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How to self-edit

“I can’t afford an editor. That’s a luxury.”

First-time writers planning to self-publish often think this, and it’s understandable.

Professional editors come at a price and it might seem an expense too far.

I’m here to tell you – naturally 😁 – that failing to get your book edited is a false economy. Readers who buy a poorly written and constructed book won’t trust the author and might not buy from them again.

BUT – you can reduce the cost of your edit with these simple self-editing tips:

  1. Take a break first! Don’t launch straight into editing as soon as you’ve finished your manuscript. You need to read it with fresh eyes.
  2. Check your plot for holes. You can get so carried away with the writing, you don’t notice plot flaws or timeline inaccuracies. It can feel deflating when you realise you need to rewrite or add, but better that than have readers disappointed by a big flaw in the story. 
  3. Ask yourself if your dialogue is realistic. I mean, really read the things your characters say. Do people speak like that? Is that something you would say? Dialogue is one of the hardest parts of writing but also one of the most important.
  4. Spellcheck. It seems obvious but it’s amazing how many people forget to do this. (Conversely, don’t think that spellcheck is infallible. It won’t pick up words that are spelled correctly but in the wrong context.)
  5. Be consistent. If you use a particular spelling for a name, or a certain date format, for example, make sure you stick to that style throughout.
  6. Watch out for repetition. Not just repetition of words but also of phrases – you might feel that you’re reinforcing an action, that you’re making absolutely sure the reader understands what you’re saying. If that’s the case, you just need to rephrase!
  7. Don’t overuse exclamation marks. In fact, I would go so far as to say avoid them altogether if you can. Overuse undermines their impact.
  8. Look carefully at the formatting used in books. Generally speaking, first lines of chapters are not indented but first lines of paragraphs are. In British English, single quotation marks are used for quotes. Speech by each new character is set on a new line. These are just a tiny number of examples of what to look out for – the point is, there are formatting rules and it’s good to be aware of them.
  9. Read your manuscript aloud! You catch so many more errors and poorly constructed sentences when you read aloud. 
  10. Fact check, fact check, fact check. This is especially important if you’re writing non-fiction or a memoir. The ramifications of incorrect information could be addressed in a whole post devoted to the subject. Suffice to say, it’s essential and also very, very time-consuming. It’ll save a whole wodge of cash if an editor doesn’t have to do it.

These are just a few of the common issues I catch as an editor. If you self-edit before you send your copy to a professional, not only will you save a lot of money, you’ll end up with a very clean and beautiful book.

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