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How to Self-Edit Your Book

Updated: Feb 19, 2021

Hi Writer Friends! I’m sure many of you participated in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November as I did. I know how much of a challenge it can be to continue working on your book after writing an entire novel in 30 days. Here are a few of my tips for self-editing your book to help you take the next step towards publication!

1) Leave notes for yourself in Draft 1.

While writing the first draft, I leave lots of notes for myself with “XX” at the beginning of the note, so I can go back and resolve all my notes while editing.

2) Take a break from writing.

After the first draft, I take a break from the manuscript, usually for a few weeks. I’ll spend this time reading and trying not to obsess over my book.

3) Start a new document before editing.

When I start editing, the first thing I do is copy/paste the first draft into a new Word document and title it “Draft 2.” This helps me for a few reasons. 1) I’m not getting rid of anything in the first draft, so I can always go back and add a scene that I deleted. 2) It’s comforting to know that my first draft still exists. 3) Sometimes I like re-reading the first draft after writing later drafts, so I can see how far my writing has come while editing.

4) Resolve all your notes and conduct necessary research.

After starting a fresh Word document, I begin reading the first draft. For the first round of editing, my main focus is resolving all the notes I left for myself in the original draft. These notes usually involve research. For a thriller writer, it may be what type of gun police officers typically use, the effects of a gunshot wound to the head, how to dissolve a body in chemicals, the best ways to get rid of bodies, etc.

5) Focus on what can be cut.

For Draft 2, I’m mainly focusing on cutting or deleting any scenes, characters, or relationships that don’t help further the plot.

6) Take a break.

Before beginning Draft 3, I take a break from the manuscript for a few days (or weeks, depending on my timeline). I highly recommend this break because it allows you to view your book more objectively when you return to editing. Otherwise, it can be difficult to “kill your darlings” if you think everything you write is perfect and can’t see the issues within the story.

7) Focus on pacing, plot holes, character development, etc.

During Draft 3, I’m doing my best to make sure that the story has good pacing, tension, and suspense. Make sure to conduct genre research for your book, so you know what readers expect from books in your genre. In Draft 3, I also want to make sure any big plot holes are resolved. This draft additionally involves focusing on character development, voice, description, and writing realistic dialogue.

8) Find beta readers to provide feedback.

After Draft 3 is completed, I will ask my husband, sister, a few friends, and a few other writers, to beta read my book. I think it’s important to get several opinions for your book, but make sure not to have too many beta readers so you don’t get overwhelmed. It’s important that the feedback is from readers who enjoy your genre. If your beta readers aren’t in your target audience, their feedback won’t be as useful. I usually ask beta readers to finish reading my book and send feedback within a month.

9) Implement beta reader feedback.

When you receive the beta reader feedback, I think it’s easier to go through each reader’s feedback one at a time and make notes about the changes you need to make. At this stage, it’s crucial to decide whose feedback you’re going to listen to. If multiple readers say a scene is awkward, a character is unlikeable, or something is worded confusingly, then you should evaluate what they’re saying and make changes accordingly.

10) Hire a professional editor.

When Draft 4 is completed, your book should be ready for a professional editor! At this point, you have made your book as great as possible and implemented reader feedback. After you receive feedback from a professional editor, you will need to go through several more rounds of editing. Depending on how much work still needs to be done, common types of edits to hire a professional for include developmental editing, copy editing, line editing, and proofreading.

I hope this blog post provided helpful insight into the self-editing process! Comment below and let me know what your process is and how many drafts you write before publishing.


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