Editing Tips That Make Sense
by S.D. Howard
Every writer knows it’s coming. Many of them have succumbed to it long before they’ve finished. There is no escaping it no matter how you try.
However, is editing as scary or dreadful as many make it out to be? That’s what we will explore in this post, and I’m going to give you my Top 5 tips for doing a self-edit on your manuscript.
But let’s clear up some common mistakes authors make when they try to self-edit their work.
Mistake #1: "I CAN DO IT ALL FOR FREEEEE!"
No. You can’t.
It’s not that you lack the ability, but more of the time and resources to do so. Being an indie author is hard work, so do you really want to add hours upon hours of blindly editing to that list wondering if you’re doing it right?
Now, there seems to be this myth floating around that all freelance editors are out to get people’s lunch money. It’s not true, as we will discuss below.
Mistake #2: Starting to edit right after finishing the first draft
Probably the most common thing I see amongst indie authors is this crazed desire to rush their story to publishing. They start in on the editing process not knowing what kind of editing they need to be doing and when, and why it’s essential to wait.
They are also setting themselves up for getting burnt out along the way because they have no sense of pacing, no plan in place, and no idea what they are supposed to be doing other than taking a red pen and making squiggly marks on paper.
Don’t misunderstand, they aren’t incapable, and they are NOT stupid. Many don’t have the right tools.
Mistake #3: "My first draft is awesome, so I don't need to edit."
Now, before you go calling the mob, hear me out on this. I don’t believe any writer writes garbage. It’s rough, sure, but so is coal before it becomes a diamond.
Where some people see garbage, I see the potential of what it could become, and because of that, I recommend that you ALWAYS edit. Period.
All right, now that we’ve touched on some common mistakes, let’s dive into the tips that will help you self-edit your novel.
TOP 5 Editing TIPS:
Tip #1: Wait to edit
When you finish that first draft, you may want to dive into the editing headfirst with wild abandon. Surely, you are unbiased and have the perspective and clarity needed for such a task.
Rarely, if at all, will someone have those three things right after they’ve just finished. It takes time and distance away from it to see things as they are. Don’t believe me?
Think back to a time in your life you did something that you thought was a good idea at the time. You know the memories I’m talking about.
There is a reason the saying, “Hindsight is 20/20,” exists.
How much time do you need to get that perspective and clarity?
Typically, 6–8 weeks.
Once you’ve picked yourself up off the floor and done some deep breathing, let’s go over the why.
During that time, you will forget portions of it (not everything, mind you, it is your book after all) and when you go back and read over it, much of it will seem like you’re reading for the first time.
WHICH IS A GOOD THING!
You now have perspective and fresh eyes to see what you wouldn’t have before. You’re in the mindset.
Waiting to edit allows you to get into the mindset to edit because you’re tapping into the left side of your brain, which is more analytical, whereas the right side is more creative.
Can you edit while being creative? In my opinion, it’s like being a Jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. You can do them both, but neither will be as effective. So if you’re producing work at half the rate with half the creative power, imagine what you could be doing.
That applies both ways, mind you. When you’re editing, you don’t want to be trying to re-write as you go because that slows down the editing process.
Tip #2: Start with a developmental edit
A developmental edit is the “big picture” look at your story; does the story flow, is the pacing right, are the characters interesting, is the world-building on point, etc.
A developmental edit needs to be the first edit you do if you are going to self-edit because it affects the story the most. Grammar, punctuation and all that IS important, and it will be addressed, but only after you complete the developmental edit.
How do you do a developmental edit?
The first place to start is to read through it while making notes. I prefer to use Word for this because I can leave inline comments on highlighted sections that need work. Here are some things to look out for:
Flow (this could be on a sentence, paragraph, or chapter level and usually shows up as choppy sentences or scene structures.)
Pacing (As above, it has levels, but it shows up as you feel as if you are moving too slowly or too quickly from scene to scene.)
Characters (Interesting? Boring? Funny? Hate them? Do they have motivations? Do they have a purpose?)
World-building (Does it feel real? Is it big? Small? Are there creatures or different races? Religions? Cultures? Is it diverse?)
That is not a comprehensive list, but it’ll get you going.
Tip #3: Take your time
I see a good deal of indie authors rush the editing of their book to get it published sooner, and while some have had some success with this model, their book could have performed even better had they taken the time to do it right.
For a novel around 50k words, it should take you a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks. You need to find that diamond, remember? It will not happen overnight!
Having this time also allows you to do something that many do not: pace yourself.
You want to put your best book forward, right? You don’t want to publish some half-edited book! The book is an introduction letter from you to the readers saying, “Hello, this is what I write,” and you want to make a good impression.
Plan days to edit in advance so that way you aren’t sitting down at 10 pm, half-dead, wondering how you will make it through this. You need to be on your best game, and planning allows you to do just that. Which means you need to put it IN your calendar. You MAKE time to edit.
Tip #4: Your writing is a business, treat it like one
When you set out to publish your work, you are deciding to become a small business. I’m not sure how else to break it to you, but you’ll be earning an income (ideally) from this thing, so what else would you call it?
No matter if you’re self-publishing or going the traditional route, you will make decisions about your book, and it all starts now. Your choice to edit or not to edit will set the course for your book/business. Whether it sells is YOUR responsibility, not someone else’s.
I don’t say this to scare you, but to help you see why editing your story is so crucial. If you can grab ahold of this now, you’re setting yourself ahead of most indie authors out there.
Tip #5: Hire an editor
Shocking, I know, but it needs to be said. Believe it or not, editors are not out to scam indies of their money. There are editors out there who 100% take advantage of people who don’t know any better, but they are NOT the majority!
An editor is there to help you take that lump of coal and turn it into a diamond. Many of them have years worth of experience in doing it, so why would you not hire them to help you do that with yours?
“But the cost!”
Look, I get it; I do. I’m an indie author working on his first novel, and I don’t have $3k stashed somewhere that I can whip out and throw at an editor. That is one reason I charge less than the market and offer payment plans for my clients; I am my target audience.
“But they’ll change my voice!”
Do you even know what your voice is? I’m not trying to be cheeky here; it’s an actual question. If this is your first book, you have nothing to compare it to. Unless you’ve had a writing coach work with you, likely, you don’t know what that is.
Besides, a good editor will enhance your voice, not change it, so that premise is false. Again, there are editors out there who will try to do this, but if you do your due diligence (remember, you’re a business owner), you will avoid them.
You cannot replace an editor who has the experience, and it would be a poor business decision not to hire one at some point. Because after the developmental edit, you have copy editing and line editing. Once that’s done, you need a proofreader (not an editor).
“But I can use Beta Readers!”
No, they are not editors, and you shouldn’t rely on them for editing. Betas are a fantastic resource to give you insight into your target market and seeing if you’re reaching them. You’d want to use them right before publishing, not any time before that.
Always hire an editor when self-publishing. Put your best book forward.
Listen, writing is hard. Sometimes you want to give up, and it’s no different when editing. It takes grit, determination, perseverance, and a willingness to learn.
I know you have what it takes to edit your first draft because you’re smart; look at the world(s) you’ve created! You’re capable of getting that second draft done, maybe even a third draft, but before you send the book out into the world, you need to hire an editor to go through it with you.
Because you’re starting your business and you want to do it right. You want to put your best book forward.
About the Author
S.D. Howard is a developmental editor and story coach who helps authors bring their stories to life and take their books from good to great. He offers three free worksheets for subscribers to his website, The Editing Bard, and weekly content on his YouTube channel, Twitter, and Facebook accounts.