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How To Edit Your Novel In 7 Simple Steps: A Guide To Self-Editing

“Writing without revising is the literary equivalent of waltzing gaily out of the house in your underwear.” – Patricia Fuller


Editing is a crucial process that should not be overlooked by any serious author. Whether you are planning to self-publish your book or submit it to a literary agent, you want to ensure that you’re showing people the best possible version of your book.

Even if you are planning on working with a professional editor (which I’d highly recommend and I talk about more here) you should self-edit your book before submitting it to an editor. By self-editing and cleaning up your manuscript first, you’ll free up your professional editor to address more complex issues within your story.

Having said this, as a professional editor I know how expensive the process can be. Not every author can afford professional editing services. Whatever your situation may be, follow the steps below to give your manuscript a polish.


If you’ve just finished writing your book, step back and take a break. This can be as long as a month or two if you feel like you need the time – just don’t wait so long that you forget about your book! The reason for taking at least a week’s break from working on your manuscript is so you can edit it with fresh eyes. Writing a book is an intense experience; it can be hard for authors to separate themselves from the text. Taking a break allows you to edit with a clear mind. You’ll start to see what’s working, what needs to be tweaked, and what can be deleted to make your story clear and to the point.


Grab a notebook, a pen, and a big cup of tea and get ready to read through your entire manuscript. Rather than immediately going through the text with a fine-tooth comb, you’re going to note your initial thoughts. As you read through your book, focus on the bigger picture. Are there any plot holes in your story? Do your characters’ motivations come across clearly and naturally? Have you fully explained the world your story is set in? Make notes of any issues you encounter or any thoughts you have during this read-through.


Next, look at your story chapter by chapter. If you created an outline before writing your novel, now is the time to fish it out and look at it again. Does your book’s structure make sense? Is the plot progressed by the events of each chapter? Does the ending make sense and sufficiently resolve plot points, character arcs, and questions? Does the plot unfold at a good pace? Do you allow enough breathing space for important moments in the story? Are crucial plot points and motivations properly built up over the course of each chapter? Is there enough variety between chapters? Key items to review are:

  1. Plot

  2. Structure and pace

  3. Characters

  4. Themes

  5. Positives and negatives

Again, make notes and adjust the story and order of events as needed.


This is quite a labour-intensive step. Go through your novel equipped with your notes and refine the text. Make sure that the words flow naturally – does each sentence or phrase serve a purpose? Do you have a consistent style of writing? Are your words clearly communicating the events of the story to your reader? You should also make sure there are no factual errors or inconsistencies in your book, such as a character’s hair changing colour or someone leaving a scene twice (this has happened in published novels).


Go through your manuscript line by line to ensure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Make sure you’ve got spellcheck turned on and maybe use software like Grammarly to help weed out any errors. Resist the temptation to copy edit your text as you proofread – if you get caught up in editing the story, there’s a strong chance that you’ll miss errors in the text.


Go back to your opening chapter, or the first ten pages of your book. These are arguably the most important (and some of the trickiest) pages to get right. It’s crucial that you have a strong, compelling start to your novel to engage your reader and pique their interest. The opening pages are under a lot of pressure and scrutiny. Your reader doesn’t know anything about the characters or the world yet, so you need to give them something interesting to follow at the start. Don’t be afraid to cut right to the first moment of action in the story. Often, writers find that their story’s actual starting point is buried three or more pages into their manuscript.


Repeat the list from the top – starting with taking a break. Even though the steps above are designed to ensure that you’ve thoroughly checked every element of your manuscript, you’d be surprised by the things you’ll find the second time around. This final step will help to ensure that your book is well and truly polished before it’s presented to other eyeballs.

If you’d like to work with a professional editor, why not find out how I can help you?


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