How To Self-Edit Your Work

I recently read an article claiming you can learn how to self-edit your work. All I could think was …are you kiddingI mean, that just doesn’t work. You might have been an honour roll student and have a degree in English and whatnot–taken courses on how to edit–but none can ever edit ones own work. Our brain is hard-wired to make the eyes see what we think we have written, thus overseeing the most obvious typos and whatever other SPaG we have sprinkled across our manuscript. Not to mention the fact that our story line works for us, but may not be clear to a reader. An editor will see the holes and continuity problems and point them out. As well as other ‘craft’ issues. (Bad foreshadowing, tell instead of show, stilted dialogue, etc.)

Really, it doesn’t work, and anyone who says you can and did should have their work been edited by a real editor whose work it is to read and fish out errors. You will be surprised to find how many things are found by that stranger who has no bond whatsoever with you, or your work. They will have a fresh eye and know what proper prose should look like, sentence structure, grammar, or even to the basic level of spelling.

Take me for example, I will always type teh instead of the. Over the course of time I’ve learned I do that and often know I do, to correct while typing, but more often I just simply miss those little buggers and the editor finds them where I would have missed it for the simple reason I would have thought I got them all.

Or the use of filler words such as that. Don’t we all have those words we are overly fond of and don’t even know we have used that particular word a gazillion times in a 50K word document? You might think it is that one word is a great word to use, but the reality of the fact is that a reader, any reader, will pick up on them and after teh (oops there I go again) 50th time a particular word is used it becomes an annoyance. So while you are all over the moon with your work, that reader will feel they want to …

minion knuckleAnd the damage is done.

Now you might think …

Don't careBut really, be honest, if you read a book that has bad sentence structure, has typos–which you no doubt spot in other books–and plot holes, don’t you secretly think that the author should have done a better job editing?

Maybe they edited their own work, three times or even more, but it still will never be good enough. Had they hired an editor those flukes would have been spotted by the editor, and corrected by the author. Because no self-respecting editor would let an author publish work that isn’t ready for it and if they insist, the editor would not want their name connected to that work.

Of course the author has the final say, but I’m just saying don’t rely on your degree in English, or the one of your best friend because they edit your work for free, or against a very low rate. Hire a professional who knows what they are doing! No budget for an editor? Then don’t publish, simple as that.

How to find one? Well, that’s easy enough. Go to Amazon and find books that are perfect and see who edited that, ask their rate and a sample (every pro will give you a sample piece of their work on your manuscript before you commission them)

So tell me, do you think you can self-edit your work and publish without an editor?

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33 thoughts on “How To Self-Edit Your Work

    • that’s exactly what I mean, Yvonne! Yet still there are people that insist you can self-edit. You can’t and the sooner authors, especially indies, realise that the less SPaG riddled books will be for sale at Amazon.

      • I think so too, which is a shame really, because there are actually quite a bunch of pretty good authors out there that do go the extra mile and know they must have that other pair of professional eyes to go over their work and fish out those nasty things we miss in our own work.

  1. You can self-edit to a point. There are some tricks, like reading aloud, to try to catch as many errors as you can. But after reading the same manuscript dozens of times, nearly all of us are bound to stop seeing it. We miss all those little words. It’s just the way our brains work. Even though I’m an editor (full disclosure here), I hire editors when I’m publishing a manuscript. Love the gifs. 😉

    • Thanks Laurie. And there you have it ‘to a point’ but not all seem to see it the same way and some even think you can go all the way and self-edit to a shine. That when after self-editing they do not find a mistake the work is ready for publication.
      Good for you for knowing that even if you are an editor you need another one to polish it and get rid of the remnants.
      (gifs are a great way of saying things without the need for words.)

  2. I thought I’d edited my book within an inch of its life and had friends/relatives read/edit it as well. Non of them professionals. All I can say is I will NEVER do that again. It was embarrassing to have my book up on Amazon and read remarks about my typos! A kind person I knew through ASMSG who was great at editing, offered to clean up the book. I own him a lot. I learned my lesson! Hiring a professional editor is the only way to go!

  3. No matter how many times your book is edited, you’ll always be able to improve on it and you’ll probably be able to find an extra mistake. Even editors make them!
    You’ll never keep everyone happy. There will be those who complain when they see you write a word they are unfamiliar with. There will be those who complain about childish language. Write in English (UK) and there will be those who think you can’t spell ‘color’ in the US. Write in English (US) and there will be those who think ‘He’s English. Why is he calling a saloon a sedan?’

    I do think you can self edit if you have a reasonable command of English. Many authors can’t afford the services of a professional editor and must self edit. Was it my article on self editing you read? http://authorbookpromotion.blogspot.com/2013/01/editing-your-book.html

    • There are many articles buzzing around on How To Self-edit, John. I don’t think it was yours specifically that triggered me to writing this post, but I do disagree with you.
      There’s always people/editors to be found in your network who are willing and able to help a fellow group member out. At least if they know you will do the same in return. No man is an island, remember? Sure enough you cannot please the whole world, but you cannot self-edit and catch all teh mistakes our brain just isn’t wired that way. And a reasonable command of English isn’t enough, a degree in English isn’t even enough to be able to self-edit ready for publication. You need that other pair of capable eyes to catch what your brain makes your eyes see as right, but is in fact spelled wrong.
      Also to catch teh plot issues that are clear in our mind, because we see/ know the entire plot, but might be a hole for the unsuspecting reader.
      i.e. you need a ‘fresh’ mind and eyes to catch what you miss for the simple reason your brain thinks it is right.

      • I disagree, as well. As Laurie (an editor) says, even she uses a pro for her books because you just don’t catch all your on errors. The work is just too familiar. And if the spelling and grammar have too many errors it will devalue your book.

  4. I agree, self-editing (from my own experience) isn’t a good idea.. We fall in love with our words, it’s only natural and sometimes that blinds us to our own mistakes. I’m not talking about grammar and spelling, I talking about the rest, although accidental words can slip in. The P is tight next to the O and spell-check won’t flag it as misspelled, to you up with “top be announced” instead of “to be announced.” Have we written our lines the best we can? Are our meanings plain or expressive enough? I did this with my first book and got a 3 star right off the bat. We write but editors are there to make us sound better.

    • And even if you can’t afford one, you’ll no doubt be able to find an editor who’s also a writer who will trade you their expertise for a service you can offer them. Use your network, there’s heaps of people/authors/editors out there willing and able to help each other.

  5. In regards to filler words, I remember Twain once saying that when you’re inclined to use the word very in writing, just substitute damn every time, and the editor will scratch it out.

  6. I’m not a book author, but I agree with you. Find an editor, however I’ve always said make you writing the best it can be before you hand it over to the second pair of eyes. I don’t believe in handing over a quick first draft copy, post, or book. That makes the editor’s job so much harder.

    I’m blessed with a wife who is an excellent editor. I can hand her something I’ve just typed and have her completely mark it up. Then almost completely write it over again, or I can get it to be the best it can first, and then have her make minor corrections that I go back and fix. I feel like I’m doing my job better doing it the second way. And I learn much more in the creative process.
    It’s also important to find an editor that understands your voice and works to retain it as they edit.

    • And that is also true, Peter. The editor must never change the voice of the author, as the author has the responsibility to polish and rewrite parts to make them the best they can be before the editor goes in and makes the corrections needed.

  7. An essential part of self editing is that step ‘get the computer to read the text back to you.’ I agree, we do tend to read what we want it to say rather than what is actually there. Increasing the font size on a screen can help too. That allows you to spot errors such as ‘teh’ and ‘the P is tight next to the O’ .oO(said he with a broad grin and hoping no-one takes offence.)

    I love the ‘damn’ Mark Twain quote, but ‘very’ isn’t the only word which needs editing out; ‘has’, ‘just’, ‘will’ ‘would’ & ‘that’ can usually go too.

    • Again, I disagree with you, John. Don’t let the computer read it back to you, better is to read it out loud yourself, to hear your voice read the dialogue, or the narrative and hear if it is natural, or stilted, but no amount of reading out loud, or increasing font size or what ever other technics used will allow for teh author to find that inconsisency, for teh simple reason our brain fills in the blanks since we know what is supposed to be there. We came up with thestory, so we know who that elusive ‘she’ is, while the unknowing reader will be guessing. Just an example of something we as the author will not spot, not even when reading aloud, or increasing the font size.
      Our beloved filler words will not be spotted either, because we love them and feel they are needed, if not we would not have used them excessively in teh first place.

  8. Don’t tar every author with the same brush. Some indie authors who can’t afford the services of a professional, tidy up their own work with appropriate skill. That said, a more significant number can’t, but should we judge them so harshly. There are tens of thousands of books in existence that have been expensively edited, but lacking in the content that would make the ‘edit’ a worthwhile investment. Perhaps if the worst thing your readers say of your work is that the punctuation wasn’t 100%, maybe you can take heart from it. If they say your ideas are lacking, no amount of editing will make them saleable!!

    • Hahaha, you are right bad stories cannot be improved by the editor, because that would turn the editor into the author.
      And there’s no tarring with the same brush, the discussion is about can one edit ones own work? I say you can’t. Not even with appropriate skill. Use your network and barter the service of an editor in your network for a service you can provide for them. No doubt you will be able to find that second pair of capable and willing eyes to go over your work when they know you are willing to reciprocate.

  9. Self-editing is possible to a degree, but the ability to do so can vary widely from person to person. I can proofread my own work fairly well, but no matter how many times I try to copy edit my writing, it will never be as good as having another set of eyes. I’m not to the point where I will hire an editor to do so, but I do have a great set of critique partners that I can swap favors with. Plus, even though I do freelance work as an editor, that doesn’t mean I don’t need an editor. All writers needs editors and critique partners. It pains me to hear writers say they can’t afford an editor. That may very well be true, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to see support. Not to mention, some writers might hire a proofreader, but it can’t cover up the fact that they got little feedback regarding their overall story.

  10. I have been in the business for 40 years and have had several hundred books published for both children and adults, fiction & non-fiction. I can’t tell you the number of books that were published with errors and typos after being edited professionally by the publisher. I’ve also had numerous situations where editors have either removed important passages or changed the meaning of a particular sentence or paragraph. Then it’s time to go back and argue, and in most cases they wind up agreeing with the author. That said, I’m now writing Indie fiction, about a 1920’s New York City detective, and self-editing. It’s certainly true that you tend to see what you have written and can miss typos obvious to others. But I’m now on my third book and would like to think I’m getting better at it. Sometimes it takes many more passes over the manuscript than you’d really care to make, literally going sentence by sentence. You can edit for typos, then edit to improve dialogue and description, and all the while look for any holes in the plot. It may be a longer process, but I’d like to think you can kind of reprogram your mind to edit carefully and objectively. I’m sure I haven’t caught everything in my first two, a novel and novella. With this second novella I’m being especially careful and taking much more time with the editing process. In fact, it’s tough to let go and finally say, “I’m done.” When writing fiction, especially, self-editing is something that I’d prefer to do, though I guess I’m going against the grain and the majority. Hopefully, it can work for me.

    • Hi Bill, I do hope for you that you can make it work, but more often than not it is proven that it doesn’t work as good as letting a professional editor have a look at it. A really good editor will not change your voice, or story, or add, delete parts but merely suggest and let the author then decide what to do with their suggestions.
      So I do agree with doing a lot of pre-editing work yourself, but do think you shouldn’t think of that as editing, but rather another draft stage, until you have that final near perfectly polished draft. That’s when you hire an editor to fish out those last remaining things you have missed when rewriting and polishing.

  11. I’m afraid I agree that only an external third party will spot the kind of glaring inconsistencies that will put readers off. And not a third party who is going to be indulgent with you, like your mum. It isn’t so much the typos, as I think we all have a tolerance up to a point for punctuation mistakes and the word with teh letters in the wrong order. What is unforgiveable is the plot hole the book disappears down or the awful inconsistency of the mc’s action at a crucial point in the story. When it’s your story you just don’t see it. You wrote it like that in the first place so obviously you think it works.

    • Yes! Jane, that is exactly why the second set of professional eyes is needed. To the author the inconsistency, or hole, doesn’t exist, because the story makes perfect sense, the unknowing reader on teh other hand will spot those and be put off by them. Better to have them spotted by an editor.

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