20 Self-Editing Tips That Save You Money

For 35 years I have been an editor and proofreader. Yes, you read that right. Thirty-five years! I’ve edited everything from legal and medical reports to liner notes for CDs; press releases to websites; and Ph.D. theses to novels. And yes, I know that both PhD and Ph.D. are correct versions of the abbreviation for the Latin term Philosophiae doctor. I read every single day. Being a voracious reader has made me a better editor so the first piece of advice I have for anyone who wants to write a book is, read a book

Read a best-selling book in the genre in which you want to write and pay attention to the book’s structure, style, diction, tone, and narrative voice, as well as the author’s use of punctuation. Take notes. Look up “How to Write a Nonfiction Book Outline” or “writing an outline for a fiction book” on Google, read about that, and then write an outline for your book. Once you have created an outline, write the first draft of each chapter, paying attention to your narrative tense. Be consistent with it. If you’re recounting something that happened in the past, use the past tense.  Think about who your audience is and write to them. Don’t use a flowery word when a simple one will do. These things alone will make your editor very happy and save you considerable expense.

However, before you submit your manuscript for editing, here are 20 self-editing tips that will save you a lot of money: 

1. Answer the questions, “What do I want to offer the reader?” and “How can I stand out from the crowd?”

2. Consider who your book is for and create a target demographic audience for it.

3. Write for that target demographic. For example, if you’re writing for teens, know the authentic slang used by modern teenagers and make them believable. Interview them to get the right voice.

4. Research, research, research!

5. Decide whether you’re going to use American or British spelling and be consistent. 

6. Create an outline for your book that is broken down into chapters with working titles and then write out what you want to convey in that chapter on recipe cards that you keep at your computer. Refer to them to make sure you’re staying on point.

7. Write your first draft without worrying about it being perfect.

8. When you write your second draft, flesh out all the points you mean to cover to support what that chapter is offering the reader.

9. Stay true to your voice and ask yourself how you can make the book as interesting, informative, and insightful as possible to your readers. 

10. When writing fiction, pay attention to character development, back story and character history, timeline, and a dramatic arc about two-thirds to three-quarters of the way through the book that then becomes resolved in the denouement.

11. Be mindful of changing up the lengths of your sentences. Don’t list everything in a long sentence. Break it up and highlight the most important parts of the paragraph with a shorter sentence. 

12. Don’t use the same word over and over within one paragraph. Use a synonym finder to find different ways of describing the same thing and be careful about being too repetitive.

13. Start a new paragraph if a specific thought has been completed in the one that you’re writing.

14. Pay attention to your diction. Diction is word choice, or the style of speaking that a writer, speaker, or character uses. The diction that you use when you speak or write should be matched to your purpose or audience. 

15. Understand what syntax is. The syntax is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language. In this case, it would be the English language. Pay attention to word order. 

16. Be concise. Express what needs to be said without unnecessary words.  

17. Make sure that you’ve covered your key points for each chapter.

18. Watch your punctuation. If you’re writing something in quotes and then adding a comma after it, the comma falls within the quotes. The same goes for a period if you’re ending a sentence while still within the quote. When you start a sentence and then add a quote within it, start the quote with a capital letter. Make sure that if you’re asking a question, you use a question mark. Sometimes it’s better to use a conjunction like and or but rather than a comma. Read the sentence back aloud and check its fluidity when in doubt.

19. Put your work through WORD’s Editor and Grammarly’s proofreading service before you submit it to your editor.

20. Above all, enjoy the topic you’re writing about and this process!

Don’t skip this self-editing process unless you want to go broke before you sell a single book. I promise it will be worth your time.

Self-Publishers: Research Your Copy Editor!

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Updated: December 8, 2020

I have reviewed quite a few self-published authors’ books of late and I must say there is some wonderful talent out there who deserve more widespread recognition!  It’s a shame that finding an agent and a publisher is such difficult work and that rejections are so very plentiful – which is hard on the ego – when all you want to do is write and be read.

There is a reason why some authors don’t find publishers and turn to self-publishing (there are hundreds if not thousands of self-publishing companies now at your disposal via the Internet.  I used Lulu.com for my collection of poetry and lyrics entitled Eden Refugee, in 2008, and I carefully copy edited and proofread it numerous times myself).  Some authors are either not a strong enough writer, their work is cliché, or the copy editor they hired to proofread and edit their manuscript was a fraud.

If there is anything that can deter a reader/reviewer when reading your book, it is a sloppy editing job.  I truly believe that all self-published authors should be very careful about who they hire to edit their manuscripts. I’ve been reading some that have supposedly been edited by professionals and I’m sorry to say, they’re not! They’re a mess and that’s very embarrassing for the authors who I am sure only want to present their work to the public in the most professional manner possible.  After all, they are asking you to buy it and for most of us, books are a luxury item these days.

I have been paid to edit everything from novels to non-fiction books, websites to Ph.D. theses, and it is a time-consuming process.  I don’t have a university degree, but I do have two college diplomas and I worked as an administrative assistant/legal assistant for over 25 years which involved extensive editing and proofreading in almost all my jobs.  I have worked as a freelance copy editor for the past 12 years for PublishandPromote.ca and just started my own copy editing business, Bodacious Copy.  Not to toot my own horn, but I have a good eye for details (when I’m not tired) even though I have made mistakes, as we all do (believe me, I’ve caught numerous mistakes in books published by major publishing houses), and we can be prevented from doing our best work by the author’s budget.  However, if someone is giving you an editing deal that seems too good to be true for the price, it’s probably because it is.

I strongly urge writers who want to become self-published authors to do their research when it comes to hiring a copy editor.  Request a PDF copy of your potential copy editor’s University English degree, specialty editing diploma, or relevant qualifications before you hire them!  If they are legit, they should have no problem proving that they are.  If they are not, you’ll smoke them out in no time and save yourself time, money, and much mortification.

Happy writing!