Are you working on a book and are nearly done with it? Then it’s time for you to start considering the importance of editing your book. Editing—the bane of every writer’s job—needs to be done. Sometimes, it can be very stressful to sit down and take a red pen and start slashing away at your art. But what if I told you that editing doesn’t have to be stressful? Here are some tips on how to edit your book yourself.
But first here’s some terminology…
Book Editing Terminology
Some of the best writing comes from the revision process. I am, of course, using editing as a catch-all term for the second you head back to your manuscript after writing and start updating. There are many forms of book editing, from stylistic to copy editing.
Here are some editing terms you may run into while learning how to edit your book yourself.
Stylistic editing helps clarify the meaning of your work, ensuring coherence and refining the language of your book to make sure that every word counts.
Manuscript editing will help you develop your ideas. A refined, well-edited book beats an unrefined, non-edited book any day.
Structural editing is when you edit your work extensively, changing whole sections and essentially, restructuring your work.
A copy edit will ensure technical perfection. Copy editing is about the robustness of your work. It’s about how fit your work is based on accuracy, readability, and repetition.
Line editing is exactly what it sounds like. It’s editing each line for clarity, smoothness, and wording. This form of editing will point out flaws and issues.
Proofreading is the final stage of the editing process when you pay attention to small, grammatical errors, misspellings, and punctuation mistakes.
Tips On How To Edit Your Book Yourself
Take A Step Back
Take a step back. One of the singular most important things I found when editing was the importance of taking a step back. Give yourself a chance to look at your work with fresh, new eyes.
Look At The Big Picture
Look at the big picture. Take a look at your manuscript and see if it serves its purpose. Reacquaint yourself with your work, take a step back and see if it serves its purpose.
Reread With Pen And Paper
Print out your copy. I don’t know if you’re like me, but I hate printers. They are evil. They never work when you want them to, break more frequently than they work, and the ink sometimes is more costly than getting a new printer. Anyway, you will want to fight this battle, print out your manuscript and begin marking it with a pen. First, I suggest reading it to reacquaint yourself with your manuscript, the ideas, and see if you enjoy reading it or if there are any holes in your work. Second, I suggest marking any errors you see.
Search For Troubling Words
There are always words that writers sometimes have to pause and double-check to make sure they chose the correct one. For me, it is “chose vs choose.” For some reason, I always mix them up and always have to double-check to make sure I picked the correct one. For many writers, common words like too (to?) or that (which?) or there (they’re/their?) can get rather confusing. Some ways to help you resolve this is to know the most common words that writers struggle with and do “Control + F” to find them and make sure they are accurate in your manuscript. Some of the more common words are:
Replace Your Most Commonly Used Words
You may be surprised to learn that writers use similar words all the time. This may not stand out to you as much as the writer, but to the reader, it can be jarring if the reader keeps coming across the same word to describe a scenario again and again. One way to determine these commonly used words, sometimes called “crutch words” is to use a word frequency counter. Once you find your words you use most, then start trying to find creative ways to not use them.
Search For Punctuation That Isn’t… Right
I know I can overuse the em dash and the semicolon. Knowing this little tidbit helps me go through and clean up my manuscript during the editing phase. If you know you use certain punctuation too much or have trouble using certain punctuation (like periods) then you can easily clean up your manuscript.
Run Spellcheck Or Use Grammarly
As an English professor, I tell my students all the time to run spellcheck and, of course, use Grammarly to help them edit their work. The free version of Grammarly is a great, useful tool that will help you edit your work and clean up the little minor issues that you can easily run into when it comes to grammar and usage. Always, always use your own judgment when accepting any suggested change for any spellchecker or grammar aid.
Use A Style Guide
Most publishers use the Chicago Manual of Style but whatever you decide to use, a style guide will help you with keeping consistent with your work and your choice.
Consistency Is Key
In the end, when it comes to editing, it all comes to down to being consistent. I purchased the Chicago Manual of Style a few years back (it’s sitting right here neatly on my bookshelf as I type this) and specifically read the entire section on commas. I wanted to make sure I knew everything I could possibly know about comma usage. One jarring thing that stood out (and it’s throughout the book, not just in the comma section) is that each section ended with: “at the discretion of the writer.”
Despite everything we know about writing, it is an art form and no one person owns language. Your work is its own style guide. If you put a comma after every noun, that’s fine—just be consistent. So if you say, YES to the serial comma, then you best say YES to the serial comma every single time you have a serial. The rule is, consistency is key. Having a style guide, or even your own style guide you created will help you stay consistent.
Format Your Work
Wondering how to format a manuscript? If you’re a writer and have decided that now is the time to get your book published, make sure you format your work properly.
For example, book publishers have a very particular way in which they expect your manuscript to look. You’d be surprised how much having a properly edited manuscript will set you apart from your competition. Here’s a blog post on how to format a short story manuscript which can also help you with formatting your book.
Now that you have an idea of how to edit your book yourself, get to work. But remember, the most important thing about editing your own book is to take the time away from it to be able to later read it with fresh eyes. But, don’t be too hard on yourself.