While self-publishing your book is a thrilling journey, it is also a terrifying one. There are so many decisions to be made about your cover, flap copy, promotion, and more, that the whole process can seem pretty daunting.
One very important choice you have to make is whether or not to hire a professional editor. It is always helpful to have an experienced pair of eyes on your manuscript and there are plenty of places to find them. You can ask writer friends if they know anyone, or look for an editor online (I myself have edited several authors’ manuscripts through referrals and Upwork.)
But if you’re anything like I was when I was self-publishing my first book, you may not be able to afford a professional editor. Without an editor, it’s easy to worry that your book won’t be as polished as those produced by traditional publishing houses. I definitely had a lot of anxiety about publishing my own book without one.
But never fear! Based on my personal experience, I can provide some tips on how to edit your own writing.
1) Read, Read, Read
Given that you have chosen to write a book in the first place, it is likely that you are already an avid reader. Reading is how most of us writers fell in love with storytelling in the first place, after all.
However, if you want to be able to edit your work, you need to take your reading up a notch. Read everything you can to get the feel of the language and structure of published books. And don’t only read new books but read your favorites over and over—studying what you love so much about them. If you’ve got some writerly friends, ask them if they need you to read anything of theirs so you can get some editing practice.
I’ve been lucky enough to have several jobs where reading at least a book a week was part of the job description. Not only that, but I had to write reader’s reports where I would summarize the work as concisely as possible then explain the book’s strengths and weaknesses. This experience taught me so much about how stories should flow. In great books I found goals to aspire to, while the lower quality books taught me what to avoid.
Even if it’s not your job to do so, reading more and looking at those stories with an editorial eye will help prepare you to become your own editor.
2) Jump Back
Each time I complete a new chapter of a work in progress, I jump back to the previous chapter and read it and the chapter I just finished before moving forward. You may think that this practice would stall the writing process—that you should keep moving ahead without looking backward.
It is absolutely true that this is a method that won’t work for everyone. Some writers can get too hung up on editing previously written material and doing so does hold them back. But for me personally, this practice is helpful in a few different ways.
Reading things over in this way allows me to ensure that the story is flowing from chapter to chapter at a good pace. These little read-overs also give me numerous chances to proofread. By the time I finish the first draft of a novel, the manuscript’s structure and language are already in much better shape than they would have been otherwise. This gives me a leg up when it comes to editing.
3) Read Out Loud
This is one of the oldest writing tricks in the book, and it is also incredibly useful when it comes to editing. All you have to do is read your writing aloud. Reading the words out loud will allow you to hear what the language actually sounds like. Dialogue that seemed witty and charming in your head will be exposed for how awkward and stilted it really is. Certain lines will show themselves to be less poetic and more pretentious.
This process can be a little disheartening, and you may feel a bit silly reading aloud to yourself, but it will help to make your writing better. Just think of it as practice for future book readings, or maybe even recording your own audio book.
4) Consult the Internet
Even as someone who has chosen to write books, it can be tough to be sure whether or not your work is grammatically correct. I have a degree in English Literature as well as over a decade of writing and editorial experience, and I still get confused pretty frequently.
Luckily, you have a very powerful tool to help you out in situations like this—the Internet! There are hundreds upon hundreds of sites out there that can answer any question you could possibly have about “further vs. farther”, “less vs. fewer”, semicolons, and a million other tricky grammatical issues.
Sometimes I’ll take part of a line I’m unsure about and copy and paste it into Google to see if my phrasing makes sense. Just make sure to put the string of words in quotes and select “Verbatim” in the “Tools” menu. This is also helpful when it comes to deciding between two ways of phrasing something—search both ways in Google and go with the one that has more search results.
5) Take Breaks
Now we’ve hit the most important rule of editing your own work: Taking breaks. This means stopping work on your novel for at least a few weeks and trying to put it out of your mind. I try to take several breaks throughout the writing process—after I write my first chapter, when I hit a wall, and before writing the climax of a novel. These breaks give me the mental distance I need to see my books more clearly and address issues.
Even if you choose to skip those breaks, you should absolutely take them between each round of editing that you do. I generally try to go six months between finishing a rough draft and even looking at the manuscript again. This way I am able to experience the story more as a reader (or an editor), and less as a writer. Taking some time off is not only useful for editing, but it’s also important for your mental health.
Even with all these tips and tricks, you will probably not be able to bear the brunt of editing your novel completely alone. While I don’t have a professional editor, I have a wonderful editing team in my editor/boyfriend, mother, critique partner, and awesome beta readers. But hopefully some of the methods here will help you to feel more confident in editing your own work and give you the courage to brave the publishing process without a big publishing house behind you.
Author’s Bio: Jillian Karger was born in Ohio but has lived in and around New York City for over a decade. Since graduating from NYU in 2009, Jill has had a long string of jobs doing things like scouting books to be adapted for film and researching trivia questions for “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire”.
She has done freelance writing as well for sites like Cracked.com, and had her Twitter jokes featured on BuzzFeed and funnyordie.com. Jill has also self-published two novels on Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/Jillian-Karger/e/B07B894DNW).
Follow her blog posts about books and writing advice, read books and publish them for free at: https://www.fictionate.me.