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How to Self-Edit Your Fiction Book

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Poppy is the author of "A Bard's Lament" and the Black Diamond series. She lives in Enoshima, Japan, with her husband and young son.

Read on to discover 5 ways you can self-edit your book before another editor or potential publisher sees it.

Read on to discover 5 ways you can self-edit your book before another editor or potential publisher sees it.

Next Steps After Finishing Your Book

So you've finished your manuscript. Congratulations! Writing a book is a huge achievement, and whether your book is 1,000 words long or 100,000, creating a story and writing it takes a tremendous amount of discipline and effort.

Whether you plan to publish your work online, send your manuscript to agencies and publishers for consideration, or are thinking about self-publishing, every story must be edited. Though your work will certainly be looked at by a professional editor or two, there are ways in which you can self-edit your work before doing this.

The more polished your work is before it sees a second pair of eyes, the easier the job will be for them, the faster they'll be done with it. There is also a chance they will charge less, too.

5 Ways to Edit Your Book Yourself

  1. Reread your book from beginning to end and take notes
  2. Read aloud, especially dialogue
  3. Use Grammarly to find typos
  4. Trim unneeded words
  5. Take notes of phrases and verbs you like to use and search for them

1. Reread Your Book From Beginning to End and Take Notes

You might have read your book many times or just written a stream of words you haven't yet taken a second glance at. The first step is to carefully reread your manuscript and take notes. What kinds of notes you'll take depends on the genre. In this step, you'll look out for:

  • Consistency with lore. If you're writing fantasy or another genre where your world is original, keep notes on the lore and rules of your world and make sure it's consistent.
  • Details on your characters. Oops, did your main character have red hair in chapter one and brown hair in chapter six? If you don't already have a separate document for character details, make one now and keep notes there for reference.
  • Small details, objects, and items. If a necklace is mentioned in detail in chapter three and never relevant to the story again, it might be time to cut it. Or does a character suddenly have a gun in chapter eighteen? Add it in earlier so it isn't a plot device.
  • Loose ends. If your book is part of a series, you can leave some questions unanswered. But for a standalone book, all loose ends and questions must be tied up to ensure your ending leaves readers satisfied.

Doing this helps root out any inconsistencies that may have slipped into your book. Editors don't always notice these, so it's important to catch them early.

Reread your book and take notes

Reread your book and take notes

2. Read Aloud, Especially Dialogue

Sometimes when we read something, especially something we wrote, our eyes can skip over parts and miss typos or mistakes. Reading aloud can help lessen this. Read your story aloud and you'll find it's easier to catch any unnatural sounding sentences, repetitiveness, or typos.

This is especially important in dialogue. Saying what your characters say aloud can help you figure out if the dialogue sounds unnatural or wooden.

3. Use Grammarly to Find Typos

Grammarly has a free desktop page where you can put passages of your manuscript in to catch unnatural wording, the wrong tense or verb form, or typos other writing apps, such as Microsoft Word, may have missed.

You can access Grammarly's Free Online Writing Assistant here.

4. Trim Unneeded Words

Certain words can hinder your writing and cutting them makes it stronger and more effective. If you're using Microsoft Word, the Search function is useful in finding these words. Press Ctrl + F to use it.

Here are some words you should cut from your novel if they aren't necessary.

  • That
  • Very/really/absolutely/extremely/completely
  • Any adverb (words ending in "ly"). Some adverbs are okay, but it's best to use them sparingly when writing fiction.
  • Look/hear/know/realize/think (don't tell us what the character knows or feels. Show us)
  • Suddenly
  • Just
  • Start to/begin to
  • Redundant phrases (unexpected surprise, actual fact, armed gunman, repeat again, added bonus)
  • Rather/somewhat/quite

Your editor will appreciate having a polished manuscript. This doesn't mean it's less work for them, but it means they can focus on tightening your manuscript even further than if they're spending a lot of time weeding out redundant words like the above.

Trimming unneccesary words from your manuscript makes the writing stronger.

Trimming unneccesary words from your manuscript makes the writing stronger.

5. Take Notes of Phrases and Verbs You Like to Use and Search For Them

This one is trickier, and one a fresh pair of eyes can help you with.

Fiction writers often get fond of certain phrases or words, and accidentally use them a lot. As an editor, one of my favourite writers I work for had to rewrite several instances in his books because he got stuck on the word "ripple." Having shock, anger, or confusion ripple through your character is fine, but not thirty times in one book.

While going through step one, take a note of phrases you like to use and search for them. Once or twice in your manuscript is fine, but make sure you're not repeating yourself too much. Readers will notice.

All pieces of writing, especially fiction, need to be edited before publishing. If you publish an unpolished piece, it can reflect badly on you and spoil your reputation as a writer. But before you hire that expensive editor, these are some great ways to polish your manuscript by yourself to get it a little closer to perfect and one step nearer to publication!

Further Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Poppy