How to Self Edit Your Book (Even Though You Shouldn't)
Do You Self Edit? (Be Honest!)
I’m going to take off my editor hat for a bit and talk about a decision that all of us writers face: Hire an editor and proofreader or self edit?
In the best of worlds and budgets, it’s ideal to hire a professional editor and proofreader for your work. By putting a third-party microscope on your work, you’ll see things that you’ve missed or overlooked (consciously or unconsciously). These pros look at this kind of stuff all day and can spot your foibles quickly and accurately, helping you turn your work into the best it can be.
Now, let’s talk reality. To hire editors and proofreaders is expensive, and justly so. But what if you don’t have the bucks to hire them? You could turn to friends and family members who you think may have a good eye for evaluating your work. But enlisting these folks has its own costs.
So let’s say that you don’t have the money or are uncomfortable with asking for friends’ help with the editing or proofreading process. Then you’re stuck with self editing and proofreading your own work. Not ideal, but that’s your only alternative in this scenario.
How can you review and improve your manuscript, given these circumstances?
Word Processing Software Tools
Your word processing software may already have a variety of built-in tools to help edit and proofread your manuscript. The almost ubiquitous Microsoft Word program has spelling and grammar checking functions that can be helpful, but not foolproof. For example, one thing I’ve occasionally observed is that Word cannot always evaluate words in context. It may not identify a correctly spelled word that is the completely wrong word for the situation. Conversely, it may call out errors when what’s written is completely correct. Silly robots!
Put It Away for a While
One of the best self editing methods I use all the time, especially for blogging, is putting the manuscript away for a while. I’ve found that if I complete a draft around lunchtime, then read it again later in the afternoon or the next morning with fresh eyes, errors or awkward text can be much more obvious.
Read It out Loud
This is a common proofreading and editing method! Read your manuscript out loud. Passages that are awkward can be made obvious this way. Even better is to read your manuscript into a voice recorder, then play it back. True, it can be difficult to listen to yourself on audio, but you’ll get over it eventually.
To take this process to the next level OR if you absolutely cannot stand listening to yourself read out loud, enlist a friend to read it to you or record a reading of it on a voice recorder. Hearing someone else stumble through difficult passages you’ve written could be a big help. The only downside to this method is that it doesn’t work for proofreading, except for possibly incorrect grammar.
Online Editing and Proofreading Tools
Reflexes, writing tics or habits... whatever you call them, we all have little writing quirks that show up in our work. Maybe we use the same phrase or word over and over and over! It’s become so ingrained into our writing personality that it’s difficult to identify. Do an online search for tools that can evaluate for repetitive phrases or other slips to which you’ve become “writing blind.” Some of these may be free; others may have a fee. But it might be lower than what you’d pay for a professional editor or proofreader.
I’ve heard of this proofreading tip over the years, though I personally do not find it helpful. Why? For the same reason that some spelling checker functions don’t work. A word may be spelled correctly, but might be the wrong word altogether. It’s difficult to evaluate things in context while reading backwards. But give it a try and see if it works for you.
Different Format, Different Eyes
One of the other ways to get a fresher perspective when self-editing is to view your manuscript in a different format. It will require your eyes to physically adjust to another format and I've found it helpful in seeing things I otherwise would have missed.
For example, if you've developed your book in Word, print it out on paper and review the paper copy. Even another viewing screen can help. In my blogging platform, I have the ability to view my blog posts in a "mobile preview" for smartphones. That has also been helpful in not only making errors obvious, but identifying tweaks that can improve my readers' experience when viewing on a mobile device.
Clues that Self-Editing is NOT for You
Though you may feel that self-editing is your only review option, carefully consider whether any of the following apply to you, making self-editing a less viable choice:
You easily and often admit that grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc. are not your strong suits. In everyday conversation, you may easily admit your failings in writing mechanics. You may even be jokingly proud of that. Yet, when it comes to your book, you think you'll magically be able to identify your troublesome mechanical errors.
The project is HUGE! Granted, for short and frequent blog posts, hiring a professional editor may be completely cost-prohibitive. That doesn't mean it's not recommended; it should be considered, even for shorter works, as your writing career develops. But when the manuscript is very long, such as for a book, any editing skill you do have will be stretched to the max, making errors more likely and the need for a professional editor increases.
The topic is new or unusual for you. As writers stretch their wings, they often wander into new or unusual topic areas. To avoid making embarrassing mistakes, a professional editor familiar with the topic is highly recommended to review for content viability and correctness.
You're Only Human... and So Are Others
As with all editing and proofreading, no method is foolproof. But, as you build your financial resources, network and professionalism as a writer, getting outside help for these functions should become a priority investment to improve the quality of your self published work.
Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.
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© 2016 Heidi Thorne