How to Edit a Book: A Guide to Self-Editing

How to Edit a Book: A Guide to Self-Editing

Self Editing your book should be a part of your writing process no matter what.

Anyone can get their book published and printed these days, and technically they aren’t required to edit anything. A book can be printed as is. All you have to do is find someone that will publish it.

You could pay an independent publisher to make your manuscript publishable, but that’s not always possible for writers as the services can be expensive.

You want a traditional publisher to notice your work because they’re the ones that take the risk and pay you royalties on your sales, and to do that you need to self-edit your manuscript so it’s better than the rest.

To do that…

You Must Edit Your Book

You want your book to stand apart from every other submission the publisher receives. More importantly, you want people to read your book. 

The writing process takes a lot of time and dedication! If you go to a publisher with an unedited manuscript, chances are they won’t make it past the first two pages and before you know it, your book is rejected.

Rejection is almost always a part of the game, but we won’t pretend it isn’t soul-crushing. All that hard work you just put in and someone says no? Let’s be honest- it hurts.

So Why Do Publishers Reject Manuscripts After the First Two Pages?

You might think it’s unfair for a publisher to reject you before they even get into the story. That may be so, but it is justified. They know what to look for, so if your book has any of these issues upon submission, don’t expect a deal.

  • Additional Editing: The first couple of pages will tell a publisher how much additional editing needs to be done on their part. If you don’t know how to edit a book (or opted not to do it at all), that means a lot more time and money on their end and it’s not worth the investment.
  • Too Much, Too Fast: Did you stuff as much as you can right off the bat? Are all the characters introduced too quickly? 
  • Point of View: Do you understand the point of view in your book? You can’t jump back and forth from first-person, second-person, and third-person POV. As a writer, you need to express your emotions or that of your characters clearly and consistently.
  • Interest: The setting and tone of your book must be interesting for obvious reasons. You want to make sure you capture the reader’s attention right away and keep them interested. Is it evocative? Or is it too precise?
  • Direction: If your story isn’t heading in a clear direction, readers will lose interest immediately.

Yep, all this can be determined in the first two pages. That’s why you want to make sure your book is as perfect as you can make it before you go to a publisher.

So, let’s learn how to edit a book.

How to Edit a Book: The Ultimate Checklist

  1. Prepare for Rejection

You need to be ready to hear the word “no”. As we mentioned, rejection is a part of the game. It’s unusual to get the go-ahead on the first try, and that’s okay! Editing means changing your original work to become the best possible version. Don’t be hard on yourself.

  1. Take a Break from Your Story

After you finish your manuscript, step away from it for a while. Some writers go as long as six weeks before they come back to a finished manuscript. Distancing yourself allows you to come back and edit with a fresh pair of eyes.

  1. Read It Out Loud

Go through your story, and then go through it again out loud. Hearing it will help you catch mistakes or see if everything flows smoothly. Try reading it to a friend or family member to get a better idea of how your story will be received when a publisher goes through it.

  1. Avoid Throat-Clearing

The introduction to the setting of your story prepares how readers will feel. Use the first page or two and get to the point.

  1. Make It Readable

If you’re tempted to show off your extended vocabulary skills- don’t. It can make your writing too wordy and not reader-friendly. Content is key, so put your readers first.

  1. Avoid Redundancies

This follows suit with the last tip. Avoid unnecessary words in phrases like:

“She smiled happily.” We smile when we’re happy.

“Small in size.” Small is a size.

Twelve midnight.” Midnight is always at twelve.

  1. Avoid Adjective Overkill

Again, wordiness is your worst enemy. Good writing consists of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Use one powerful adjective to describe something. Multiple adjectives diminish the power of your sentence.

  1. Avoid Words Like…

Up, down, and hedging verbs (unless necessary), and especially the word “literally” when you mean “figuratively”. Only use the word “that” for clarity.

“She sat down on the couch.”

“He laughed slightly.”

“I almost cried.”

“Her jaw literally fell to the floor.” That would be terrifying.

  1. Maintain A Single Point of View

One of the most common mistakes writers make is when they switch the POV from scene to scene. Pick one and stick with it.

  1.  Resist the Urge to Explain

“She was angry. She stomped her feet.”

“’ You can do it!’ He encouraged said.”

Show readers, don’t tell. If she stomped her feet, we know she’s angry. If he said she can do it, we know he’s encouraging.

Also, avoid explaining what isn’t happening. If you don’t say, we assume it isn’t happening.

  1.  Avoid Similar Character Names

This one is self-explanatory. Don’t even use the same initials.

  1.  Avoid Text Mannerisms

“She… Finally… MADE IT!!” does not express more excitement than “She finally made it!” It also looks unprofessional.

  1.  Be Specific

Your story sounds more truthful when you’re specific, even in fiction. Being too vague reduces the clarity of your story and makes it sound like you’re unsure of your writing.

  1.  Avoid Cliches

This goes beyond words and phrases. Avoid clichéd situations like starting your story with the main character waking to an alarm clock or future love interests bump into each other upon first meeting, too. It’s been done a million times.

  1.  Give Readers Credit

Do not repeat yourself. If you’ve already established something, trust your readers understand. 

“They walked through the open door.” If they walked through the door, we assume it was open. 

Also, avoid adding quotations around words as if the readers won’t “get it”. It’ll come across as insulting.

Time to Start Editing

Use these editing tips when going through your manuscript. Remember, publishers get the best sense of what they’re looking for in the first couple of pages so be sure to apply as many of these tips as possible. 

When you master this checklist, you’ll have a crisp, clean manuscript ready to go on your big day.

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