fiction self-editing

Fiction Self-Editing: 9 Tips to Successfully Edit Your Book

Salmaan Ahmad

Salmaan Ahmad

April 17, 2024

Fiction self-editing is hard, but it’s necessary if you want to produce the best manuscript for publication. Writing a first draft is a huge accomplishment, but it’s only the first step in getting your book published. Fiction self-editing will ensure that your book is finished, refined, and perfected before you say, “that’s it, it’s done.”

Become a Better Writer Through Fiction Self-Editing

Fiction self-editing helps you develop your language skills and elevates your writing. Most professional writers rely on the skills of an editor who can guide their manuscripts from rough draft to final, polished book. If you don’t have a professional editor, you must manage this part of the writing process yourself. Don’t let that scare you. In fact, embrace it. The process will make you a better writer, and it will go faster with each book you write.

1. Give It a Rest before Fiction Self-Editing

You’ve wrapped up your story and written those blessed words, “The end.” It’s done!

The first thing you should do right now is put your draft away. Put it in a drawer or, if it’s on a computer file, lock it away and out of your mind. Don’t think about it, talk about it, or look at it for a while. Getting physically and mentally away is the break you need before you tackle your fiction self-editing. The idea is to approach it with fresh eyes, a relaxed mind, and a new perspective.

Rid your mind of your story, your characters, and the difficulty of getting it done. Congratulate yourself, and take a much-deserved break.

How long should you put it away before looking at it again? Put your draft away for at least a week. Some writers suggest not touching your manuscript for four to six weeks. That means that by the time you see it, you’ll see it with fresh eyes, almost as if it was written by another writer.

2. Search for Words That Trip You Up

Every writer has words or phrases that they use too much or spell incorrectly. Do you get mixed up between the meanings of “lay” and “lie,” or forget when to use “less” instead of “fewer”? Do you often misspell certain words?

Some writers use the same words over and over. They may rely on adverbs like “suddenly” or “all at once,” and use them repeatedly in their writing. Maybe you have other so-called crutch words like “very” or “nice.” Do you use too much corporate jargon instead of regular speech?

If you’ve done any writing, you know what your personal weaknesses are. Now is the time to clean up these details. You may think these small mistakes aren’t important, but getting rid of them is a key part of fiction self-editing. Start by running your draft through an editing program like Microsoft Word’s Editor, or use a professional grammar checker like Grammarly or ProWritingAid. These software programs ferret out misspellings, grammar mistakes, punctuation errors, use of passive voice, redundancies, and other elements of weak writing.

3. Read Your Manuscript Out Loud When Fiction Self-Editing

Reading aloud will help you listen for flow, which is the way your sentences sound when they’re read together. You’ll also detect any words or phrases that sound clumsy. Sometimes, it’s hard to know if your writing is poorly structured or unclear until you hear it read aloud.

Reading aloud is an effective way to evaluate any writing. It’s why people in the past used to entertain each other by reading to each other, and it’s why audiobooks are still popular today.

Read your words out loud, and take it a step further by recording yourself as you do. Listen to the recording later, and give yourself a chance to make some changes based on what you hear. When you’re fiction self-editing, every approach helps.

4. Don’t Proofread Too Early in Fiction Self-Editing

Although it’s important to focus on correcting your mistakes, don’t get bogged down in the details of proofreading at this early stage. Right now, your focus must be on substantive fiction self-editing. Your focus should be on how your words sound, whether you’re conveying the right tone, and whether your dialogue sounds realistic. Correct major mistakes, and focus on the rewriting of sentences and paragraphs. Save the proofreading as the last step in your fiction self-editing process.

5. View It in a New Format

If you’ve drafted your book in a word processor, convert it to a new format to see it from a fresh viewpoint. Change the font and color of the text while reading it online. Print it out, and make edits to the printed pages.

Change the format to double-spaced before you begin fiction self-editing. This is a trick used by professional editors and proofreaders. It simplifies reading and makes it easy to spot mistakes. It also gives you room to write changes directly onto the paper.

If you wrote the first draft by hand, start by writing the second draft on a word processor. Whatever you can do to see the words from a new angle will help.

6. Find a Beta Reader for Fiction Self-Editing

Beta readers can give your book a final read-through before you publish it. Once you’ve completed your revisions, find a beta reader—or several—who can look at it with fresh eyes from the viewpoint of a potential book buyer.

Make sure it’s someone who will give you honest, constructive feedback. Beta readers are like book reviewers who read the book before it’s published. Typically, you include a questionnaire with your manuscript that asks questions about the plot, story, and characters.

Where do you find beta readers? Your friends and family members may be eager to read this novel you’ve been talking about for so long. However, having family members and friends as beta readers may not be the best choice. They may be unwilling to be honest about your book, and they may not enjoy the process of filling out the questionnaire. They may have the best intentions, but it may be better for your book to rely on outside readers.

Also, be prepared to print your book out before you send it to a beta reader. Most do not want to read the book online or in a PDF format.

Where do you find beta readers? You can find them primarily through writers’ groups and other communities. Here are some ideas.

Writers’ groups:  Join online writers’ groups, communities, and forums if you haven’t already. Provide a description of the book and ask if anyone would be interested in reading your book before you publish it.

Social media platforms:  If you’re active on social media, turn to Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram to find your readers.

Use beta reading services:  Some online sites offer beta reading for a range of fees. They include:

  • Critique Circle
  • Critters
  • Betabooks
  • HeyBeta
  • Scribophile

You must pay a small fee to hire these readers, but the payoff is excellent. You’ll get an unbiased view of your book and honest criticism.

7. Break Your Fiction Self-Editing Into Separate Tasks

Editing your work may seem overwhelming, especially after you finish the big job of authoring a book from start to finish. To get over your dread of taking this on, break your editing into three rounds.

On your first edit, focus on substantive edits like sentence flow, dialogue, and the flow of the story. Do your substantive fiction self-editing and ensure that your ideas flow logically. On the second round of editing, focus on sentence structure. The third round should drill down into the details and include proofreading.

8. Don’t Overdo It

It’s possible to overdo your fiction self-editing. While some writers say they go through many rounds of revisions, there’s a point at which you’ll hit what investors call “diminishing returns.” That means you won’t get much value out of continuing to rewrite and rewrite.

What do professional writers consider the “perfect” number of drafts? Some say that three is more than enough, and others say that 10 is the perfect number.

For most books, three rounds of editing should be enough to get your manuscript in shape, root out mistakes, and improve the flow of your story. Don’t get stuck in a cycle of constant editing. Your book may never be perfect, and it doesn’t need to be.

9. Make Fiction Self-Editing Part of Your Writing Routine

Finishing a book is a big accomplishment, but it’s just the start. To create a polished, professional manuscript, you need at least two rounds of self-editing. Make self-editing part of your regular writing routine. You’ll get better at it over time.

At Publishing Xpress, we specialize in working with first-time writers. To learn more about what we can do for you, contact us today.

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