When you have a completed manuscript, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, and whether you are planning to self-publish or traditionally publish, the next step is to edit it. Editing your own work can be tricky, because you generally know what should be on the page, or how a sentence should read, and so your mind fills in any gaps or smooths over typos without you even noticing them. But at the very beginning stage, self-editing is necessary, as bringing in an editor too early can be quite costly. When I get queries from authors wanting me to edit their work, I usually read through it first, and if it needs an extensive amount of work, I will recommend they do a little self-editing first, then come back to me, otherwise we will have to go through so many editing stages that it will end up being too expensive for them.
There are tips and tricks I have picked up along the way, to make the self-editing process easier and more efficient. The following list is by no means a complete one, and if you have any tips I haven’t mentioned, please feel free to share them with other authors in the comments below. I will post tips for the next editing stage soon.
Self-Editing Tip #1: Get some space
Before beginning to edit your work, ideally, it’s best to leave at least a month, if not longer, between finishing writing and beginning the editing process. I don’t always leave myself enough time to do that, but I know that my editing is stronger when I do, because I have had some distance from the story and the characters, and I can look at them more objectively when it comes to editing it. Plot holes and inconsistencies tend to jump out at you, when you have had a bit of time away from it.
Self-Editing Tip #2: Read it like a book
Might sound like a silly tip, but after having a bit of space from your book, if you’re able to, before putting your editing hat on, just read it. From cover to cover. Don’t make notes, don’t be too critical, just read it. Notice if you enjoy it, if it’s gripping, interesting, if it flows, if there’s any slow parts you wanted to skip, etc. Looking at it from the point of view of a reader is not easy to do, but very useful if you can.
Self-Editing Tip #3: Put it on your Kindle
This tip kind of goes hand in hand with tip #2, in that if you send your book file to your Kindle, you can highlight things and make notes or bookmark as you go along. Though I would still recommend a first read-through without making notes, if you’re pushed for time, you could do it this way and make notes and highlight things that need changing. I like reading it from my Kindle because I find it easier to spot the errors than on my computer screen. If you don’t know how to send a document to your Kindle, fear not, that will be covered in another post!
Self-Editing Tip #4: Check your facts
If there is anything in your book that you have mentioned but not researched, and you need to verify facts or whether you are allowed to mention it, then get Googling. When in the full flow of writing, I don’t normally stop to research things as I go, instead I insert several **asterisks** so that I can easily spot what needs checking in the editing process. Then I get online and check the facts. If you are planning to self-publish, this is essential, as there won’t be a publishing house checking anything for you, and if there’s any errors or you’ve used something you shouldn’t, it’s all down to you.
Self-Editing Tip #5: Get permission
If you have mentioned a real person, or real products, or have quoted someone or something, you may well need to get permission to do so. Whenever a real person comes into my work, I always make sure to get the permission of that person before publishing. Most of the time, I have received emails back saying they are happy to be featured in return for a free copy of the book when published. I also get permission to mention real books. When I get permission, I usually put a credit to the person/company in the front of the book, in the acknowledgements or on the legal page. If you are planning to use song lyrics – be warned, getting permission to use them can be quite costly, do plenty of research. If in doubt, make up your own song lyrics!
Self-Editing Tip #6: Always save each draft (and back up!)
It’s tempting to just keep overwriting the same file when editing, but I prefer to save each draft, each version, as separate files, and also always back up the file! You can save them to the cloud, or to an external hard drive, but backing up your files is essential. The reason I save each version, is that there have been the odd occasions where my computer has randomly decided to replace an entire novel with a single paragraph from another file. In which case, because I had the previous version, I didn’t have to redo too much of the work to get it back to where it was. If that file had been the only one I had, it would have been disastrous, because that would have been my entire novel, lost forever. (Unless you’re an amazing tech whizz who can get files back after they’ve been deleted). Don’t worry if you have ten or more versions of your book file by the time you finish, better that than the alternative.
Self-Editing Tip #7: Do a spell check
It’s funny how this most basic editing tool is often the one I overlook the most when editing my own work. But I think that you should run a spell check on your book several times, not just once. Best times to run a spell check –
1. When you’ve finished writing, and want to do a basic tidy up before getting some space.
2. After every stage of editing, because when you edit, adding and changing things can cause new errors to be made.
3. After proofreading. Again, making changes to get rid of typos and grammatical errors can create new errors.
4. After formatting. When sorting out the indenting and paragraphing, it’s possible that again, errors can be introduced. And if you’ve added the front and back matter at this stage, it needs spell checking too.
5. After making any further changes, just before you upload the final files to be published.
Self-Editing Tip #8: Create a timeline
You may have already done this before writing the book, or as you were writing the book. But if you haven’t done it already, the editing stage is the time to get it done. Creating a timeline helps you to see any inconsistencies in the story more easily. You can see if you have set scenes at the right time of year, or in the right weather, or if you’ve mentioned it’s six months later, you can see what month that is, etc. I tend to create my timelines after writing the book, and when I wrote the beginning of The Earth Angel Awakening, I had described many autumnal things, but actually, in the way the timeline worked out, it was summer at that point. So I had to go back and change things.
Self-Editing Tip #9: Summarise each chapter
Again, you may have done this previously, in which case you can just use those notes when you are editing. But summarising the chapters is helpful to check the pace of the book, and to check the length of the chapters too. My favourite way to create timelines and chapter summaries, is using Scapple, which I will feature in another post! Here is an example of my timeline and chapter summary for The Elphite:
Self-Editing Tip #10: Create character profiles
If you are the kind of writer who plots and researches before writing, then chances are, you’ve done some character development too, and so you will have profiles for each other them. If, however, you are a panster like me, and you just jump into your writing feet first, then now is the time to create the character profile, because it may well help you to catch little incontinuities in eye or hair colour, or the number of siblings they have.
Please do check back for more self-publishing help coming soon, and if you have any questions, please do ask!
Michelle is the author and publisher of 8 Visionary Fiction novels, all available on Amazon in paperback and on Kindle. She spends her days helping Indie Authors to publish their books, taking photographs and making gluten-free cakes.
If you need any help with your publishing journey, please do get in touch with her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You can book a Skype session or a phone call with her, or ask questions via email. Please do follow this blog to receive more posts on Indie Publishing.
Disclaimer: All views, ideas and tips presented on this website are my own, based on my own experience and the experience of my clients. It is by no means the only way to do it, or the right way to do it, but it is the way that works for me. Please take what helps you and makes sense to you, and don’t worry about the rest for now. Please know that I take no responsibility for anything that happens as a result of you following my advice. I have created this blog as a resource for Indie Authors to help them make the publishing journey a little easier.