatting and punctuation errors.

One of the first things I do when I receive a manuscript for copy editing is go through and fix the formatting. Step #1: Find and replace all double spaces after periods. Step #2: Replace all old ellipses (...) with the proper spaced-out ellipses ( . . . ). Step #3: Replace all short dashes (--, - ) with em dashes where appropriate (—). In Microsoft Word, the em dash is under insert > symbols. Step #4: find and replace all quote marks inside commas and periods (“, or “.) with quote marks outside commas and periods (,” or .”). Step #5: Make sure all chapter titles and headings are formatted with paragraph styles and first paragraphs are not indented.

Self-editing Tip #5: Make sure the big picture is clear.

With nonfiction books, each chapter should have a clear correlation to the overall theme of the book. Ask yourself these questions: Do the chapters move the reader through the content well, ultimately leading them to the solution your book provides? Are any of the chapters on the long side? Does the content go off track in some chapters? Are there reflection questions, action steps, or exercises at the end of each chapter to solidify the learning?

Self-editing Tip #6: Check for copyright issues.

If you’ve done any research for your nonfiction book, you will need to cite the sources you used, even if you paraphrased the material. Your citations can appear as footnotes or end notes using Chicago Manual of Style as the guide. If you don’t want to mess with writing and formatting each one, your copy editor will do that for you; just make sure you’ve got a link to the book or resource you’re quoting so they can double check the source and format the citation properly. *You may also need to provide attribution for images, charts, or other visual media you use in your book, even if it is marked as “royalty free.” Read the attribution guidelines carefully and add any pertinent information to your copyright page.

Self-editing Tip #7: Decide what standard elements you want to include in your book.

Most writers know the purpose for an introduction or table of contents, but should your book have a foreword? An afterword? An index? A glossary? Consider each element and what it will provide for your reader in light of its usage. For example, an index can be incredibly helpful in a cookbook or resource on addiction recovery, but it will not serve a memoir well. If you’re not sure what you should include, visit a bookstore or library to check out books in your genre to see what standard elements they include. Check out the article on standard book elements here.


Even with all the self-editing steps above, you will still need a professional copy editor to review your book to catch the more nuanced errors and make sure your book's content adheres to the Chicago Manual of Style, the publishing standard for trade books. Rest assured, though, that your editor will be thrilled at the work you've done before sending your manuscript, and they will be your biggest cheerleader throughout the editing and publishing process.

If you're ready to work with an editor, I'd love to connect with you!

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